A day after the styrene gas leak, which left 12 people dead and hundreds hospitalised in Visakhapatnam, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Friday swung into action, focusing on the responsibility of LG Polymers, whose plant emitted the fumes.
Taking up the matter suo motu on Friday, the tribunal directed the company to deposit an initial amount of Rs 50 crore for the loss of life and other damages. With the opposition parties starting to accuse the Andhra Pradesh government of going soft on LG Polymers’ India management, and filing a police case, the government formed a high-powered committee, directing it to submit its report into the causes of the gas leak in a month.
Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy said his government would close the plant and ask the management to shift operations outside Visakhapatnam, besides taking action against the company if found responsible for the lapse.
The NGT Bench, headed by Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, also constituted a five-member fact-finding committee, to be headed by former Andhra Pradesh High Court judge B Seshasayana Reddy, to study the matter.
The committee has to submit its report on the sequence of events, the causes of failure and the persons and authorities responsible, the extent of the damage to life, etc.
The Bench held the gas was a hazardous chemical as defined under the relevant laws.
“There appears to be a failure to comply with the said Rules and other statutory provisions. The leakage of the hazardous gas at such a scale adversely affecting public health and environment clearly attracts the principle of Strict Liability against the enterprise engaged in the hazardous or inherently dangerous industry,” the Bench said, while holding the enforcing agencies also accountable for their lapses in this matter.
In the early hours of Thursday, the styrene gas leaked from one of the tanks on the factory premises, causing deaths, health problems, and widespread panic among thousands of people living in the vicinity of the plant.
About 1,500 people in five villages were evacuated and rehabilitated. About 554 victims were shifted to hospital. Of them, 128 have recovered, the government said.
However, thousands of people of Venkatapuram and other villages, in close proximity with the plant, have been asked to stay outside their homes and at a safe distance in government shelters and homes of relatives because the authorities are not taking chances during the ongoing efforts at neutralising styrene monomer to eliminate the possibility of another leakage.
Chemical experts, who came on Thursday night on the instructions of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), are working with other teams to bring down the temperature in the storage tanks and also make the chemical ineffective.
Chief Secretary Nilam Sawhney, who is overseeing the efforts, said she was told that more than 60 per cent of styrene reserves in the factory premises had been polymerised and the rest would be done in 24 hours.
Industries Minister M Gautam Reddy said once the chemical was neutralised it would turn into a bluish substance and cause no harm to people.
He said in the light of the incident, the state government had identified 86 units for safety audit before giving permission to reopen them. Meanwhile, the high-powered committee, headed by Special Chief Secretary Neerab Kumar Prasad, made a visit to the accident site just a few hours after the state government formed the panel.