An independent expert committee set up by the Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry on Tuesday blamed lack of safety procedures and human error for the devastating fire in the Indian Oil Corporation’s fuel depot in Jaipur that killed 11 people and injured 45 in October last year.

The committee headed by the former Hindustan Petroleum Corporation chairman, M.B. Lal, which also included seven other members, went into the causes of the October 29 fire. It was ‘gross negligence’ that caused the leakage of petrol during transfer from a storage tank and the subsequent fire that engulfed the entire depot. The panel submitted its report to Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora.

The probe panel glossed over the role of the Oil Industry Safety Directorate (OISD), a government agency tasked with conduct of safety audits of oil installations and ensuring compliance of its recommendations.

He said non-observance of normal safe procedures resulted in a 10-12 metre fountain of petrol spreading vapours over a 250-metre radius for 75 minutes before a spark caused by starting a two-wheeler or from a kitchen within the radius triggered the fire.

An OISD audit in 2003 pointed to deficiency in the offloading valve, OISD Executive Director J.B. Verma, who was part of the committee, said. “The compliance report did not indicate any action on the deficiency pointed out and thereafter it was for the IOC’s internal audit, the latest done in February 2009, to ensure the installation complied with standard safety procedure. It was not in the committee’s mandate to look at OISD audit compliance,” Mr. Lal said.

The blaze raged for 11 days. The total losses suffered by the IOC amounted to nearly Rs.280 crore. The total loss of petroleum products was about 60,000 kilolitres.

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