Gas poisoning: Two more dead, factory owner held

Express News Service, Lucknow, August 12
Ramanuj Rastogi, the owner of Asterisk Industries was arrested from Kaiserbagh bus station this morning for producing “sub-standard” PVC pipes at a local factory.
Rastogi had closed down the factory and had gone absconding after six labourers fell ill on August 5, inhaling toxic fumes at his PVC pipe-manufacturing unit in Sarojini Nagar industrial area. While one of them, Chhotu, 18, died earlier last week. Dharmendra, 20, died at the hospital on Saturday and a third person, 35-year-old Jwala Prasad succumbed to the illness late on Sunday night. He was shifted to CSMMU today from a private hospital and his family members informed that he had worked in the factory for over six months.
Rastogi has been booked under various sections of the IPC and Factory Act and was sent to jail later in the evening.
On Saturday, a joint raid was conducted by the police and administration, following which an FIR was lodged against Rastogi and manager Ashish Shukla, for not maintaining pollution safety norms.
J S Verma, Station House Officer, Sarojini Nagar, said about a dozen people used to work in the factory in two shifts and most had fallen ill on August 5. “We did not find any emergency safety equipment. Labourers have also complained that they never got wages on time,” said Verma.
Sources said the samples collected by the Industrial Toxicology Research Centre (ITRC) and Central Institute of Plastic Engineering and Technology (CIPET) were “sub-standard”. Rastogi himself is a postgraduate from CIPET.
Experts have confirmed that substandard raw material was being used to reduce the “production cost”. The raw material used is “at least Rs 15 per kg less than the standard raw material”.
Police said two drums of chemicals were also recovered. Experts feel that a harmful chemical reaction and the toxic fumes had led to the death of the labourers. The final report is still awaited.
Denying the allegations, Rastogi said: “I buy raw material from two or three Delhi-based suppliers. Besides, none of the raw material used in the factory is blacklisted as per the norms laid by the PCB and my unit comes under non-hazardous category.”
“Shukla,” he added, “used to bring in labourers from the neighboring villages and trained them. I used to visit the factory only to handle technical snag. When the labourers fell ill, Shukla started receiving threatening phone calls and informed me about it.” Rastogi said that the labourers often consumed ganja during work hours, which might have led to the fateful incident.

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