Eleven persons were killed when Styrene gas leaked from the LG Polymers factory at Visakhapatnam before dawn on May 7. The Andhra Pradesh government set up a high-level probe committee. But the FIR on the gas leak registered at the Gopalapatnam police station by the local police is telling.
Filed at 7 am on May 7, as per police records, almost five hours after the incident, all the FIR states is that “some smoke came out” of the factory, that there was a “bad smell” and it was this smell that endangered life. “At about 0330 hrs some smoke came out from the LG Polymers Company, due to the reason the neighbouring villages (were) affected and getting bad smell and the smell is endanger to human life. Due to fear, all villagers ran…from the houses. In the incident, 5 persons died and the remaining people were admitted in hospitals as in-patients.” Incidentally, the death toll mentioned here is five when 10 had already been confirmed dead by the time the FIR was filed.
The FIR does not mention Styrene despite the fact that police officials had confirmed the presence of this gas by then. The FIR also does not name anyone from the company.
The FIR was registered under Sections 278 (Making atmosphere noxious to health); 284 (Negligent conduct with respect to poisonous substance), 285 (any act with combustible matter to endanger life), 337 (Causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others), 338 (Causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others), 304-II (Knowledge that the act had likelihood of causing death) of IPC.
When contacted, Joint Chief Inspector of Factories, Visakhapatnam, J Siva Shankar Reddy, told The Indian Express that the “responsibility of reopening the factory safely” after the lockdown was that of General Manager and Director of Operations, LG Polymers, P P Chandra Mohan Rao.
“But he was not present in the factory on the intervening night of May 6-7 when it was decided to restart operations,” he said.
Despite several calls, Rao was unavailable for comment.
“None of the senior managers was present. There were 24 people in the factory at that time, half of whom were workers on contract. There were a few engineers under whose supervision they were working. They did not have the experience to handle the situation,’’ Reddy said.
Asked why no one was named in the FIR, Visakhapatnam Police Commissioner Rajiv Kumar Meena said: “Even if the FIR does not name anyone, the investigation will find out the role of each person responsible in running the factory. The high-powered committee and the experts committee are also examining the roles of the senior managers.”
Emails sent to President and Managing Director of LG Polymers, India, Sunkey Jeong and Technical Advisor Dongoso Kim Diaz, elicited no response. Neither of these two officials was present at the factory the night of the incident.
On May 9, LG Polymers broke its silence to issue a statement offering “condolences and apologies to all who have been affected by the incident.”
Admitting that the cause prima facie was the “leaking vapour from Styrene Monomer storage tank,” the company said it was working with the government to ensure that all those affected are “taken care of.” No compensation has been announced by the firm yet.
To probe the incident, the state government constituted a committee headed by Special Chief Secretary (environment and forests) Neerabh Kumar Prasad and four others: Special Chief Secretary (Industries & Commerce Department) R Karikal Valaven; Visakhapatnam District Collector Vinay Chand and Visakhapatnam City Police Commissioner R K Meena as members and AP Pollution Control Board member-secretary Vivek Yadav as member-convenor.
The committee members are taking the help of the directors of Indian Institute of Petroleum at Dehradun and Visakhapatnam, and of NDRF experts on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear emergencies.