Indian police have offered a reward for the fugitive owner of illegally stored explosives which ripped through a crowded restaurant and killed 88 people after an accidental detonation, an officer said on Monday (14).
Police are hunting for businessman Rajendra Kasawa following last Saturday’s (12) blast that tore apart the restaurant building complex in Madhya Pradesh state, packed with office workers and school children eating breakfast.
He has been charged with illegally storing gelatin sticks and other explosives next to a restaurant and busy junction in the town of Petlawad in central India, officials said. He also faces charges of criminal negligence and culpable homicide.
“He is on the run. One of his accomplices has already been arrested. He has been charged under the Explosives Act,” divisional commissioner Sanjay Dubey told Reuter
Scores of labourers waiting at a bus stop outside the complex were also hit by debris from the blast, which destroyed neighbouring buildings in the town of Petlawad.
Eighty-eight people were killed and about 100 injured in the worst such accident in India in recent years.
Kasawa had a licence for the gelignite and other explosives used for digging wells and in the construction and mining industries. But storing them in residential and other densely populated areas is illegal.
Police initially thought the accident was triggered by an exploding gas cylinder in the restaurant, which then detonated the explosives next door, but officers now believe it originated in the warehouse next door when heat ignited the explosive materials, fertilisers and other chemicals Kaswa had stored.
Additional police superintendent Seema Alva said an officer has since been suspended for failing to enforce the laws on storage.
“We have also announced a cash award of Rs 100,000 (£976) for anyone who provides any information on the main accused, who is absconding,” Alva added.
Television footage on Saturday showed scores of people and rescue workers using their bare hands to shift mangled heaps of steel and concrete from the ruined buildings.
Corpses were covered in dust and ash coated the streets alongside the twisted wreckage of burned-out vehicles.
The chief minister of Madhya Pradesh state Shivraj Singh Chouhan arrived at the scene last Sunday where his convoy was blocked by angry locals waving black flags. Protesters shouted for several public officials to be sacked, media reports said.
Local media said residents previously complained about the location of the explosives but authorities failed to act.
The state government said a full probe into the accident would be carried out, while officials from New Delhi have been dispatched to help with the investigation.
Gelatin sticks are a commonly used explosive for blasting mines and digging wells in the region.