IT has been found that the cement block manufacturing factory in the Tuem Industrial Estate, where two lives were lost in a boiler explosion, was operating illegally. According to police, at least 12 workers were working at the factory at the time of incident: nine sustained injuries, three serious, out of which two died. True, the company got its boiler registered with the Inspectorate of factories and boilers and received consent from the Goa State Pollution Control Board to establish its factory. However, it did not care to obtain a ‘consent to operate’ from the GSPCB. Nor did it take other mandatory permissions from the state authorities. The factory, which falls under unorganised category, was not registered with the labour department under the Shops and Establishments Act. It is surprising to note that though the factory started operations in May last year neither the state government authorities nor the officials of the Goa Industrial Development Corporation thought it wise to make the mandatory checks for the compliance and safety. Had the checks been carried out, the deaths and injuries could have been prevented.
As the factory was not registered with the state authorities not much is known about its ownership and management. The company’s plot at P-12, Phase II in the Tuem Industrial estate is registered in the name of one Rajendra Joshi who allegedly sublet it to one Samir Mandrekar, allegedly a politically well-connected person. The police have been running around collecting information about the ownership, though they have registered a complaint against the owner of the plot and the management of the firm. It has come to light that Joshi has another plot in Phase I of the same estate and has got permissions for that from various government departments under the name of Venlax Cement Blocks. A thorough probe would reveal whether the permissions, obtained for the unit in Phase I, were being illegally used to run the factory in Phase II. The probe would also reveal whether the factory was sublet in violations of the laws as ready bricks at the factory had mobile phone number of Mandrekar engraved on them. A report prepared by the fire and emergency department mentions the site of accident as Venlax Cement Blocks, though other government agencies have not found any name of the factory anywhere, either in the form of a board or any official document.
It is a matter of great public concern that a factory was operating totally illegally. It makes a mockery of governance in Goa. The police should take the issue to a logical end and ensure that the culprits involved in the death of two people do not go scot-free. The management of the factory apparently has tried to mislead the law and evade scrutiny by claiming that the factory employed less than 10 people and sought exclusion from registration at the inspectorate of factories and boilers. Any attempt made to give legitimacy to the factory by using the permissions granted to another factory owned by Joshi elsewhere in the estate should be foiled. There is a prima facie case of running the factory illegally to escape scrutiny and punishment. The authorities should not allow unscrupulous elements to hoodwink the law and put workers’ lives at risk. The police have written to various departments seeking information about the ownership and other permissions; the departments should respond to them quickly to speed up investigation. Any delay could help culprits cover up their misdeeds. The families of the dead should get justice as well as compensation.
This is not the first time that a factory or a plot has been found to be illegally sublet in GIDC estates. Over a year ago, a factory belonging to a Bharatiya Janata Party worker was found to be illegally used by a person from North India, who used the services of some foreigners for manufacture of drugs in the Pissurlem Industrial Estate. It is intriguing to note that GIDC officials are not aware of the illegalities going on in their properties. Are illegal uses of GIDC plots or factories just cases of oversight or are they looking the other way just because the persons owning them or operating them are politically influential? After the last illegality surfaced the GIDC has promised to root out wrongs but appears to have wilted under pressure of the influential people and allowed the illegalities to continue. There are possibilities of more illegalities taking place in other industrial estates. An inquiry by a retired judge should be ordered to check whether all the factories in GIDC estates are legally compliant.