NGOs' team to visit blast workers

NEW DELHI, OCT. 7. A week after the massive explosion in the Ghaziabad steel factory that sent shock waves across various government departments, environmentalists and labour resource groups are now moving in to assess the aftermath. Concerned about the workers -- the blast claimed 10 lives and injured 15 -- and the environmental repercussions, a fact-finding team is planning to visit the injured workers and the site soon.

The team -- with members from non-government organisations and labour unions -- will look into the working conditions at the Bhushan Steel and Strips plant, blast-related injuries sustained by the workers and the compensation provided to the workers. The environmental impact -- such as possible effects on groundwater -- will be also be examined by the team.

With members from labour resource group, Centre For Education and Communication; environmental group, Toxics Link and trade unions like Hind Mazdoor Sabha and Centre of Indian Trade Union, the team is likely to visit the injured workers and the site of the blast before the end of the week.

"Till now, it is the version of the Government and the owners that we have been hearing. But it is important to know what the workers have to say because they are the ones who were exposed to the material and have suffered because of it. They did not even have proper protection from these hazardous substances. Also, such incidents don't happen in isolation. Obviously, there would be a history to this and we need to find that out,'' said environmentalist, Gopal Krishnan from Toxics Link. As far as the hazardous waste generation, it is the contamination of groundwater that is of utmost concern, he added.

Meanwhile, labour resource groups have also expressed annoyance about the sections under which the accused have been booked. "They have registered a case of negligence. It is ridiculous to say that the owners did not know what was coming into their factory. They should be charged with culpable homicide, not negligence,'' alleged programme officer at Centre For Education and Communication, Pranjal Jyoti Goswami.

According to environmentalists, the issue is not just about the blast but also of how the substances reached the steel plant.

Though import of steel scrap is allowed, those contaminated with substances -- as those uncovered in the Steel Plant -- are under the banned list. Once the situation has been assessed, a submission will also be made to the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee -- set up to oversee the implementation of the Hazardous Waste Management Order. "Import of these substances is not allowed into the country. While it is possible to import steel scrap, explosives are certainly not allowed. International conventions also ban the transboundary movement of such substances. There are loopholes in the import policy. Also, these substances were allowed through the Customs. That can either point at negligence in the Department or that the officials are not trained and don't know how to differentiate these substances. We will be making a submission to the SCMC within a few days,'' said environmentalist Madhumita Dutta of The Other Media.