Vizag Gas Leak Tragedy
12 Dead in Vizag Gas Leak Tragedy: Is the government trying to whitewash the incident?
The topic amongst many which shouldn’t be ignored because of the larger Coronavirus health crisis is that twelve people in RR Venkatapuram village in Visakhapatnam are dead in Andhra Pradesh due to the gas leak from the chemical plant at LG Polymers on Thursday.
The visuals that have emerged from the incident are shocking – people were collapsing on either side of the street, animals were dead; the paint of a motorcycle had corroded off because of the air around it – these visuals give us an idea of how deadly it was and the impact it had on the people, their lungs and on the insides of their bodies.
Children have taken ill, over two hundred people are admitted to the hospital. There’s no clue on what the impacts are and what effects will it have on the bodies in the days to come – if there were any pregnant women and children, what are the deformities it will cause in the human anatomical system in future are the questions which are beyond us to answer.
There is a history of the Bhopal gas tragedy that happened in India as well in the year 1984, which is why the question that arises today is that in spite of what we learnt in the Bhopal gas disaster, how come there have been no arrests whatsoever in Visakhapatnam even now? There is a vague FIR that has been made and no proper action has been taken against the culprits.
Protests have been witnessed outside the factory as villagers got together and demanded justice. Why is it that the villagers have got to demand justice alone? Why isn’t the rest of the country standing with them at this hour of crisis?
Whatever had happened in Bhopal seldom could be termed as an ‘incident’ but a ‘disaster’ because it was completely man-made.
In the present case, not only should there be immediate arrests in the initial FIR in 304A in the Indian Penal Code which is the provision used for traffic incident, in addition to that 300 Part II, IPC which is ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’ have to be included in the FIR, since the investigation has to happen along those lines and alongside putting all the provisions that may be relevant.
Secondly, what’s more fundamental is that a committee has been set up by the government and that committee appears to be looking for negligence. The legal standard after the oleum gas leak case and the stronger standards after Bhopal was the Vizag tragedy. So when a store contains hazardous substances and if it escapes, then the authority concerning it is strictly liable.
The negligence isn’t required. If they’re dealing with such corrosive substances and making profits out of it, they are responsible for the wrong-happenings if any. So why is the government looking for negligence? Also, it’s glad to know that the Chief Minister, Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy has asked an immediate pay-out of one crore rupees to the families of the affected (died) but why has the money not been demanded of the company?
Is it the taxpayers who are liable to bear the compensation for the loss of lives afflicted by the company? The company has to put out a significant amount of compensation without any prejudice. There has been no attachment of responsibility at all from the company in question, whatsoever. And why hasn’t the government announced compensation for those who have been injured and are in a medical facility? – the systemic rectification will be needed to make things relatively better.
The least that the government should have done is arrest people with culpability, of course, to be proven accordingly, but accountability followed by an investigation eventually. There is no categorical assurance from the government saying that they will penalise the culprits for this horrendous disaster. The question that often arises in the mind, Has Indian lives become so cheap?
The year 1984 was the time of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the anti-sikh riots, followed by the horrendous Bhopal gas leak tragedy in which around 15,000 people had lost their lives, about half a Million who were more vulnerable were affected by it. Warren Anderson, the CEO of the Union Carbide Corporation at the time of the Bhopal disaster was even arrested for few hours but due to the pressure from the higher officials he was led to escape back to US, and no successive governments extradited him or could make serious claims to extradite him to face trials – giving impression of Indian lives being worthless.
Is the government making any efforts in eradicating the chemical effects that the affected people have had over decades? Are they trying to make sure that other LG’s are not waiting for such disaster to happen around the country in this lockdown? Are the precautions, preventive measure been taken to protect the lives? The impression that’s evident today is that the lives of the poor doesn’t matter, be it the migrants or the people affected by this incident.
In the last 7-10 years, nearly four to five accidents had taken place. In June 13, 2012, there was an explosion in Visakhapatnam Steel plant and 16 people had died. Again, in August 23rd, 2013, a fire accident in HPCL refinery took place which killed 27 people. Moreover, In Dec 27th, 2019, a mishap in a pharma unit in Vizag killed 2 persons. These accidents highlight the need for an industrial audit safety.
Visakhapatnam happens to be the industrial hub of Andhra Pradesh and there is no other major hub than that. We need industries and people’s safety along with it. Most importantly, there’s the need to have an in depth study on the long term implications of the chemical leakages on public health.
There are some instant measures that have been taken, such as extending compensation to the victims, evacuating people of the localities to the safer places, but apart from extending instant relief there’s a need to look upon the long term health complications that the affected people would suffer from. There’s an urgent requirement to shift these harmful industries from the residential areas as soon as possible.
It was a police officer who said that Styrene, the chemical that was leaked from the plant is not a poisonous gas. She may be right but then why are we seeing the visuals of people dying, why are 200 people admitted to the hospital after the accident, why are there the terrible pictures of livestock suffering and dying? So was it by the chemical that was realised or was it that the compound, Styrene, morphed into some other chemical compounds altogether?
We don’t know enough – we require credible information on the origin of it by an expert medical team researching on the incident.
In terms of transparency, it’s fundamental for this probe to be monitored judicially, for there to be independent experts – experts in forensic accounting looking at the facts behind the decisions been made – When the authorities knew the shutdown was going to happen and there were massive tanks full of chemicals and that summer was approaching, why did they not do something about it?
What’s more disheartening is that “the responsible media houses” in the country has been seen clamping down and hardly making efforts in telecasting the ground reports of the incident. Had this tragedy occurred in South Delhi and South Bombay, the reaction would have been visibly different since it would have affected the people in power.
It is almost clear that in this Vizag tragedy, the standard is not merely negligence, but a complete white-wash; the government committee is looking for negligence completely contrary to law; the standard is there absolute liability. And if they don’t have the absolute liability, every single factory which contain and deals in hazardous substances should be held accountable for not taking proper safety precautions, else the country folk are in extreme danger.
Every day is a new tragedy nowadays. It has been evident that in order to preserve the bourgeoisie or the richer class, we are sacrificing the poor and the vulnerable lot if there is any collateral damage. We hear deaths, starvation, destruction and people are moving past these as though this is the price to be paid in order to keep India safe from the Coronavirus crisis.
Are we going to lose more people at the end of this, to the measures taken to prevent or to contain the virus, than the virus itself? Since this pandemic is unprecedented, the like of which was never seen before, none of the countries had been prepared for it.
Hence, it was almost unlikely to criticize the efforts of the government in the initial stages, but now as we’re into the third stage of the lockdown, this period should have been used to prepare and put the system into place, but can be witnessed otherwise. The statement that has been making rounds is, “Kuch toh marenge hi (some will definitely die), just pray that we don’t and poorer one dies.”
It’s beyond painful to even be a part of a system for which lives (irrespective of any class, sex, or creed) have no value and what’s even more surprising is that we’ve learnt to coexist with this system. We’re busy immolating lives for the benefit of the rich on multiple levels.
[Images from different sources]
May 13, 2020
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