Five labourers were killed, while four others were evacuated after a major fire broke out at the Serum Institute of India's (SII), SEZ 3 building, Manjari plant in Pune, on Thursday afternoon. The cause of fire is being investigated, said Pune fire brigade officials.
The fire call was received at around 2.45 pm after which 10 fire tenders and at least two jumbo tankers were rushed to the spot, said Prashant Ranpise, Chief Fire Officer (CFO), Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC).
The five deceased whose charred corpses were recovered from inside the building have been identified as Rama Shankar Harijan and Bipin Saroj from Uttar Pradesh, Sushil Kumar Pandey from Bihar, Mahendra Ingale and Pratik Pashte from Pune. All five were contractual labourers and were involved in electrical works at the building, said the fire brigade officials.
"Thick smoke acted as a hurdle in fire fighting.The fire spread all across third, fourth and fifth floor of the buiding. It is the new facility of SII and was under construction. Currently, we are taking more information about the structure from the SII authorities. Our teams successfully rescued four people, however bodies of five others were recovered later during cooling operations. We are still ascertaining the cause of the fire," added Ranpise
A statement From Cyrus S. Poonawalla, Chairman & Managing Director, Serum Institute of India read: "Today is an extremely sorrowful day for all of us at Serum Institute of India. Regrettably, there were losses of lives in the fire that broke out in our under installation facility situated at the Special Economic Zone at Manjri. We are deeply saddened and offer our condolences to the families of the departed. In this regard, we will be offering a compensation of INR 25 lakhs to each of the families, in addition to the mandated amount as per the norms. We would like to extend our gratitude to everyone for their concerns and prayers in these distressing times."
While the plant produces multiple vaccines including the Covid19 vaccine - Covishield. However the facility/ building affected by fire did not have any production work on at the time of the incident, informed the police and representatives of SII.
Factory manager of Serum Institute Vivek Pradhan confirmed that the facility/ building where fire broke out wasn’t involved in Covishield production.“The affected facility is part of SEZ, where expansion projects are going on this plant has nothing to do with Covishield. The Covishield plant is at least one km away from this building where fire broke out. This particular building is under construction and hence had a few labourers inside who were working there. Something might have happened during the ongoing work, which might come to fore in the fire brigade's investigation,” Pradhan added.
Meanwhile, Mayor of Pune Murlidhar Mohol, who visisted the site said, "I visited the site and it came to light that the building was under construction. I heard that some welding and electrical work was going on inside the building, however there is no official confirmation on how the fire actually broke. It is very sad that five people lost their lives in the incident."
MLA from Hadapsar, Chetan Tupe said: “The ill-fated building is part of Special Economic Zone (SEZ) developed by the Serum Institute. No vaccine production was going on there.”
Soon after the fire broke out the issue became a major cause of concern for the entire nation, especially because the campus is currently involved in the production of Covishield. Many including President Ramnath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter to express their concerns over the loss of lives in the incident.
Maharashtra Chief Minister's office tweeted, “CM Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray is in touch with the Pune Municipal Commissioner and is taking complete on-ground updates. He has directed the state machinery to coordinate and ensure that the situation is under control."
The CM is scheduled to visit the unit of SII in Manjri where the fire broke out to inspect and take stock of the situation on Friday afternoon.