‘Failure of men, machines’

Negligence is evident as gas leak happened when company crew were on routine maintenance and safety mechanisms did not work, says Minister

Updated - May 18, 2020 08:00 am IST

Published - May 17, 2020 10:14 pm IST - vijayawada

The gas leak incident has come as a wake-up call not only for the Andhra Pradesh government but also for the Centre as it was the first-of-its-kind disaster in the country that was 100% avoidable.

The tank which spewed the toxic vapours was like a pressure cooker waiting to burst as the styrene monomer inside underwent a chemical reaction at an alarming rate. Ultimately, the gas leaked and was quickly pushed towards the villages by winds blowing at that time. The company has to do a lot of explanation as to whether the safety protocols were followed at all. The emergency alarms did not work when the hazardous gas started escaping from the tanks. Basically, the internal control processes should have prevented the dangerous chemical reaction but they failed.

‘Gross negligence’

What might have exactly happened is for the investigators to bring out. But, Minister for Industries and Commerce Mekapati Goutham Reddy said there is clear evidence of gross negligence as it was during routine maintenance of the facility that the incident took place.

He told The Hindu that the government gave passes to 45 employees of the company to enable them to keep the factory in proper condition during the lockdown.

Styrene, which is used in plastic manufacturing, began converting into gas from liquid state as the temperature shot up to 140 degrees Celsius against the normal 20 to 25 degrees.

Even then something could have been done to arrest the leak but the company crew was completely unaware of the disaster in the making. The safety guidelines and protocols have gone for a toss, bringing into picture the duties and responsibilities of the Central and State government departments concerned.

"I have asked the company’s top managerial personnel how would they have reacted if such an incident happened in Seoul," Mr. Goutham Reddy said, pointing out that the situation would have been far more catastrophic had two out of the total six storage tanks situated on the harbour side had leaked as they are perilously close to the HPCL refinery.

One has to wait for the outcome of the investigation to know who is to be blamed for the disaster that killed at least 12 persons and left hundreds of others hospitalised with potential long-term complications.

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