Toll mounts to 11; Kiran, Naidu, Beni Prasad visit site

Fear gripped Visakhapatnam Steel Plant on Thursday as the toll in the Wednesday's oxygen house blast in the steel melt shop-II went up to 11 with two employees succumbing to burns.

After visiting the blast site, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy and Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma announced a high-level probe into the accident and ex-gratia payment of Rs.20 lakh each to families of permanent employees of VSP and Rs.10 lakh to those of contract workers killed in the accident. The ex-gratia will be paid in addition to other benefits.

Mr. Verma said the three-member team, to be headed by S.R. Jain, the former chairman of SAIL, would be asked to submit its report in a month. VSP Chairman-cum-Managing Director A.P. Choudhary, who reached the United States on a personal visit, is rushing back to the city.

Meanwhile, VSP General Manager (Projects) D.S. Kalsi and Assistant GM (SMS) M.B.R.S. Sarma were rushed to Mumbai in an air ambulance for specialised medicare. Two more persons — L. Satyanarayana, an employee of VSP and Kuntal Nayak, a contract worker of Bluestar, succumbed to the burns while undergoing treatment.

The deceased included five employees of VSP. The list of deceased is as follows: L. Srihari, Deputy General Manager (construction) and P.V. Karunakar, DGM (instrumentation), Atul, management trainee, A.V. Ravi Chand, senior manager and L. Satyanarayana, foreman (all VSP employees); David, Ramesh Dutta, Sanjay Das, Srinivasa Raju, Tarunjit Singh and K. Nayak (all contract workers).

Judicial probe

Telugu Desam president N. Chandrababu Naidu, who was among several Opposition leaders who visited VSP, demanded a judicial probe into accidents that had occurred during the past one-and-a-half years and sought a compensation of Rs.1 crore to the families of those who died in accidents.

Among the political leaders who made a beeline to the VSP included CPI (M) State secretary B.V. Raghavulu, CPI State secretary K. Narayana, Union Minister of State for HRD D. Purandeswari, BJP leader Bandaru Dattatreya and others and State Ministers Ganta Srinivasa Rao, P. Balaraju and Leader of Opposition in AP Legislative Council Dadi Virabhadra Rao.