Vizag pharma unit where gas leak killed two saw similar tragedy in 2015

Activist and retired senior bureaucrat EAS Sarma pointed out that there have been 25 serious industrial accidents at Vizag's Pharma City since 2013.
Vizag pharma unit where gas leak killed two saw similar tragedy in 2015
Vizag pharma unit where gas leak killed two saw similar tragedy in 2015
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The port city of Visakhapatnam, a prominent industrial hub in Andhra Pradesh, continues to witness industrial disasters despite all announcements and assurances by authorities after every accident.

Monday night's gas leak at a pharmaceutical unit that claimed two lives and left four others ill was the second tragedy to hit the "city of destiny" in less than two months.

The leak of hydrogen sulphide at Sainor Life Sciences Private Ltd, a pharma company located at Jawaharlal Nehru Pharma City in Parwada, happened even as the tragic memories of styrene gas leak from LG Polymers plant are still fresh in the public's minds.

The May 7 disaster had claimed 12 lives and affected around 500 people in Venkatapuram and other villages surrounding the plant. One of the worst industrial accidents in the city, it had raised many questions on the safety of people living around the industrial units.

Even as the investigations were still on into the incident and the matter was pending in state high court, the accident at the pharmaceutical plant raised new concerns about safety audit.

This is not the first accident for Sainor or Pharma City. Two workers were killed and five injured in a blast at the same company in September 2015.

Activist and retired senior bureaucrat EAS Sarma pointed out that there have been 25 serious industrial accidents at the ''infamous'' Pharma City since 2013 in which 23 persons lost their lives and 73 have been seriously injured.

He urged Special Chief Secretary, Environment and Forests, Neerabh Kumar Prasad to order an investigation into whether the authorities had looked into the reasons for the past 24 accidents in Pharma City, whether they had taken deterrent action against the promoters and the action taken by the state government against the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board (APPCB) and the Inspectorate of Factories.

According to him, most of these units are highly polluting and have been found to be infringing environment protection laws and regulations.

"In any civilised country, by now, some senior officers of the regulatory authorities like the APPCB and Inspectorate of Factories would have been suspended, removed and prosecuted for abetting such accidents. By now, the promoters of the units would have found themselves in jail. However, in AP and elsewhere, the authorities seem to be on the side of the promoters and the latter seem to be fully aware of it," Sarma, a former Union Secretary, wrote to Prasad.

He said the state government should find out as to how the police had closed the case against Sainor promoters in 2015-16. By soft pedalling these cases, the authorities have also become liable to action, he added.

Various pharma or chemical units have been witnessing accidents at regular intervals, raising public alarm now and then.

The accidents continued despite the government constituting a committee to look into the issue. Even a safety audit had been conducted but to no avail.

Officials had then said that a safety audit was conducted in 91 units in the Visakhapatnam region and 10-15 of the units were found wanting.

The third party audit for all chemical and process plants promised after previous accidents remained on paper.

"There is negligence by the companies and also the authorities concerned and that is why accidents have become a regular feature in Pharma City," said opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader and former local MLA, Bandaru Satyanarana Murthy.

In May, 2017, two workers died and three more sustained burns in a fire at the Azico Biophore India Private Ltd. The accident occurred when the workers were cleaning a new reactor with a highly inflammable, flash point electrostatic cleaning solvent.

In 2016, a worker died and 15 others were wounded due to leakage of ammonia gas at Srikar Laboratories Private Ltd. The accident happened in the ammonia compressor unit of the plant which produces intermediates.

Some of the other major incidents that occurred include an oxygen pressure reduction station blast at Visakhapatnam Steel Plant, killing 19 persons on June 13, 2012. The HPCL Visakha Refinery fire had claimed 27 lives on August 23, 2013.

Two workers were killed and four injured in the blast at Hetero Drugs in Nakkapalli in 2013.

The massive fire at Biomax Fuels Ltd at Visakhapatnam Special Economic Zone in 2016 was also a major disaster, though there were no casualties. The fire had to be combated by over 200 men and 40 fire-tenders. More than 30,000 tonnes of foam was airdropped using naval helicopters at the time.

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