Fire engulfing the Comtrust factory building at Mananchira in Kozhikode on March 14, 2024 night.

Anti-social gangs backed by landsharks are suspected to be behind the fire outbreak at the abandoned Commonwealth Trust (Comtrust) Handloom Weaving Factory at Mananchira in Kozhikode city. The fire that engulfed the factory buildings around 9 p.m. on March 14 (Thursday) caused destruction to a substantial portion of the dilapidated buildings and their roofs.

Former factory workers who rushed to the spot alleged that there were “mystery elements” behind the late-night incident as the land was under the radar of a few influential loan sharks who were after the prime property to set up business ventures.

Police officers who inspected the spot and collected further evidence said on March 15 (Friday) that the building did not have any active electricity connections. They said former factory workers who filed a complaint seeking a comprehensive probe into the incident claimed that the building was set afire by unknown gangs. However, these could be verified only after a thorough investigation, they added.

Since the closure of the factory in 2009 following business loss, it had been “a safe haven” for anti-social elements, drug pushers and drug addicts in the city, claimed sources.

Suspects in some crimes had been nabbed from the spot. There were also isolated attempts on the part of rough sleepers to cook food inside the derelict factory facilities apart from carting off metal and wooden items from there to junk shops.

Meanwhile, several former women workers of the factory reached the spot and protested against the Kerala government’s “apathy” to conserve the building. Many of them are part of a continuing agitation in the area seeking reopening of the factory and clearance of pending dues of former employees.

Built in the 19th century by German Basel Missionaries, the now-defunct factory was once famous for making branded clothes. The company, which was taken over by the British after World War I and handed over to an Indian management in 1976, was shut in February 2009 citing “unmanageable business loss.”

Though there were efforts to sell off the land in the name of starting new business ventures, it was dropped following stiff opposition from labourers. There were altogether 107 workers on its roll when the factory was closed.

Though the Kerala Assembly had passed a Bill earlier to take over the abandoned facility, the move did not happen due to “technical reasons.”

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