Over the last couple of days, the country has been stunned by disturbing videos and headlines coming from the Vishakhapatnam and Chhattisgarh gas leaks. On Thursday, another disaster in Tamil Nadu was included on the notorious list. In a boiler blast at Neyveli thermal power station, six people were killed and a dozen workers suffered severe burns, while toxic chemical leak at LG Polymers factory, a pharmaceutical plant in Visakhapatnam led to two deaths immediately. These industrial disasters have come at a time when India is already battling with the Covid-19 pandemic.
This once again underscores the value of safety protocols, particularly the Indian Boilers Act,1923 which was enacted to provide mainly for the safety of life and property of persons from the danger of explosions of steam boilers and for achieving uniformity in registration and inspection during operation and maintenance of boilers in India. Without meticulous care, boilers are dangerous equipment. High pressure and superheated steam make a lethal combination, if their release mechanism is not kept in proper order; there can be an explosion.
These incidents point towards the gap in the safety norms followed by these industries which have the potential to take the lives of many people.
There have been many incidents in the past too, but states have not internalized a culture of zero tolerance to boilers incidents. The gas leak at Visakhapatnam involving benzimidazole, a chemical used in pharmaceuticals raises questions on the maintenance and operational procedures. How vapors of a stable but acutely toxic chemical escaped should be looked into. There is a pressing need to upgrade the safety protocols. In the Neyveli incident, there is a suggestion that the boiler was not in operation as it tripped and was in the process of revival. Then what led to an unexpected blowout? NLC India has assembled an internal six-member panel to figure out what had caused, what they called, an “unfortunate incident”.
The operational safety demands that boilers are operated by trained workers but some ground reports suggest that they are contract employees. It needs an independent investigation to determine that these cost calculations determine the laxity. Announcing compensation is not the only step required. There is a need for stricter implementation of laws and stringent punishment. Responsibility has to be taken and reform should be a key priority. Given the fact that these disasters are largely preventable, there is an urgent need to enforce laws with strong action against those who fail to comply.
– Anoushka Chandra