Vizag gas leak: Pollution control officials sceptical over new law

CM YS Jaganmohan Reddy has stressed on need to frame a new Act to control pollution in the state, especially in hazardous industries

By Soundaram Ramanathan
Published: Monday 25 May 2020

Days after the Andhra Pradesh government contemplated the introduction of State Environment Improvement Act to check pollution and protect the environment in the backdrop of styrene gas leak in Vishakhapatnam that took place on May 7, some voices of dissent have emerged from state pollution control board officials.

During a review meeting last week, Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy stressed on the need to frame a new Act to control pollution levels in the state, especially in hazardous industries. 

The new law, according to officials, is aimed at enacting stringent laws to reduce pollution, improve environment and reduce the probability of similar incidents.

The state pollution control board officials (SPCB), however, are afraid that this could lead to multiplicity of laws and aggravate confusion. According to a senior SPCB official:

We may not need a separate law. Our air / water / environment protection / hazardous waste rules are very strong and sufficient measures can be enforced to handle such incidents. They could be prevented after regular inspection.

At least 11 people died and more than a thousand were hospitalised after the leak.

Safety audit consultants, on the other hand, feel this could be a step in the right direction.

Pawan, chief executive, Sparrow Risk Management, said: During the gas leak incident, the cooling jacket system of the storage tank failed, which led to the leak. The cooling system clogged and it failed. It could have happened due to several reasons — the pumping system may have had issues or the network may have corroded.”

In a nutshell, it was a case of mechanical integrity and related failures, he added. A mechanical error cannot be attributed to an incident as per the old and outdated Indian Industrials Safety laws (like Factories Act, MISH rules etc) because the laws don’t define process safety management protocols, Pawan said.

“The Factories Act, 1948 in India is an old colonial (sic) regulation and has not been amended to incorporate the latest needs to ensure safety and minimise possibility of accidents. Indian laws by the labour ministry place more impetus on human resource angle and have not attempted to cover synergy of machine-human interaction and related safety aspects,” Pawan added.

“Under the Factories Act, 1948, safety audits are mandatory for certain type of factories on an annual basis. Now that factories are reopening after lockdown, it is essential to do a pre-start-up safety review. Such reviews are not mandatory by law,” Prem Kathari, in-charge, executions, Aura Safety Risks and Consultants, said.

New law will need more efforts and time, according to a retired senior Central Pollution Control Board official.

 “Enacting a law on concurrent matters is a lengthy process. Water is a state subject, but air, factories and labour are concurrent matters. Andhra Pradesh will need to pass the bill at the State assembly. Then it will have to get an approval from the Centre before getting the President nod,” he said.

He added the process will take at least two years. The state will have to push and be persistent, he said.  

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :
Related Stories

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.