A major gas leak took place in a Vishakhapatnam chemical plant in Andhra Pradesh. It is reported that Styrene gas leaked out of from LG Polymers India plant in Venkatapuram area of the city late night at 3 AM on 7th May 2020, when people were still in the middle of their sleep. At least 12 people are known to have died directly due to gas exposure. It is estimated that some 5000 people became sick due to exposure to the gas. Between 500 and 800 had to be hospitalized.
On 9th May, thousands of people of the surrounding villages assembled in front of the factory gate and demanded that the factory must be closed down. They demanded an explanation from the company’s management for what had happened. However the company management did not bother to come out. Denouncing the arrogant uncaring attitude of the LG management, the protestors demanded that the government take strict action against the top management of the company. Instead of doing so, the police lathi charged the protesting people and arrested many of them.
Till date, no one in the company has been held responsible for the gas leak. A committee has been constituted by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to investigate the leak and submit its findings by 18th May. What is known is that the leak happened as the plant was being readied to be restarted after the lockdown, in violation of regulatory clearances. The owners of the plant had increased the capacity of the plant from 450 tons a day to 650 and post facto applied for environmental clearance. The state authorities had sent a notice to the company in November 2019 that it did have an environmental clearance. Thus the attempt to start the plant was in clear violation of the environmental clearance.
The Vishakhapatnam gas leak is grim reminder of the Bhopal gas leak, one of the worst industrial disasters that took place nearly 36 years ago, which has been responsible for the deaths of more than 35000 people over the past decades. Industrial disasters occur in our country again and again but there is a complete lack of accountability to the people. All regulations relating to safety are openly flouted. The licensing and inspecting authorities actively collude with the capitalist owners in violation of all safety norms. Further, when disasters take place, the committees set up to investigate them are actually used to cover-up the facts.
It must be noted that the Central government has recently drafted the Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020, in which it has proposed that if a company violates its environment clearance by changing the production process or by increasing its capacity, then there will be no punitive action for the violation but only some penalties will be levied. The entire experience of violation of safety regulations and callous neglect of rehabilitation of victims of various disasters in India shows that the Indian state is criminally indifferent to the plight of working class and ordinary people.
LG is a South Korean multinational company. In the name of making India an attractive destination for foreign capital, the Indian state has been openly encouraging the violation of all laws related to environmental safety, as well as laws which are meant to ensure safe working conditions of workers.
Mazdoor Ekta Lehar condemns this criminal callousness of the State towards the working people and demands that the government provide immediate relief and full rehabilitation to the victims of gas leak from LG Polymers plant. Trade Unions and workers organisations must unitedly raise their voice against the growing violation of environmental protection norms and safety regulations in factories.