The owner of the firecracker factory in Madhya Pradesh’s Harda – which witnessed a series of explosions last week, killing at least 13 – had earlier been sentenced to ten years jail term in connection with a 2015 case, The Quint has learnt.
The explosions on 6 February were caused due to “illegally storing excess explosives,” the First Information Report (FIR) stated.
Though Harda MLA Ram Kishore Dogne claimed that at least 224 people were injured in the blast and alleged that the owners possessed explosives “way more than the prescribed limit,” the district’s Collector Aditya Singh told The Quint that 172 people have been injured and the matter is being investigated.
The factory owners – Rajesh and Somesh Agrawal – and supervisor Rafiq were charged under sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 308 (attempt to culpable homicide), 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and Section 3 ((punishment for causing explosion likely to endanger life and property)) of the Explosive Substances Act, 1908.
“This is the third such incident. Earlier too, lives had been lost yet this factory was allowed to operate,” RK Dogne said in the state Assembly a day after the explosions at Rajesh Fireworks, in Harda.
A case was registered against Rajesh Agrawal, alias Raju, back in 2015 under similar sections when two workers had died at his firecracker godown, owing to an explosion.
What Was the 2015 Case?
27-year-old Sheikh Iqbal and 21-year-old Rakesh Atmaram – both belonging to Magardha village in Harda district – used to work at a firecracker godown located at Bairagarh Mauja. The godown was located in the fields of one Dinesh Sharma (co-accused in the 2015 case), who claimed to have rented it out to Raju.
On 5 July 2015, around 10 to 10:30, a fire in the godown killed both the workers. A case was registered against Sharma and Raju under Section 286 (negligent conduct with respect to explosive substances), 308 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The duo were accused of knowingly endangering the lives of people by not giving their workers safety gear even when they were working with explosive material.
The matter was heard by Harda’s District and Sessions Court, where Second Additional Sessions Judge Rajendra Kumar Dakshani on 7 July 2021 sentenced both Dinesh Sharma and Rajesh Agrawal to jail for 10 years and a fine of Rs 10,000.
'Can't Prove Homicide Charge Without Reasonable Doubt': Court
While the public prosecutor asserted that that Raju knowingly endangered the lives of his workers, who were also untrained, the accused’s counsel rejected those allegations, and submitted that the accused had procured a license through due process.
The accused submitted that Rajesh Agrawal had duly procured a license on 24 July 2010 by paying a fee of Rs 500. It was approved by then Additional Magistrate of Harda on 5 August 2010. The license was valid till 31 March 2011. It was renewed by ADM Harda on 31 March 2012, 2013, and 2014. Besides, Director Chief Controller of Explosives, Bhopal had reneweḍ the license from 13 May 2014 to 31 March 2019.
On the question of Dinesh’s and Raju’s negligence on precautions taken for explosive materials, the Sessions Judge observed that “only two persons have died due to negligence and no other persons have been injured.” Noting that Raju had a valid license, the judge noted:
“The situation is clear that both the deceased persons were present at the spot at the time of the incident, no other person was present there and whatever happened, happened due to the actions of the deceased only.”
Hence crime under Sections 286 (negligence) and 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) could not be established against the accused beyond reasonable doubt.
Meanwhile, on 8 February, Dogne alleged to The Quint that the factory owners had two licenses – both allegedly invalid – to store 15 kg of explosives. “Yet it is being reported that they kept 15 quintals of explosive materials, nearly 100 times the quantity,” Dogne claimed.
But, on 7 July 2021, Raju and Dinesh were sentenced under various sections of the Explosives Substances Act, 1908 in the 2015 case.
'Charged For Making Explosives Under Suspicious Circumstances'
In the same order, the court had recorded a report of chemical examination prepared by the State Forensic Science Laboratory (SFSL), Madhya Pradesh.
The examination indicated that chemicals found at the godown “are used in making indigenously made hand grenades as well as firecrackers, and that storing them carelessly can lead to explosions and endanger life and property.”
The report mentioned the presence of potassium, aluminium nitrate, sulphur, and sulphates at the site. This is the burnt residue of a mixture of black gunpowder and aluminium powder, which is used in making low-grade explosives. Potassium nitrate, also used in making low-grade explosive called 'black gunpowder', was also found.
Rajesh Agrawal was charged under Section 5 (Punishment for making or possessing explosives under suspicious circumstances) of Explosive Substances Act, 1908 while Dinesh Sharma was charged under sections 5 and 6 (punishment for abettor) of the same Act.
Congress MLA RK Dogne had, in the Assembly stated, “The factory owner had a case against him and had been sent to jail for 10 years. How was he still being allowed to operate his factory?”
He demanded an unbiased probe into the incident and strict punishment against those responsible, including administrative officers.
Meanwhile, Collector Singh said, "The investigation is ongoing and we can comment on the matter only after it is over. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) has been formed to probe the matter. Several forensic teams have also been deployed. My request is to please not create panic."