Shocking industrial disasters

Kashmir Times. Dated: 11/9/2017 11:16:12 AM

Greed or complacency cannot continue to play with lives of poor workers; there must be regulatory mechanisms and accountability

The most shocking aspect of the industrial disaster at NTPC plant, Unchahar in Uttar Pradesh's Rae Bareily district, that left atleast 32 workers dead and over 100 injured last week is that both the tragedy and the horrifying causes of the accident have been forgotten without much noises being made. Did the 32 lives that were snuffed out when a massive explosion ripped through a boiler at a state run thermal power plant not matter to the nation, its ruling elite and the conscious citizens? The disaster must be given the focus and centre-stage it deserves because it is not only about loss of lives of poor workers but also exposes the poor industrial safety mechanisms and the absence of any protocol in this country. In the Rae Bareily incident, experts have already pointed out many loopholes including poor commissioning of boilers and auxiliaries by companies to the violation of safety protocols such as an absence of basic circuit breakers during welding and cutting jobs. Besides this, lacunae such as lack of adequate protective equipment for labourers; and that the fire hydrant line and the detection system fail to respond have also been pointed out. This is not the first time that such disasters shaped by criminal negligence have happened in this country. This is an all too familiar terrain. In the last one year or so, similar accidents on a smaller scale have taken place in SAIL's IISCO Steel Plant in Burnpur, inside the Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers (RCF) plant in Chembur. Some noises were made last year when three engineers were killed in a similar boiler explosion at a private thermal power plant in Madhya Pradesh's Annupur district. But these soon vanished. Many such accidents go unnoticed as an accepted part of life. The data on industrial accidents is under-reported. According to one report, NCRB data says that 299 cases of industrial accidents were reported, in which 225 people were killed, including 29 women in 2015 alone. This is not a small number.
The greatest shocker is that even a tragedy of the magnitude of Bhopal in 1984 has been unable to shake the nation conscious. 33 years hence, there is neither any justice for what is considered as India's worst industrial disaster nor any adequate compensation for the lives that were lost, injured and generations who continue to pay a price for the nightmarish gas leak. Medically, the next generations are facing the consequences of diseases and impairments in Bhopal. The tragedy claimed over 3,500 to 10,000 innocent lives and left over five lakh injured. The greatest tragedy is that nobody was held accountable and despite such a huge loss of precious lives, the usual corporate-bureaucratic and political nexus allowed the guilty to escape. Since the Bhopal gas tragedy, the successive Indian governments and state governments have paid scant regard to the need for strengthening protocols and standard operating procedures for industries, especially those dealing with chemicals, gas and thermal energy. The complacency manifests the absence of a culture of accountability and contempt for the poor working classes, who are mostly the victims of such disasters and have to pay for the greed of the rich and powerful. It is immaterial which government is in power. The Bhopal gas tragedy amply demonstrates that at best such man-made disasters are heard about in public domain, other than the campaigns of activists, only because politicians wish to play their dirty politics over the bodies of the people. It was allegedly the Congress regime which gave a safe exit to Dow Chemicals running the gas plant and Warren Anderson, its chairman. Interestingly, the present finance minister of the BJP government was the lawyer who represented Anderson in court. The Bhopal question needs to be opened up again. The Rae Bareily incident necessitates an immediate probe and redressal. While some moral responsibility must be owned by the ruling elite and politicians, it is time that the government wakes up to the need for having a transparent regulatory mechanism to check hazardous industrial activity. The safety and welfare of workers and the public at large must not be compromised due to complacency or deliberate greed.



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