IN A MAJOR industrial accident, nine workers were killed and 14 others injured following a blast in a gas pipeline during a “scheduled maintenance job” at SAIL’s flagship Bhilai Steel Plant Tuesday morning, officials said.
According to Chhattisgarh Police, the death toll could rise as the condition of some of the injured is “very serious”. Police said search and rescue operations ended by late afternoon, and that a fire triggered by the blast has been contained.
“In an unfortunate incident at around 10.30 am today in SAIL Bhilai Steel Plant, there was a fire in gas pipeline of Coke Oven Battery Complex 11 during a scheduled maintenance job. Some persons working at the site sustained burn injuries. Injured persons were immediately rushed to the BSP Hospital for medical care and aid. Meanwhile, the fire has been controlled,” said a statement issued by SAIL’s Corporate Affairs Division.
“So far, nine persons have lost their lives and 14 are undergoing medical treatment. All resources have been mobilised to provide adequate care to the injured. SAIL collective stands by the families of the affected and will ensure that no stone is left unturned in providing all kinds of support,” it said.
This was the second major accident at the Bhilai Steel Plant in the last four years — in 2014, six people were killed and 30 others injured in a gas leak. An official at the plant told The Indian Express, on condition of anonymity, that most of the dead were killed instantly in the blast. They said that a probe into what went wrong will be conducted in detail Wednesday.
“The accident occurred during maintenance work carried out by the Energy Management Department. There was a blast during the maintenance of the oven that converts coking coal to coke, which generates high levels of gas, and its battery complex. Since the work was of a serious nature, fire tenders and fire workers of BSP were present at the time. But the blast was severe and there was little warning, and a massive fire erupted,” the official said.
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“This (the maintenance work) is a highly volatile process, but it is also clear that something went wrong. During the maintenance process, there are methods to control the gas in the pipeline, and there is a SOP, which senior officials are meant to monitor. We will have to see what went wrong in that process,” the official said.
Earlier in the morning, police teams rushed to the spot to cordon off the area, with search and rescue hampered because of the gas levels and the raging fire. “The police reacted immediately, but in cases like these there was an issue with search and rescue and how quickly it could be done. However, there were 23 people near the pipeline at the time, some from the fire fighting department of the BSP, and everyone has been accounted for,” G P Singh, IG, Durg Range, said.
Durg Police officers said that after the inquest proceedings are completed, it is likely that a case under section 304 A (causing death by negligence) of the IPC will be registered.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh condoled the deaths and said that his government stood with the families in their time of grief with Cabinet minister Prem Prakash Pandey meeting the injured at the Bhilai Sector 9 hospital.
Chhattisgarh Congress chief, Bhupesh Baghel, said it was important that a judicial enquiry be held into the blast and accountability fixed for the lives lost.