BPCL refinery fire doused but tension continues to simmer

BPCL is in the process of setting up a committee to investigate the cause of the boiler blast.

Written by Mohamed Thaver | Mumbai | Published: August 10, 2018 2:46:14 am
Cooling operations underway at the BPCL refinery on Thursday. (Express photo by Prashant Nadkar)

The fire at the Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) refinery at Mahul in Chembur, that followed a blast at a hydro-cracker unit in the plant, was doused around 1.30 am on Thursday.

Of the nearly 43 people who sustained injuries, 12 are still recuperating at Sushrut hospital. Among the 22 patients admitted at the hospital, 10 refinery employees have been discharged. Patrick B Pratap, the director of administration at the hospital, said another five injured are slated to be discharged by Friday. “Nobody is critical. The two patients with head injury are serious but out of danger,” he added.

However, tension in the neighbourhood around the refinery, where residents have been up in arms against authorities since the incident, continued to simmer. Some residents of nearby buildings, especially those in a cluster of 72 MMRDA buildings located within a kilometre of the refinery, who fled the spot following the blast, are yet to return, said their neighbours.

Meanwhile, BPCL is in the process of setting up a committee to investigate the cause of the boiler blast that took place around 2.45 pm on Wednesday.

For residents of Mahul, who had raised slogans against the chief minister and the BMC outside the refinery soon after the incident, this further aggravates their sense of isolation.

“Yesterday, when there was a huge blast followed by fire, all of us were scared. So, many tried to flee fearing the worst. However, the only road that connects us to the city had been blocked to get fire brigades to the refinery. There was fire on one side and the creek on the other and we were stuck in between with nowhere to go,” said Yogendra Mhatre (51), a local.

“Eventually, some people, who had vehicles and a relative’s place to go to, left and the rest stayed back. We are lucky that the fire did not spread,” he added.

The residents alleged that even on normal days, travelling to other parts of the city is a task due to lack of adequate public transport, poor roads and the resultant traffic.

Umesh Gohil, an MMRDA colony resident whose work takes him to south Mumbai, said: “In January this year, they started a BEST bus route 45 that goes to Dadar from here. Besides that, there are just two BEST buses that go to Kurla and Chembur railway stations. The nearest station is Chembur that is around 7 km away. Due to the traffic, we have to pay nearly Rs 100 to reach Chembur or Kurla railway stations.”

Shanta Kataria, another local, added: “After 8 pm, even auto drivers refuse to come here. The roads are bad, there is constant traffic on RC Marg that one needs to take to come here. We reside in the middle of nowhere.”
Compounding these problems is the fact that majority of the area’s residents are project affected people (PAP) uprooted from their surroundings and rehabilitated here by the government.

Monica Kahar, who resides in the MMRDA colony, continues to work in SEEPZ in Andheri (East) where she worked when she resided in Sakinaka. “From here, I have to take a bus to Kurla, a train to Kanjurmarg from there and then a bus to SEEPZ. This area does not have many job opportunities. Forget job opportunities, there are hardly any good school.” Several residents send their children to schools as far as Dadar, Parel and Ghatkopar.

Locals also claimed that two buildings in the cluster were allotted to policemen but none of them had moved here.
The biggest problem for the residents, however, continues to be the air and water pollution they say is caused on account of the proximity to the refineries. Apart from BPCL, there is a Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) refinery, Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers (RCF) factory and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation in the area. Renuka Wagh, a local said, “The quality of the water is so bad that even after being boiled, there is an oily layer on it.”

Rekha Gadge, an activist from Mahul, said: “Due to the poor air quality here, the doctors have observed higher incidences of TB, skin and eye irritation. In an NGT hearing last month, the tribunal had asked the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), National Environmental Engineering Research Institute and Central Pollution Control Board to jointly work on monitoring the air quality for three months and submit reports.”
“The ammonia levels outside the RCF are so high that one cannot stand there. Then there are these refineries burning hydrocarbons. The quality of air is so bad that human inhabitation should not be allowed in the area. The urban development ministry had rehabilitated PAPs there without consulting the MPCB… Tomorrow if there is a fire, how are you going to evacuate the nearly 30,000 people residing in the area,” asked Stalin Dayanand, an environmentalist.

Alleging that the residents have been dumped in Mahul without any facilities, local Shiv Sena corporator Shrikant Shetye said: “The government should have thought about the facilities before getting them here. Now, the only hope for the residents is the Bombay High Court, which is hearing the matter. On Wednesday, it had told the government that they cannot move people here without its permission.”

(With inputs from Benita Chacko and Tabassum Barnagarwala)

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