The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) on February 6 submitted a report with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) Southern Division’s bench stating that 67.638 metric tonnes of ammonia gas had leaked from Coromandel International Limited’s (CIL) pipeline on December 26, 2023. The leak, which lasted around 15 minutes, had hospitalised 44 people who reside in villages located close to the CIL, a fertiliser manufacturing company located in Ennore.
The report was submitted during the third hearing of the suo-moto case registered by the NGT, chaired by Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana and Dr Satyagopal Korlapati, an expert member of the tribunal. Advocate Sai Sathya Jith, who appeared for TNPCB, said that all the 19 ammonia sensors placed in CIL’s plant are either placed in the west and northwest direction of the pipeline. Since the wind’s direction on the night of the gas leak was south-west, none of the sensors detected the leak, he added.
Further, in a statement submitted before the bench, the TNPCB said that the leak had taken place during the pre-cooling process which is carried out before transporting ammonia from the ships to the storage tank in order to maintain the temperature of the pipelines on the sea bed.
On February 4, the state-constituted Technical Committee’s report said that the granite boulders located near the shoreline could have damaged the pipeline during the Michaung cyclone that hit Chennai on December 3 and 4. Substantiating their findings the TNPCB’s report claimed that since the pipelines were damaged, the leak occurred when the pressure in the pipeline was being steadily increased during the pre-cooling process on December 26.
CIL’s representatives who appeared before the bench, however, asked to be allowed time to counter these claims. Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana warned them and said, “Your approach cannot be to counterclaims. You are responsible for this mishap and you have to respond to the question of why the gas leak happened on or before the next hearing.”
At the previous hearing, the TNPCB had also named dock safety officers – appointed under the Dock Workers (Safety, Health and Welfare) Act, 1986 – as responsible for the ammonia gas leak in Ennore. However, the department’s representative argued that the dock safety is only responsible for major ports and since Ennore is categorised as a minor port, the responsibility has to be pinned on the Maritime board. However, the bench asked the dock safety officer to file a report stating the regulations that are in place for major ports to assess the gaps in the regulations that are in place at Ennore’s port. The next hearing has been scheduled for March 5.
Earlier, the Tamil Nadu government had imposed a fine of Rs 5.92 crore on CIL over the Ammonia gas leak incident.