At least 23 people were killed and 27 injured after a massive explosion on Wednesday (September 4) at an unauthorized firecracker manufacturing factory in Punjab’s Gurdaspur. Several people were feared trapped under the debris as the building crumbled.

The incident took place around 4 pm at the factory located in a residential area in Gurdaspur’s Batala, Inspector General SPS Parmar said.

The factory was completely destroyed and four to five buildings were damaged too. Window panes were shattered and the roof of a couple of buildings came down, according to news agency PTI. A car and a bike were also destroyed in the blast. 

Locals said the explosion was so strong that it was heard kilometres away.

Locals also complained the firecracker unit was running illegally for many years. 

“The firecracker factory has been working in this locality for the many years. We have complained against the factory seven-eight times to the local administration, but no action has been taken against it,” a local resident told the media.

Teams of the National Disaster Response Force or NDRF and the State Disaster Response Force or SDRF are deployed for rescue operation.  

President Ram Nath Kovind expressed grief. “Saddened to learn about the loss of lives due to an explosion at a firecracker factory in Batala, Punjab,” he tweeted.

Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu also expressed his concern in a tweet saying, “Deeply saddened by the loss of lives in an explosion in a firecracker factory in Gurdaspur, Punjab today. My condolences to the bereaved families and wishes for speedy recovery of the injured.”

 Congress leader Rahul Gandhi too extended his condolences to the bereaved families and the injured too. 

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said rescue operations are underway with the District Collector and the Senior Superintendent of Police heading the relief efforts. Expressing his concern, the CM tweeted, 

“Deeply anguished to learn of the loss of lives due to the blast in the firecracker factory in Batala. Rescue operations are underway with the DC & SSP heading the relief efforts,” he tweeted.

The chief minister also launched a magisterial inquiry into the explosion.

He announced an ex-gratia grant of Rs 2 lakh for the kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for those severely injured, who were referred to Amritsar Medical College. He announced Rs 25,000 compensation for those with minor injuries. The CM also directed both the civil and police administration of Gurdaspur district to extend all possible help to the victims’ families in this hour of grief. He also directed the Deputy Commissioner, Gurdaspur, to provide the best possible treatment to the injured free of cost, besides asking SSP Batala to supervise the evacuation operations being carried out by the NDRF teams.

Gurdaspur MP Sunny Deol too expressed grief over the incident. “Saddened to hear about the news of blast in Batala factory,” he tweeted.