Just a little over three months after a blast in an illegal firecracker factory killed nine people in Purba Medinipur, West Bengal, the State was once again shaken by a similar explosion, this time in North 24 Parganas district. The blast occurred in an illegal firecracker factory at Mochpal Paschimpara village in Duttapukur on the morning of August 27, claiming the lives of at least nine people. The incident has once again revealed serious lapses in police administration and the continuously deteriorating law and order situation in the State.
Around 8:30 a.m., residents of the Duttapukur area were jolted by a deafening explosion audible for several kilometres around the region. The force of the blast was so severe that body parts of the victims were discovered several metres away from the accident site. Over 15 houses in the neighbourhood suffered significant damage, and numerous individuals, including women and children, sustained injuries. The intensity of the explosion raises suspicions about whether the factory was solely engaged in illegal firecracker production or potentially involved in the manufacturing of more dangerous items. Two of the factory owners, Keramat Ali and Samsur Ali, lost their lives in the blast, while a third co-owner, Safikul Islam, was arrested on August 28.
Allegations of administrative failure
This tragedy was looming, as local residents had repeatedly implored the police to take action against the illegal firecracker factory, but their pleas went unanswered. They even submitted a mass petition, which yielded no results. A nearly identical incident occurred on the morning of May 16 in Egra, Purba Medinipur, when an explosion at an illegal firecracker factory claimed nine lives, mostly women. In that case as well, locals alleged that the police were well aware of the activities occurring in the so-called factory, which many suspected to be a bomb-making operation.
Former Inspector General of Police, Pankaj K. Datta, told Frontline, “It is the same situation. You just need to change the name from Egra to Duttapukur. This is a serious administrative lapse. After Egra, it was not expected that a recurrence would happen so soon. No action has been taken yet against the local Officer in Charge (OC). An exemplary punishment is required here.”
On August 28, Himadri Dogra, OC for Nilganj Police outpost, responsible for the blast site’s jurisdiction, was suspended. Condemning the State’s lack of administration, Datta remarked, “Such an incident is unlikely even in a state where administrative appearances are barely maintained. In Bengal today, even that veneer is absent.”
While the incident laid bare the State’s law and order situation, it also underscored the extent of unemployment, driving people to jeopardise their lives by working in such hazardous conditions. In the Egra blast, the majority of the victims were women residing in the same village and employed by the factory. Bhanu Bag, the factory owner, was arrested in October 2022 for operating an illegal firecracker facility.
However, upon his release on bail, he resumed factory operations without facing any hindrances from the police. He succumbed to injuries sustained in the blast.
Biswanath Chakraborty, an academic and political observer engaged in an ICSSR (Indian Council of Social Science Research) project titled ‘Nature and Extent of Political Violence in West Bengal,’ asserted that the State government failed to learn from the Egra tragedy. He highlighted the declining efficiency and commitment of the police administration in Bengal, both functionally and structurally.
Chakraborty noted the police’s increasing politicisation, prioritising the interests of the ruling party over those of the public. He pointed to repeated allegations by the Opposition that these illegal firecracker factories are potentially involved in the production of crude bombs, operating right under the noses of local police administration. “The opposition parties have consistently claimed that these facilities supply bombs frequently used in political activities in Bengal, most recently in the Panchayat election process that resulted in 74 deaths,” Chakraborty stated.
The incident has ignited a political maelstrom in Bengal, prompting Opposition parties to swiftly exploit it to criticise the State government. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, West Bengal Pradesh Congress president and Leader of the Congress Party in the Lok Sabha, lamented, “The State government remains indifferent. This isn’t a new development. The frequency of such incidents creates an impression of residing in a Special Explosive Zone. The project in Duttapukur was highly organised. We are taking this matter to court.” The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has demanded a National Investigation Agency (NIA) inquiry.