Demand to relocate fuel depot at Elathur gets louder after train arson

Local residents cite safety reasons

April 04, 2023 08:08 pm | Updated 08:16 pm IST - Kozhikode

The Elathur railway station and the HPCL depot share a compound wall, and the distance between the railway track and the wall is just above five metres.

The Elathur railway station and the HPCL depot share a compound wall, and the distance between the railway track and the wall is just above five metres. | Photo Credit: K. Ragesh

The arson incident on the Alappuzha-Kannur Executive Express on Sunday night has strengthened apprehensions of residents of Elathur over the proximity of the railway track to the fuel depot of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL).

Elathur Janakeeya Samrakshana Koottayma that has been demanding the relocation of the depot, citing safety concerns, had pointed to the potential of the depot being the target of a terror attack.

“The distance between the track and the compound wall of the depot is just around 5 metres. The railway platform is just on the other side of the wall. It is possible for someone to throw a bomb or a firecracker into the compound from a moving train,” Chandrasekharan Mattuvayal, chairman of the collective, told The Hindu. He said such an attack would lead to the destruction of the whole Elathur region.

However, Prasanth K. Kamble, senior regional manager, HPCL, brushed aside residents’ concerns. “We have taken into consideration all distance and safety norms. The authorities have checked and approved. Having a concern does not change facts,” he said.

The fuel tanks of the depot are located on the western side of the track, while the yard for trains carrying fuel are on the eastern side. The fuel brought in trains is transported to the tank on the other side of the track through an underground pipeline.

It was here that the fire incident happened on Sunday. The abandoned bag was found near the pipelines. “Though the tanks and pipelines are fully covered and are safe as per standards, it would not have been enough if fire had been severe and had engulfed the compartment or if the train had derailed,” Mr. Chandrasekharan said.

“The smell of petrol permeates the air here all the time. A simple spark would be enough to cause a fire mishap,” he added.

Mr. Chandrasekharan recalled a recent incident in which two cars were gutted at the Elathur railway station. “The HPCL depot authorities could do nothing to put out the fire just outside the compound wall,” he alleged.

The collective has been raising the issue for years, but the plea has fallen on deaf ears. “HPCL has government support. Neither the government nor the company is concerned about the lives of common people,” Mr. Chandrasekharan said.

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