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IOC depot fire spews all-round destruction

Ajay Modi  |  Jaipur 

Financial losses at nearby units in crores, air quality severely affected.

Smoke continues to emanate from the Jaipur bulk storage depot of Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), more than a fortnight after a massive fire broke out there on October 29, unleashing much damage – environmental and otherwise — on the adjoining Sitapura Industrial Area, as well as on area residents.

All entry gates to the depot are now closed and guarded. However, even a glimpse from outside makes one realise the extent of the damage caused by the fire and the ensuing blast. While the fire claimed 22 lives and injured several more, it also resulted in much physical and financial losses for the adjoining industrial units. There are 2,000 units in the industrial area and those within a 500 metre radius bore the brunt.

Repair work at the units located close to the depot could start only on November 10, when the city administration allowed the managements to enter the area. Some of the worst-affected were business process outsourcing units (BPOs) run by Infosys and Genpact, a Hyundai workshop and a General Motors showroom, a 20-room hotel, a couple of banks and export houses.

Triumph Motors, the General Motors showroom and workshop, said the accident had caused damage of Rs 3.5 crore. The glass panes, windows, doors, false ceiling have all been damaged. “We had 50 new cars in the workshop and all of them have been impacted. The accessories and spare parts have also been damaged,” said an executive of the company. Fortunately, he added, the blaze broke out around 7.30 in the evening, so most of the 150 employees had left for the day.

Significant damage has also been caused to a 20-room hotel, a stone’s throw away. “The reception, restaurant, rooms have all been severely affected. The air conditioners, television sets and wiring need to be replaced,” said a staffer, adding that the damage is estimated at over Rs 2 crore.

“Since business has been affected after the fire, the flow of deposits is hit. A number of companies were even forced to delay salary payments,” said an official at the nearby State Bank of India branch.

Some impact was also felt on the city’s tourism. Chokhi Dhani, an ethnic resort, situated a few km from the depot, was evacuated and the guests shifted to other hotels. “We had stopped booking for a couple of days, since the highway to the resort was blocked by the administration. However, things are normal now and we have about 70 per cent occupancy,” said a manager.

Two rounds of surveys are being conducted to assess the financial damage, one by the insurance companies and the other by Rajasthan State Industrial Development and Investment Corporation, said C S Rajan, principal secretary, industries, in the state government. The survey is likely to be completed by the coming Wednesday.

A decision to shift the depot has already been taken. “IOC will be given an alternative site to relocate the depot. However, a site has not yet been finalised,” Rajan said.

The depot catered to Jaipur and adjoining areas. Fuel supply has remained normal even after the blaze and losses. “The HPCL depot is catering to IOC and BPCL pumps, and fuel supply is normal,” said Suneet Bagai, president of the Rajasthan Petroleum Dealers Association.

The lingering, and least addressed aspect, is air quality in the region. Surveys by the state pollution control board show 72 sq km of area around the depot has been severely affected, another 866 sq km moderately affected and 1,408 sq km is described as slightly affected. “People in the nearby villages such as Barala, Goner and Bagariya have complained of irritation in the eyes, throat and breathing problems,” said a board official. The levels of four parameters analysed by the board had peaked way above the normal levels following the fire. However, the situation is improving, the official said.

First Published: Mon, November 16 2009. 00:53 IST