Visakhapatnam: The AP government has grand plans of industrialisation to spur economy and to provide employment, especially after the bifurcation of the state, but it seems not to be serious about safety at the factories, putting lives of those working in them and living in the surrounding areas, at risk. In the three districts of north Andhra alone, a total of 50 industrial accidents were reported, including in PSUs in the region in the last two years - 2014 and 2015 and a total of 33 persons were killed.
Interestingly, five fatal and over 10 non-fatal accidents were reported in the pharma and chemical industries. Fingers are being pointed at the lack of commitment, from various departments, in strictly enforcing industrial safety norms. “In almost all chemical and pharma manufacturing units, from Paidibheemevaram in Srikakulam district to the chemical unit in Payakaraopeta mandal, fatal accidents were witnessed during the last several years. There have been multiple accidents and the story of state’s complicity has been the same. The owners and the managers of the accident-prone units have been allowed to get away scot-free. No deterrent action has ever been taken against the promoters of any of these companies,” points former government of India secretary E.A.S. Sarma.
However, joint chief inspector of factories D. Chandrasekhar Varma differs with Mr Sarma. “We book cases and regularly follow them up. In the Deccan Fine Chemicals warehouse in which fire broke a few days ago, 2 died in another mishap in 2014. We have booked them under various sections and the issue is in the court,” says Mr Varma. But the mishaps continue and it is attributed to lack of manpower to regularly inspect these factories on compliance of safety norms.
Of the four circles for the three districts of north Andhra, there are only two inspectors of factories and they were given additional charges. Same is the case with the fire department. Officials at the fire department privately admit that, most of the factories doesn’t comply with fire safety norms. And to check the compliance, fire department is also short staffed. For instance, in Vizag circle alone, there are around 80 vacancies at various levels of fire personnel. “We are managing with the home guards,” says, district fire officer, J Rama Mohan Rao.
Chemical unit’s expansion resisted:
The demand to cancel the expansion plans of Deccan Fine Chemicals at Payakaraopeta is gaining momentum. Last Sunday, a major fire broke in the warehouse of the factory which triggered panic among the locals. They say expansion of the factory will lead to more damage to the locality. In 2014, two workers died in a fire mishap in the same factory. There are plans to expand its operations by investing around Rs 1,200 cr and an environmental hearing is scheduled to be held in the third week of February.
“The company management had failed to adopt safety measures even after two workers died in an explosion in the same factory in 2014. If the proposed expansion takes place, life will become miserable to those living in the surrounding 8 villages,” said, CPM district secretary K. Lokanadham on an earlier occasion. Mr E.A.S. Sarma recently wrote to MoEF asking it to reject the application submitted by Deccan Fine Chemicals for expansion.
“Reject the application for environment clearance and order a thorough investigation into compliance with the earlier-2009 Environment Clearance (EC) and revoke the same, in case, there has been non-compliance with any of the conditions. Order an independent expert group to investigate the unit’s adverse impact on the health of those living nearby and if it exists, impose a deterrent penalty.”