Yet another fire incident at a chemical factory in Andhra Pradesh's Eluru has caused six casualties. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that fire has resulted in the loss of human lives. Andhra Pradesh governor Biswabhusan Harichandan has expressed anguish over the fire incident, PM Modi has extended condolences to the bereaved families while the state government has announced ex-gratia of Rs 25 lakh to the families of the deceased and Rs 5 lakh to those injured in the fire. But is that nearly enough for those dead?
Cause of fire
Superintendent of Police Rahul Sharma said the fire in the factory situated at Akkireddygudem has been caused by a nitric acid leak. The fire broke out in the factory delivering polymer raw material after a container leaked. The leakage led to flames starting to hit the factory through an opened manhole, said the police commenting on the cause of the fire.
Srinvasulu, DSP Nujiveedu told ANI, "A container got leaked in the factory and suddenly, the flames came out through a manhole. A total of five people died on the spot and one was killed on the way to the hospital. As many as 12 people are also injured in the accident."
Reportedly, as many as 18 workers were on duty at the time of the unfortunate accident. The victims were shifted to Vijaywada and Nuziveedu for advanced treatment. While the firefighters rushed to the spot upon receiving information about the incident but by then a lot of damage had already been done with two floors completely burnt in fire and five people charred to death.
Vijaywada fire incident
Many a lives, unfortunately, have already been lost in avoidable fire accidents. Where the cause of fire was not just preventable but totally avoidable. On August 9, 2020, when the nation was already ravaged by the pandemic, a major fire broke out in the wee hours at a Covid facility in Hotel Swarna Palace in the city of Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. The blaze took 11 lives and left double that number injured. An electric short circuit was later found to be the cause of the accident at the hotel temporarily being used as a Covid-19 facility leased out by private hospital Ramesh Hospitals Vijayawada. Even though the fire rescue team rushed to the spot and controlled the blaze within 30 minutes, it couldn't prevent the loss of human life.
Vizag Gas Tragedy
After the gas leak incident at Vishakhapatnam in 2020, ample amount of the right noise was made on the need for industries to be extra cautious while they resumed production after lockdown and a long spell. But the din of casual and poor attitude towards safety, a general fatalist attitude towards life and death led to what usually causes fire accidents, neglect.
Vishkahpatnam Gas Leak also known as the Vizag Gas Tragedy is one such incident that exemplifies neglect and violations. A gas leak from the LG Polymers plant (which was operating without environmental clearance for close to two decades) took 12 lives and diseased hundreds on May 7, 2020. Many died after inhaling the poisonous styrene monomer vapour that leaked from the LG polymers plant situated in a village. Out of the victims who died, some were unable to breathe, others lost their eyesight, and many couldn't drive and escape the poisonous fumes due to dizziness and disorientation and died. The leak began at 2.50 am and 12 people died and over 580 were hospitalised within a few hours.
The findings of the NGT (National Green Tribunal) Committee and several investigative pieces late, the administration was found lacking on many counts. The tank from which the vapour leaked was an old one, also the company did not have enough of TBC (Tertiary Butyl Catechol), chemical used as an inhibitor to avoid self-polymerisation. There was also no system to monitor dissolved oxygen in the vapour space and no mechanism in place to detect all this.
Three accidents in a row, a few hours apart
In fact, the unfortunate incident clouded the two more fire incidents that happened a few hours apart. The gas leak in the early morning was not the only incident to have taken place that day. The same evening two boilers exploded at NLC India Limited's thermal power station at Neyveli in Tamil Nadu.
Yet another gas leak accident in Chhattisgarh, a day before injured seven workers. Unfortunately, each fire and industrial incident only adds to statistics of those dead, ex-gratia, and condolences on social media. It's time someone such accidents invited amended laws, even more stringent implantation and strict accountability.