Pollution

Dahej blast: Industrial accidents will stop only if factories observe rules

Ten people had died in the blast at Yashasvi Rasayan Pvt Ltd in Dahej on June 3, 2020

 
By Shobhit Srivastava
Last Updated: Wednesday 10 June 2020
The explosion at Dahej has left a number of unanswered questions. Photo: Yash Pandey / Twitter
The explosion at Dahej has left a number of unanswered questions. Photo: Yash Pandey / Twitter The explosion at Dahej has left a number of unanswered questions. Photo: Yash Pandey / Twitter

Various questions have been left unanswered a week after the explosion at Yashasvi Rasayan Pvt Ltd in Dahej, Gujarat, in which 10 people were killed.

For the moment, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has ordered the company to deposit an interim amount of Rs 25 crore with the District Magistrate (DM) of Bharuch and has asked the DM to prepare a disbursement plan to ensure that the amount reaches the beneficiaries.

According to information received from the Gujarat Pollution Control Board, the Dahej blast seems to be a case of unprecedented negligence wherein  concentrated nitric acid was mistakenly unloaded in a tank of dimethyl sulphate (DMS) on June 2, 2020.

The plant management decided to resolve the emergency situation next day and sprayed water over the tank’s surface to control the temperature of the chemicals inside.

On the morning of June 3, the management decided to dispose the material. However, before that could be done, the circulation of the DMS and nitric acid mixture through an unloading pump caused the tank to explode. It was reported that the hydrogen trolleys which stood next to the tanker also caught fire and exploded.

This sequence of events does need a few clarifications from the plant management or investigating agencies:

  • How was one of the most hazardous chemicals (nitric acid) unloaded into the wrong tanker in such a large setup?
  • Did the workers fail to identify the tank of nitric acid?
  • Are these workers trained to identify the right storage tank?
  • Is this the result of the management's casual approach?
  • Are the workers involved not familiar with the site?

The plant would surely not have decided to dispose the DMS storage tank on June 3 had it considered that this was an emergency situation. The two chemicals got mixed and didn not react for a day.

But when the mixture circulated through the unloading pump, it exploded with an impact seen upto 10-15 kilometres. If the hydrogen tankers also exploded, how many explosions took place in all?

There seem to be obvious information gaps here in the view of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi.

The approach of the management allowed the situation to go out of control, as they didn’t order evacuation of the plant premises. It is sheer negligence on part of the plant and the inability of the management to handle the situation in a better way.

That the standard operating procedure (SoP) was not followed or was not available, is possible. There is also a very high probability that the manpower involved was not fully aware of the hazardous chemicals in the area. Skilled manpower is a prerequisite in a hazardous process. Training and awareness of manpower should be given proper priority.

The NGT also stated that the company failed to follow the requisite precautions and safety protocols. The company is strictly and absolutely liable for the damage caused to human lives, human health, property and the environment in violation of environmental norms.

Operating procedures and safe work practices are important. If proper standard operating procedure was followed by the plant in the loading and unloading of the tanker, the incident could have been avoided.

Here is what the NGT said on compensation to the victims (died or injured)

“While no compensation for death or injury or displacement may be adequate and environment is priceless, having regard to facts and circumstances and on ad hoc basis, we assess interim compensation for death to be 1,500,000 each, for grievous injury Rs 5 lakh per person, for other injuries of persons hospitalised Rs 2.5 lakh per person and for displacement at Rs 25,000 per person.”

According to the NGT’s orders, dependents / heirs of the deceased as well as injured persons and those displaced on account of the incident have to be duly compensated. The company also has to bear the cost of restoration of the environment.

But the question again arises: Can industries be responsible enough to maintain a safe and healthy working environment for everybody? Why do they need the NGT to impose fines / penalties on them to understand the criticality of their operations?

The situation will improve only when industries commit themselves to operate with proper hazard identification, evaluation and preparation of guiding principles for accident prevention. A detailed study of risk assessment and disaster management studies need to be carried out by industries.

It is recommended that proper hazard identification and risk assessment should be done at frequent intervals in a facility handling hazardous chemicals and materials. Proper protocol must be followed in allowing only designated, skilled employees to work in hazard-prone areas.

Also, according to the circular issued by the Central Pollution Control Board on May 8, 2020, in the current scenario of COVID-19, it is also the responsibility of the state pollution control boards to undertake safety audit of industries before they resume operations after lockdown.

“Industrial accidents in chemical facilities are happening in India on a regular basis. Imposing fines should not be the only deterrent mechanism,” Nivit Kumar Yadav, senior programme manager, CSE, said.

“FIRs needs to be filed, naming all those responsible. What happened at Dahej or LG Polymer Pvt Ltd is a clear case of negligence. It is time to make people accountable for the loss of life. The plants should remain shut till a proper SoP is placed, implemented and verified by a competent authority,” he added. 

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