Six workers were killed and 17 injured — 11 of them critically — after a boiler exploded in Unit V of the thermal power station-II of the NLC India Ltd. (NLCIL) in Neyveli on Wednesday.
This was the second accident at the power station in less than two months.
On May 7, a boiler explosion occurred in Unit VI, killing five persons, including two permanent staff members.
The power station has seven units of 210 MW each, totalling 1,470 MW.
Smoke billowed out
Around 9.45 a.m., contract workers and permanent staff members were active at the unit when the accident occurred. Thick smoke billowed out of the plant.
The deceased were identified as Silambarasan, 25, Arun Kumar, 25, Padmanabhan, 30, Ramanathan, 42, Venkatesa Perumal, 37, and Nagaraj, 30. The NLCIL said all of them were contract workers.
Of the 17 injured, 16 were referred to Chennai with more than 40% burns.
According to the NLCIL sources, “Unit V shut down after it tripped on Tuesday night. The workers and engineering staff were attempting to revive it when a fire broke out in the boiler, resulting in the explosion.”
Power generation in the unit was stalled after the accident. All other units in the station and other thermal power plants worked as usual.
“Unit V of TPS-II, Neyveli, was under shutdown, and maintenance activities were under way when a fire broke out in the boiler, followed by an explosion. The explosion caused injuries to the NLCIL maintenance team comprising one executive, two supervisors, three non-executive employees and 17 contract workmen,” the NLCIL said in a statement.
“Out of the 23 injured, six workmen engaged by a contractor succumbed to injuries on the spot. The other 17 injured were immediately rushed to the NLCIL hospital. Of them, 16 were referred to Apollo Hospitals, Chennai, for further higher specialty treatment, while one with minor injuries is being treated at the NLCIL hospital,” NLCIL said.
Tension prevailed after relatives of the six contract workmen staged a demonstration in front of Thermal Power Station-II, blaming the management for negligence. The protesters also demanded stringent action against officials of Unit V, besides compensation to the families and a job to a family member.
After NLCIL officials and the police assured them that their demands would be considered, they withdrew their protest. The bodies were shifted to the Villupuram Government Medical College and Hospital (VGMCH) at Mundiyambakkam for post-mortem.
Industries Minister M.C. Sampath, accompanied by Collector Chandra Sekhar Sakhamuri, Superintendent of Police M. Sree Abhinav and NLCIL Chairman-cum-Managing Director Rakesh Kumar inspected the spot.
Unit head suspended
NLCIL has suspended A. Kothandam, Chief General Manager and Unit Head of Thermal Power Station-II, for alleged failure to ensure safety at Unit V. According to an NLCIL official, “The unit head of TPS-II has been suspended pending enquiry by the management. All the four units of 210 MW each of TPS-II Stage-II have been ordered shut down for immediate safety audit.”
NLCIL has ordered a high-level inquiry, headed by P.K. Mohapatra, retired Director (Technical) of the National Thermal Power Corporation Limited, into the cause of the accident. It has also constituted an internal inquiry committee, headed by the Director (Power) of NLCIL.
Union blames NLC
M. Shanmugham, a Rajya Sabha member and general secretary of the DMK-backed Labour Progressive Front (LPF), said negligence on the part of the management was chiefly responsible for the frequent accidents.
He said higher officials in the unit hailed from Hindi-speaking States and their instructions were not properly understood by the workers. He said deploying contract labourers was also a reason. Trained, skilled and permanent workers should be deployed in such units, he said.