Foul smell to neighbours dropping dead: What happened in the 15 minutes Giaspura residents had to escape a deadly gas

Locals said a lot more lives could have been saved had the ambulance carried away all the unconscious people together from the site, instead of in batches

By Rohini Krishnamurthy, Joel Michael
Published: Wednesday 10 May 2023
Foul smell to neighbours dropping dead: What happened in the 15 minutes Giaspura residents had to escape a deadly gas
Eight-month-old Yug Goyal, one of the few survivors, with his aunt. He lost his parents & grandmother in the tragedy. Photo: Joel Michael / CSE Eight-month-old Yug Goyal, one of the few survivors, with his aunt. He lost his parents & grandmother in the tragedy. Photo: Joel Michael / CSE

On April 30, 2023, Gaurav Goyal, a kirana store owner in Ludhiana’s Giaspura, opened his store at 5 am. It was an ordinary Sunday, except at around 7.15 am, the air was filled with a foul smell. Goyal felt uneasy. Two minutes later, he fell unconscious. 

There was a commotion. Neighbours alerted Goyal’s mother (Kamlesh), brother (Saurav) and sister-in-law (Preeti), who lived upstairs. Amit Gupta, a guest, also ran down. All of them were knocked unconscious.

Kavita Devi, whose tea and snacks shop sits across from Goyal’s, also sensed the stench. It was unbearable, she said. 

She tied a napkin around her nose and mouth and picked up Saurav Goyal’s eight-month-old son, Yug. But Kavita Devi’s husband soon fainted. And she handed over Yug to Harishchander, who also owns a tea and snacks shop adjacent to Kavita Devi’s shop. But soon, Harishchander’s wife, Ruby Devi, fell unconscious.  

Meena Devi and her family, who live next door, picked up Yug. They fled the scene, away from the stench. All of this happened in just 10-15 minutes, the residents said.

 Goyal's kirana store and house (above) where three people died. Photo: Joel Michael / CSE

Meanwhile, personnel from the police control room arrived on the scene around 7.30-7.45 am. The ambulance reached the spot at 7.45 am, residents said. The area was cordoned off. 

The ambulance took Gaurav and Nitin (a guest of Garuav’s neighbours Navneet and Neetu Kumar) to the civil hospital. 

Kavita Devi managed to hitch a ride to Mohandai Oswal Hospital. Her husband, Rajesh Kumar, received medical attention on time. Harishchander, too, made his own arrangements to carry his wife, Ruby Devi, to the hospital.

The four survivors were discharged from the hospital in a day or two.

But Yug was orphaned and also lost his grandmother. Gupta, Navneet and Neetu Kumar also succumbed. The total death toll was 11. 

Local general physician Dr Kavilash, his wife and three children also perished. The locals said that Dr Kavilash probably had stepped out to help the people fainting in his neighbourhood. He then ran into the house to alert his family and they died indoors as they tried to flee.

Sanjay Gupta, a resident of Giaspura, said more lives could have been saved had the ambulance transported all the unconscious residents immediately. “They were taking 1 or 2 people at a time,” he said.

Yug was reunited with his aunt (mother’s older sister who also lives in Giaspura) on Sunday evening.  

Shroud of mysteries

It has been 10 days since the incident, but the main questions about “what killed them and why” are still unanswered.

“The preliminary cause of death was asphyxia due to inhalation of a poisonous gas,” Hatinder Kaur, civil surgeon, Ludhiana, told Down To Earth (DTE).

Preliminary evidence, from post-mortem and clinical features of the survivors, suggested that hydrogen sulphide or a combination of gases was likely responsible.

“We have sent the viscera for chemical analysis and the organs for histopathological examination,” Kaur said. The results, which could take about a month, might give us more conclusive answers.

Further, it is also suspected that industries dumped chemicals into the sewers, which then reacted with other gases in the sewers to produce the deadly gas or a cocktail of gases.

“Giaspura has many illegal and scattered industries. It’s difficult to figure out which industry operates from which house,” Kapil Arora, an activist, told DTE

Other gases such as carbon monoxide, ammonia and methane are suspected of having been involved. Phosgene, a colourless gas with a suffocating odour, may also have been present, sources told DTE.

Authorities have collected samples from the existing manholes to zero in on the source of the leak. 

Other strategies should have been deployed. “The stretch of about 400 metres (200 metres on either side of the houses) where people died, should have been dug up,” Colonel Jasjit Singh Gill, former member of the state task force on Budhah Darya Rejuvenation Project, told DTE.

This would have exposed various sewerage connections. “They could have taken samples from each sewerage connecting pipe to know the chemicals or acids discharged that morning,” he added.

The police collected CCTV footage from a 1 km radius around the area. They, however, found no leads. The investigation is currently in process, the source said.

Meanwhile, in the first week of May, the Ludhiana Municipal Corporation caught Print Vision India, a textile company, dumping untreated effluents into the municipal sewer lines.

A few days before the Giaspura tragedy, the Punjab Pollution Control Board caught Ramal Industries, a dyeing unit, illegally discharging effluent waste into the municipal corporation sewer lines. The plant was sealed, according to reports.

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