Visakhapatnam Gas leak: National Green Tribunal orders LG Polymers India to deposit ₹50 crore for damage caused

It reminds us of the Bhopal gas leak tragedy. The lessons have not been learnt from the previous accidents: AITUC

Gas Leak Image

An AP photo from Visakhapatnam shows a distraught man running bare feet with a child in his arms, the little girl appears unconscious and her arms hang listlessly by her side. The silver anklets she’s wearing may have jingled as she was carried, hopefully to timely medical care. An image that would shake everyone who still has a beating human heart.

The child one hopes has been helped and has survived. Over 11 people have lost their lives including two girls aged 6 and 9 years. Many more residents from villages including RR Venkatapuram, Venkatapuram, Padmanabhapuram, Ashok Nagar, B C Colony, Banta Colony, near the factory are now sick after being exposed to the gas. 

Taking suo motu notice the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has ordered LG Polymers India to deposit an initial amount of ₹50 crore for the damage caused by the gas leak from their plant. According to news reports, the bench headed by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel ( NGT Chairperson) has also sent a notice to the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board, Central Pollution Control Board and the Union Environment Ministry, seeking their response on the incident.  They have been asked to submit it by May 18.

The Hindu reported that the NGT has also constituted a five-member fact-finding committee, headed by a former A.P. High Court judge, to probe the incident.

“The committee may specifically report on the sequence of events, causes of failure and persons and authorities responsible, extent of damage to life, human and non-human, public health and environment – including water, soil and air, steps to be taken for compensation of victims and restitution of the damaged property and environment and the cost involved,” the bench said.

The  LG Polymers Visakhapatnam unit manufactures polystyrene and expandable polystyrene, using styrene. It also reprocessed primary plastics into engineering plastics. News Reports quote the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules 1989, which classify styrene as a “hazardous and toxic chemical”.

Newsreports cite a statement issued on Thursday in Seoul, where LG Chem, the parent company of LG Polymers, said the gas leak was under control and that the company was cooperating with authorities. “…the leaked gas can cause nausea and dizziness, so we are investing every effort to ensure proper treatment is provided swiftly,” it said. “We are investigating the extent of damage and the exact cause of the leak and deaths.”

What is appalling is the fact that this factory did not have a “valid environmental clearance” at all. A report in the Indian Express has revealed that an affidavit submitted to the State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), by LG Polymers India states that the unit did not have a “valid environmental clearance”, as of May 10, 2019. According to the IE report the Visakhapatnam unit of LG Polymers India,  did not have an environmental clearance for its petrochemical plant for its operations between 1997 and 2019. The company in its affidavit had also admitted that “it had expanded the production at the plant “beyond the limit of environmental clearance or changed the product mix without obtaining prior environmental clearance as mandated under the EIA notification, 2006”. The company had then also undertaken that it would not “repeat any such violation in future”

However, as the gas leak has proved, the company’s negligence has resulted in the loss of innocent lives and endangered many more. Taking note, the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) has demanded an enquiry to punish those guilty of negligence at the L G Polymer Company, a South Korean company with the parent firm LG Chem. They have also demanded compensation for the deceased and those undergoing treatment. 

The gas leakage has so far killed 11 and over two dozen people are said to be on ventilators, and hundreds have been hospitalised. Villages around the factory have been evacuated. According to the statement by AITUC General Secretary Amarjeet Kaur this incident has once again raised the issue of occupational safety and health (OSH), for those who  work at such hazardous places and also for those who live around such industrial plants. “It reminds us of the Bhopal gas leak tragedy. The lessons have not been learnt from the previous accidents to ensure a continuous process of safety measures in industries,” stated Kaur.

“Trade Unions have always been demanding for OSH to be a serious issue,” she stated. Everyone affected from the gas leak, lives in the villages around. Some news reports have also stated that the place was not maintained well, and perhaps was not guarded at the time when the silos started leaking gas.

According to the IE report the company’s expansion plans had been classified as a ‘Category A’ project and they had to secure a clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment, However, reporte IE, “the company filed for clearance with the Andhra Pradesh State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority, which in June 2019, transferred the proposal to the Centre.” 

The company’s proposal was delisted from the environmental clearance portal in November 2019 saying that “it seems that the PP (company) is not interested to continue the project”, stated the Express report.

“The government hereby appoints a High-Power Committee to probe into the causes behind the #gasleak & to take stock of the recovery steps being taken in response to the incident. Shall submit its final recommendations to the Govt within 1 month,” said Mekapati Goutham Reddy, Andhra Pradesh Minister of Industries, Commerce, IT & Skill Development 

While the AP government has sanctioned Rs.30 cr as ex-gratia from CM’s Relief Fund to victims, word on the street is that locals have begun to demand that the plant be shut down.



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