Fifteen people were killed and 12 injured after a pipeline of the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) exploded following a gas leak early on Friday near Nagaram village in East Godavari district, about 600 km from Hyderabad. People in the village said they had complained to the GAIL authorities about the leak but no action was taken to plug it.
State Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu, who visited the village, told The Indian Express over phone that the people complained to him that the pipeline had rusted and cracked. “They told me that when they approached GAIL authorities, they did not pay heed to their complaints that gas was leaking. Authorities are investigating this matter,” he said.
The incident occurred around 6 am just as tea stalls and small eateries were opening. Police officials said they suspect that gas was leaking and when a tea stall vendor struck a match, it caused the explosion. “GAIL authorities are also investigating but no one is sure what caused the explosion,” said East Godavari SP G V Kumar said.
The explosion killed four people at a tea stall near the pipeline, and resulted in a massive fire that engulfed several nearby houses and huts of farm labourers. Many in the thatched-roof huts were either burnt alive or suffered serious burn injuries. The dead included three women and three children.
The fire was so severe that it ravaged nearby coconut and banana trees and crops in the fields.
Police said they have started a probe into the allegations of the villagers. “A case has been registered under section 174 of Criminal Procedure Code (unnatural death). It is being alleged that the leakage had been reported in the past few days… if it is so the case will be changed to 304 A of the Indian Penal Code (causing death by negligence),” IGP (North Coastal Zone) Atul Singh was quoted by PTI as saying.
Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu ordered an inquiry into the incident and cut short his visit to New Delhi to visit the the site. “It is a very sad incident. The government will provide whatever help possible to the victims’ families,” Naidu said. At least 12 injured people have been evacuated to hospitals in Kakinada, Amalapuram and Razole.
District Collector Neetu Kumari Prasad said the toll could rise. “It took two hours for the fire to be controlled after GAIL cut the gas flow in the pipeline. We have evacuated all the injured, some of them with serious burn injuries. We are not sure what caused the explosion,” Prasad said.
The explosion occurred close to the ONGC gas complex at Tatipaka. The 18-inch pipeline supplies gas to Lanco’s 368 MW gas-based power plant known as Kondapalli phase-1 near Vijayawada.
Deputy Chief Minister N Chinna Rajappa reached the spot to oversee relief for the victims’ families and those injured.
After the blast, the ONGC shutdown two of its in-shore gas fields located in the Krishna-Godavari basin.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced ex-gratia relief of Rs 2 lakh from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund for the next of the kin of those who have lost their lives in the incident and Rs 50,000 for those who were seriously injured.
BJP leaders Prabhat Jha, Shahnawaz Hussain and Krishnapal Gujar also addressed a number of rallies.