The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Friday imposed an interim fine of Rs 50 crore on the LG Polymer – the South Korean company which owns the chemical factory in Visakhapatnam, where a gas leak accident occurred killing at least 11 people and 1,000 exposed, reports Times of India. Styrene monomer stored in a tank in the polystyrene manufacturing plant had evaporated and escaped out of the tank after the refrigeration unit attached to had failed during the lockdown period.
The tribunal also sought response from the Centre and state authorities while noting that the incident appeared to be a result of “failure to comply” with rules and other statutory provisions.
Imposing the fine, Justice Goel said, “Having regard to the prima facie material regarding the extent of damage to life, public health and environment, we direct LG Polymers India Pvt. Limited to forthwith deposit an initial amount of Rs 50 crore, with the District Magistrate, Vishakhapatnam, which will abide by further orders of this Tribunal. The amount is being fixed having regard to the financial worth of the company and the extent of the damage caused.”
NGT constitutes a five-member committee to probe gas leak incident
Taking up the matter suo-motu, a bench, headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, set up a five-member committee to probe Thursday’s gas leak incident in the chemical factory.
The five-member committee set up under former Andhra Pradesh High Court judge, Justice B Seshasayana Reddy will assess causes of failure and identify persons and authorities responsible for it and fix liability by examining the extent of damage to life, public health and environment – including, water, soil, air. The Committee is asked to submit its report before hearing on the matter on May 18.
The bench noted that the 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 a hazardous or inherently dangerous industry.
The committee is also asked to submit its report on steps to be taken for compensation of victims and restitution of damaged property and environment, and remedial measures to prevent such a disaster.
The members of the committee include V Rama Chandra Murthy, former Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University, Pulipati King, Head of Chemical Engineering Department of the Andhra University, CPCB Member Secretary, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology Director, and head of NEERI in Vizag.
The district magistrate, Vishakhapatnam, and the regional office of the Andhra Pradesh State Pollution Control Board have been directed by the Tribunal on Friday to provide logistic support to the Committee to enable its fact-finding and reporting.
LG Polymers’ plant violated green rules: Environment Ministry
After conducting a preliminary investigation in Thursday’s gas leak, the environment ministry on Friday said that the LG Polymers’ plant in Vishakhapatnam violated green rules as far as its functioning under expanded capacity is concerned.
“The company had applied for post-facto approval of its operation under expanded capacity. Since the clearance is pending, the operation of the plant is certainly a violation,” said a senior ministry official. The application was forwarded to the ministry by the Andhra Pradesh Environment Impact Assessment Authority on March 17.
According to the ministry, the LG Polymers India had applied for permission to expand its capacity from 415 tonnes per day (TPD) to 655 TPD on its existing site of 213 acres.
Meanwhile, the ministry is finalising guidelines for all industrial units in the country to ensure safety while resuming operations during lockdown 3.0 or post-lockdown period. Since many companies resumed their operations after May 3, such guidelines would help them in a smooth transition.
LG Polymers gas leak incident
A major chemical leak from a polymer plant near Visakhapatnam impacted villages in a five-km radius, leaving many people dead and several other citizens suffering from breathlessness and other problems. The leak was noticed by company staff who were reportedly inspecting machines to restart the factory and raised an alarm.
Hours after the styrene gas leak around 2:30 am on Thursday from the multinational LG Polymers Plant at RR Venkatapuram village, people were seen lying unconscious on sidewalks, near ditches and on the road, raising fears of a major industrial disaster. Eleven people have lost their lives and more than 200 have been admitted to the hospitals following the leak of styrene gas from the facility.