'No safety measures were in place': Activists, kin of victims who died in AP gas leak

Three workers had lost their lives after a gas leak on May 11 at a chemical factory in Andhra Pradesh.
Safety standards
Safety standards
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Two weeks after a gas leak killed three workers at a chemical factory in Andhra Pradesh, family members of the deceased have alleged that safety measures at Nellore-based Venkata Narayana Active Ingredients Private Limited (VNAI Pvt Ltd) were inadequate. The incident took place on May 11 at the company’s medical drug manufacturing unit at Chandrapada village of Vinjamur mandal in Nellore district. Three workers, identified as Bellam Konda Srinivas (27), a senior executive, and cleaning staff Pattipati Tirupataiah (60) and Velugoti Tirupataiah (60) died after inhaling an unknown poisonous industrial gas, police said.

TNM spoke with family members of the three victims, who alleged that they were unclear about what exactly led to the death and blamed company officials for failing to disclose the full details. Of the three, two of the deceased were uneducated. Speaking to TNM, Nirosha, Pattipati Tirupataiah’s daughter said, "Why would such an incident take place if there was safety? Nothing was informed to us. We got a call after his death that he fainted after inhaling a gas." She further added, "Last year also, there was an explosion, but they seem to have not changed any mistake." 

Bellamkonda Srinivas' family member, Venkateshwarlu, said, "When asked about what happened on that day, company officials said that the deceased persons have failed to turn on a fan, while unloading a chemical."

Environmental activists are alleging that the company was being excluded from safety procedures and asked whether the company had a safety officer in place. They also point out that in July 2020, a boiler explosion in the same factory had killed an employee and left three others severely injured, as they were trying to load chemicals.

Retired scientist and environmental activist Dr K Babu Rao alleged that chemical industries were being operated with unqualified people. He said, "It is certainly the failure of regulators to allow hazardous plants to be operated by people unqualified for the job." Babu Rao said that he and VG Rao, a former Professor at IIT Bombay, had written to the District Collector offering their help to the investigating team for robust analysis of the accident. However, the Collector did not respond to their letter, he said.

Srinivasulu D, a Nellore-based journalist and environmental activist alleged that the company was not complying with environmental and safety standards. "Beside the lapses in complying with safety measures, there have been instances of damaging the environment. There is a threat to wildlife due to the operations," he alleged. He also said that his Right to Information (RTI) application seeking details of a previous accident that took place in July 2020 and a preliminary report on the recent incident that lead to deaths, was pending with the local tahsildar.

The government constituted a joint committee to look into the incident with officials from the Directorate of Factories, State Pollution Control Board and police. After announcing Rs 40 lakh as compensation to the families, an amount of Rs 10 lakh has been handed over so far. TNM tried to reach out to Nellore Deputy Chief Inspector of Factories to ask about the progress of the committee’s probe into the incident. However, he was unavailable for comment.

TNM also spoke to Environmental Engineer (EE) Nellore region Ch Rajasheker, who is a part of the committee, but he declined to share the preliminary report, stating that they would release it in the first week of June, as it is under progress. When the EE was asked why the company was allowed to operate despite lapses and an incident in the past, he said, "At that point of time, a committee probed the incident and raised certain issues that needed to be complied with as per the guidelines. They were given clearance after an assurance that they would comply with safety guidelines."

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