NEARLY A month after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) set up a six-member committee to probe into the November 4 chemical factory blast in Ahmedabad that led to the collapse of an adjacent textile godown and left 13 dead, a public hearing was held Monday. While the panel, appointed by a four-member bench of the green tribunal expressed satisfaction after the hearing, several family members of the victims complained of late notification of public hearing and unanswered queries, including on NGT-ordered compensation.
The committee led by retired judge BC Patel told The Indian Express that among those heard at the public hearing included “people who sustained injuries and (relatives of those who) died… Some of them came and were heard. All have not come”.
Families members of only five persons who died in the blast attended the public hearing and claimed it was by a “stroke of luck” that they came across a newspaper advertisement, dated November 30, calling for the submission of written applications at the Collector’s office by December 5 by those interested to be heard at the public hearing scheduled for December 7.
Jyoti Christian, the daughter of Ranginiben (50) who died in the incident, said, “Our aunt told us on December 5 that it was the last day to get ourselves heard (and submit a written application) as per a newspaper advertisement. So, we rushed to the Collector’s office in the afternoon. We also informed some other families (of victims). At the hearing on Monday, all they asked us was details of the victim, such as age, work they were doing, etc. We enquired about the Rs 15 lakh compensation that the NGT had ordered but was told that investigation was underway in the matter and no answer or timeline was given to us.”
Girish Chavda, the brother of Mathur Chavda (50), who was among the 13 people killed in the blast along with his wife Angelna (44), said he had sought the opinion of the committee on the NGT’s order for Rs 15 lakh compensation. “They told me that they will pay when the properties of the accused are sold off,” he said.
“Why weren’t all victims’ family members called or notified? Not all of us are literate or read newspapers. They already have all our details, all they had to do was call,” Girish added.
Mostly engaged in daily wage work, relatives of the five deceased present at the hearing rued: “nothing happened and a day’s wages are lost”. Rajesh and Naina Christian, parents of Jacqueline (19) who died in the incident, had Monday shut their tea stall to attend the public hearing. The couple was hoping for some answers on the actions taken against the accused and the compensation. “We were told only one person from a victim’s family could speak at the hearing, so it is not even that both of us could make submissions,” Naina said.
Stating the purpose of the public meeting “was to gather evidence from the public”, retired Justice Patel said now reports shall be called for from different departments of the government, including FSL report which the committee was yet to be provided. “Based on these, the compensation amount shall be assessed, based on evidence… compensation is required to be given to a person on account of his education, income, age, ability to work, all these aspects have to be considered,” he said.
According to the report submitted by Additional Chief Secretary Vipul Mittra, the forensic sciences laboratory probe had found explosive materials were stored in the factory which, either due to high pressure or heated conditions in the unit, resulted in the blast. Inflammable substance including methyl ethyl ketone and oxidising agent hydrogen peroxide were found at the site, it stated.
After a hearing on November 11, the NGT had issued an order stating: “We assess the interim compensation for death at Rs 15 lakhs… and for injuries of persons hospitalised at Rs 5 lakh per person. The interim compensation is the liability first of the owner of the unit and on his failure of the state…,” while adding that the committee may “as far as possible make final quantification of compensation”.
On Monday, advocate Prachiti Shah, representing the textile unit Kanika Texofab, was also heard by the NGT-appointed panel. A source present at the proceedings said the textile unit representatives submitted that they have suffered losses including nearly Rs 17 lakh worth material that was still stuck under the debris. A part of the statement submitted by the textile unit said they have insurance worth Rs 4.30 crore.
Of the 14 people who had submitted applications for attending the Monday’s public hearing, only eight had turned up, sources said. Apart from the four families and Kanika Texofab’s legal representative, others present included private individual NGO Paryavaran Samiti and Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi.