Heart-rending scenes were seen at HPCL Visakh Refinery and Waltair Park Guesthouse where Union Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas Panabaka Lakshmi addressed a press conference with the irate families of deceased and missing persons pouring out their tale of woes due to failure of HPCL in divulging information on well-being of their near and dear on Saturday.

While expressing their deep shock over death of 10 and serious burns suffered by many in the cooling tower blast at the refinery on Friday, they bemoaned that even after 24 hours of the incident, the management was not able to give them any information.

“I was groping in the dark till Saturday morning though the incident occurred at 5 p.m. Do you have any respect for human life,” Jayalakshmi, wife of Ch. Murali (who died on Friday) asked inconsolably when Ms. Lakshmi arrived at the guesthouse. Ms. Lakshmi, accompanied by State Tribal Welfare Minister P. Balaraju and Visakha West MLA Malla Vijaya Prasad arrived an hour late. Though Mr. Balaraju interacted with the media, Ms. Lakshmi joined an hour later after pacifying the angry protesters in another room. Earlier, the slogan-shouting protesters interrupted Mr. Balaraju during his briefing saying they should first disclose the names of the dead and the missing persons and pull up HPCL top management for its ‘take-it-easy’ approach.

“It is unfortunate that Mr. Murali, a senior officer in HPCL, a tribal hailing from Munchingput died on Friday evening but the officials maintained secrecy about his demise. They didn’t bother to inform his family and give them the much needed confidence at the time of the tragedy,” regretted R.S. Dora, State president of Adivasi Reservation Porata Samiti.

Work halted

Chaotic scenes were witnessed at the refinery earlier in the day. Hundreds of contract workers led by CITU and other unions raised slogans against lack of safety measures and left their workplaces in protest. They squatted at the refinery main gate causing a traffic jam for sometime.

CITU district general secretary A. Ajay Sarma said HPCL management had totally failed in initiating safety measures despite frequent accidents hitting the confidence level of the workers.

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