12 killed in Bengal cracker factory blast



At least 12 people were killed and four others injured in an explosion at an illegally-operated firecracker factory in West Bengal's West Midnapore district, police said on Thursday.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced that the investigation into the incident has been handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), but the BJP and the Congress demanded a probe by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), claiming that it was a terror act.

The explosion took place late on Wednesday at Brahmanbar village in Pingla area of the district, some 120 km from here.

"Twelve people were killed and four others were injured. The evidence collected so far indicate it was a fire cracker factory running illegally," Inspector General of Police (Western Zone) Siddh Nath Gupta said.

On allegations that the factory was actually used for making bombs, Gupta asserted it was a cracker manufacturing unit but said police were looking into the allegations.

"Besides a bomb disposal squad, witnesses and survivors have confirmed it was a fire cracker factory. A forensic team is collecting evidence. Being a marriage season, a large amount of crackers were being manufactured," he said.

"We have arrested the house-owner for running an illegal factory and we are also looking into all the complaints that have been made in this regard," Gupta added.

The injured have been admitted to the Midnapore Medical College and Hospital in the district.

Speaking at a government event at Namkhana in South 24 Parganas, Banerjee said the CID has been entrusted with the probe into the incident.

"The incident is very unfortunate and we have ordered the CID to probe it," she said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party said the incident was an "extension" of last year's Burdwan blast.

"This is not an isolated incident but an extension of last year's blast in Burdwan in which terror outfit Jamaat-ul-Mujhahideen Bangladesh was involved. We all know police will never do anything to solve the case so we demand an NIA probe," state BJP president Rahul Sinha said.

Former state Congress president Manas Bhunia, who met Govenor K.N. Tripathi over the issue, said: "Besides sending the state police chief to the spot, the chief minister should immediately urge the centre for an NIA probe into the matter."

CPI-M state secretariat member Sujon Chakrabarty as well as Congress leader Abdul Mannan alleged the involvement of the ruling Trinamool, claiming that the factory was used for making bombs.

"It was not a cracker, rather a bomb manufacturing factory. We have reports that bombs manufactured here were distributed all across the state by Trinamool goons and were even used in the recent civic polls," said Chakraborty, a former MP.

Mannan blamed the Trinamool for the increasing acts of terrorism and violence in the state and demanded a through probe into the incident.

Residents claimed the toll was higher and that the factory was used for making crude bombs.

"Despite our repeated reports that the factory was being illegally used to manufacture bombs, police refused to pay any heed. Had they taken action, this tragedy could have been averted," a resident said.

The locals as well as the BJP also claimed that arrested house-owner Ranjan Maity was a Trinamool leader and was involved in the incident. But the ruling party denied the charge.

"Ranjan Maity was earlier a party member but now he is no more associated with us," district Trinamool leader Ajit Maity said. - IANS