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Muskan (in photo in the foreground) was among 21 people who died in a fire in Delhi
Image caption, Muskan (in photo in the foreground) was among 21 people who died in a factory fire in Delhi in May

"This is a factory of deaths."

Ismail Khan's hand trembles as he points towards the second floor of a burnt building in India's capital, Delhi.

That was where he last saw his younger sister - trapped and suffocating, desperate to find a way out as the building was consumed by smoke and fire.

Muskan, 21, was among 27 people killed in the massive fire, which broke out in May at an electronics manufacturing unit in the four-storey building.

In the days after the fire, a top police official told media that the building's owner had not obtained clearance certificates from the fire department and police before subletting three floors of the building to two brothers who ran the manufacturing unit. The Delhi police's public relations officer also told the BBC that the unit did not have the "requisite licences" for operation.

The BBC phoned the factory owners several times but did not receive an answer. The BBC also tried to contact their lawyer but he refused to share his details where we could send queries.

India is aiming to become an industrial powerhouse, with government schemes and reforms tailored to encourage investments and innovation. But tragedies like the Delhi fire are all too common, with desperate and vulnerable workers often paying the price.

Image caption, Twenty-seven workers died in the building fire in Delhi

Industrial accidents kill hundreds of people and permanently disable thousands every year. A federal minister told parliament in 2021 that at least 6,500 workers had died while working in factories, ports, mines and construction sites in five years. Labour activists, who have worked in the field for years, told the BBC that the figures could be higher as many incidents are not reported or recorded.

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According to data collected by global workers' union IndustriAll, sectors such as manufacturing, chemicals and construction report the most fatalities in India. In 2021 alone, it said an average of seven accidents were reported every month in Indian manufacturing industries, killing more than 162 workers.

Over the years, news reports have flagged that workers in "small, unregistered factories" are often most affected by industrial accidents. The victims are usually poor workers or migrants whose families don't have the resources to fight legal battles.

The BBC has emailed questions to the labour commissioner at the Delhi Municipal Corporation and officials at the federal labour ministry, but has not received responses yet.

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