Gurgaon: Fact finding report on Udyong Vihar fire

November 30, 2015

by Archana Aggrawal, Payal (PUDR) and Santosh (Sanhati, Delhi)

On 23rd November, 2015; at least five workers were grievously injured on account of a fire which broke out on the upper floor of the four storeyed leather/ garment unit of M/s Fashion Global Limited located on Plot number 42 of Udyog Vihar, Sector 18, Phase IV, Gurgaon, Haryana.

A three member team went to the area on the 25th. The team reached around 1 pm which is the beginning of half an hour lunch break for the workers in this industrial area. Stream of workers could be seen trooping out in single files when the huge gates of the factories opened for lunch. The area has an assortment of garment units and automobile showrooms (including Ferrari and Volswagen), some electronics units and also a wine distributor.

The team spoke to some of the workers of the concerned factory, some workers of other units, a supervisor and a representative of the administration of Global Fashion as well as family members of three of the injured workers. The workers around the area knew of the fire but did not have any other details since as one of them said, “we come early in the morning and leave at 10 pm (after overtime) so there is no time to gather these details. This is nothing but a reflection of long hours of work necessitated by low wages in the entire Udyog Vihar belt.
The workers of the concerned factory had begun to tell us about how the fire was caused by bursting of a boiler on the upper floor when they were interrupted by a supervisor from the same factory who claimed that there is no boiler in this factory since it only deals with leather products and boiler is required only for the washing of cloth items. The supervisor helped us to meet one Mr. Rakesh Singh Parmar from the management who reiterated what the supervisor had told us. According to Mr. Parmar, he realised that fire had broken out when some of the workers came down running from the top floor. He told us that the cause of the fire has not been ascertained but he hinted that it could have been triggered by the lighting of a bidi or electric short circuit. He also claimed that the one of workers was injured when he opened the door of the top floor from outside; however Mr. Parmar had no answer to how, more than one worker had been injured. He also told us that the management had taken full responsibility for the treatment of the injured workers. He also informed us how the factory in question was a small exporter, employing 70-80 workers, of leather items in general but they were open to supply readymade garments as well. Also the leather industry has been badly hit due to ban on cow slaughter. Peculiarly, he said that the company was called BCC Overseas but the label outside said otherwise.

After meeting the management, we went to Kalyani Hospital in Gurgaon where three of the injured workers were admitted. Two workers, Srinivas and Yasin Ali were in the ICU whereas Abdul Qasim was in a room. The family members of these workers told us that the the accident happened during lunchtime when the workers had gone upstairs to wash their hands. The workers were brought to the hospital by co-workers but the management is saying that they will pay for the treatment. The family members also told us that other workers had been taken to other hospitals.

What remains unclear is the cause of fire but it is peculiar that both the supervisor and Mr. Parmar specifically told us that there is no boiler in the unit whereas the workers had talked about the boiler. One possible explanation could be that the unit did not have license to use the boiler. However, what can be said with certainty is that had it not been lunch time because of which most of the workers were outside and the factory gate was open), the casualty would have been much higher. There are only two exits in the factory and only one of them is opened during lunch. At any other time, there would have been no possibility of workers getting out quickly. Also the management may pay for the treatment but the workers had to make their own arrangements for reaching the hospital. Once again, this accident highlights the precariousness of the workers working in units at the lower end of Global Value Chains.