Following the gas leak incident at a chemical factory in Andhra Pradesh’s Visakhapatnam that claimed 11 lives on Thursday, the National Green Tribunal slapped an interim penalty of Rs 50 crore on LG Polymers India Friday and sought response from the Centre and others for the “damage to life, public health and environment”.
Chairperson NGT Adarsh Kumar Goel has further issued notices to the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC), the Andhra Pradesh State PCB, District Magistrate of Vishakhapatnam, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), and LG Polymers India Pvt. Limited to submit reports on the incident.
The tribunal set up a five-member committee headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, including former Judge of Andhra Pradesh High Court Justice B. Seshasayana Reddy, Prof. Ch V Rama Chandra Murthy, former Vice-Chancellor Andhra University, Professor Pulipati King, Head of Chemical Engineering Department, Andhra University, Member Secretary, CPCB and Director, CSIR to investigate the incident and submit a report before May 18.
The NGT had taken up the matter suo motu based on various media reports on the Styrene leak, a hazardous gas, from a chemical plant at 3.45 am at Venkatpuram village in Visakhapatnam leading to the death of 11 persons and the hospitalisation of over a hundred. Twenty five of those hospitalised are in serious condition. The chemical plant is owned by a South Korean company LG Polymers India Pvt Ltd.
“These fatalities and injuries are reportedly likely to increase. More than 1000 persons are reported sick. There is also damage to environment and habitat. The media reports give rise to a substantial question of environment, which needs to be gone into by this Tribunal under Sections 14 and 15 of the NGT Act, 2010,” said the order.
What styrene is for, and how it behaves
Styrene is an organic compound with the formula C8H8, its molecular structure as pictured. It is a derivative of benzene (C6H6). It is stored in factories as a liquid, but evaporates easily, and has to be kept at temperatures under 20°C. It is the main raw material for synthesis of polystyrene, or (C8H8)n. Polystyrene, in turn, is a versatile plastic that is used to make parts of various appliances such as refrigerators or micro-ovens; automotive parts; and parts of electronics such as computers.
Styrene gas is a hazardous chemical as defined under Rule 2(e) of Schedule I to the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989. The Rules require on-site and off-site Emergency Plans to ensure prevention of damage.
In it’s order, the NGT has observed that there “appears to be failure to comply with the said Rules and other statutory provisions.”
“Leakage of hazardous gas at such a scale adversely affecting public health and environment, clearly attracts the principle of ‘Strict Liability’ against the enterprise engaged in hazardous or inherently dangerous industry. Such an entity is liable to restore the damage caused under the Environment Law, apart from other statutory liability. The statutory authorities responsible for authorizing and regulating such activities may also be accountable for their lapses, if any, in dealing with the matter,” read the NGT order.
The committee set up by the tribunal will look into the sequence of events, causes of failure of persons or authorities responsible, extent of damage to life, human and non-human, public health and environment (including soil, water and air), steps to be taken for compensation of victims and restitution of the damaged property and environment, and the cost involved and remedial measures to prevent recurrence.
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