High Level Probe Needed in Gas leak from the SAIL’s Bhilai Steel plant
Probe must examine and address safety status requirements of all public and private sector steel plants
Upcoming Budget must allocate sufficient fund for Occupational and Environmental Health infrastructure and man power
June 14, 2014: In the wake of the ongoing poisonous gas leak in the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL)’s Bhilai Steel Plant, death and injury of workers and birds, there is a compelling logic to order a trans-disciplinary high level probe must examine and address safety status requirements of all public and private sector steel plants besides that of the plant in question. It must evaluate all the previous accidents and deaths in these plants to set matters right.
There is a need for a team from Indian Council for Medical Council to visit and attend upon those workers who have been exposed to the poisonous gas. It is not clear whether Bhilai’s Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital and Research Centre at Sector 9 has qualified doctors who can diagnose the occupational and environmental exposures of toxic gases.
So far seven people have died and some 50 people have been injured due to the gas leak incident of June 12, 2014. The victims include Deputy General Managers B K Singh and N K Katariya, master technician A Samuel and senior operator Yarad Ram Sahu, Assistant Fire Station Officer, Ramesh Kumar Sharma and contract labourer Vikas Verma besides a contractor.
Notably, this plant had 8 minor accidents in 2011, six in 2012 and 12 in 2013. These accidentals deaths show that no lessons have been learnt from Bhopal gas leak disaster.
The Additional District Magistrate level probe that has been ordered by the Durg collector, R Sangeetha and another inquiry by the Deputy Director Industry Safety and Assistant Labour Commissioner, instituted under the Industrial Safety Act are structurally insufficient.
The reported sentencing of two SAIL officials to a year’s imprisonment on account of an employee’s death due to accident and death of 13 SAIL employees in last 15 months merits attention as well.
These accidental deaths underline the fact that all previous governments have neglected issues of occupational and environmental health infrastructure, qualified manpower and budgetary allocation. The upcoming budget must attend to these crying needs.
The way the charge of ministry of labour has been assigned to the minister who is also in charge of steel and mines ministry reveals that labour issues are not accorded adequate priority else how could this conflict of interest arrangement been made. While the current steel and mines minister who also holds the labour portfolio was quite receptive when a delegation including ToxicsWatch Alliance met him recently, the fact remains this structural arrangement is inherently problematic. It is quite important for the new government to appoint a separate labour minister who can safeguard the interests of workers and their health and safety and ensure industrial peace.
In the matter of Bhilai gas leak accountability and liability must be fixed for those responsible for lapses that led to loss of workers' lives and workers' health to send a strong message that such dereliction of duty will be deemed unpardonable by the new government.