Gas leak incident in Vishakapatnam raises some serious questions.

Updated: Jan 21

A major gas leak in a private sector chemical plant of a South Korea company in Visakhapatnam has left at least eight people dead and over 1000 being hospitalised. The tragedy occurred after a styrene vapour leak from the LG Polymers plant which was preparing to re-open after 40 days of lockdown. The leak has impacted villages in about a 5 km radius.

Following this incident, former Secretary to Government of India E A S Sarma has written a letter to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy which raised some serious questions on the part of officials and promoters.

Read the full letter written by EAS Sharma here:

Dear Shri Jagan Mohan Reddy garu,

From TV visuals, I understand that there was a serious leakage of toxic gases at the manufacturing site of LG Polymers in Venkatapuram village near Pendurthi on the outskirts of Vizag.

I gather that hundreds of people upto 3km around the site, especially women and children, have got exposed to the gases and have fallen seriously ill.  They are being evacuated to different hospitals in the city. It is unfortunate that such a ghastly accident should take place at a time when the district administration is busy engaged in COVID operations.

There are some important aspects that I wish to bring to your notice about this accident, as follows.

LG Polymers is a South Korean company, constantly pampered by the successive governments. It stands on government ceiling surplus land valuing hundreds of crores of rupees and the company had dragged the government into litigation, when the government tried to take back the land. Despite this, how did APPCB grant Consent for Establishment (CFE) and Consent for Operation (CFO) around the beginning of 2019 for the unit’s expansion? APPCB did not apparently take clearance either from the State govt or from the Union Ministry of Environment.

In the first instance, this unit being a highly polluting one and its being close to residential areas, APPCB should not have allowed it to expand its operations. How did APPCB readily permit such an expansion?

This is not the first industrial accident to take place in the outskirts of Visakhapatnam. Around 30 to 40 accidents took place in the past resulting in several workers and civilians losing their lives, with no promoter prosecuted and no officer of the State govt punished. It implies collusion between the officers and the promoters of the polluting industries. I would not be surprised if the promoters have had support from the political leaders of all hues.

When the first phase of the recent lockdown ended, a No Objection Certificate (NOC) was apparently granted to LG Polymers, ostensibly on the ground that it was an “essential” industry. By no stretch of imagination, a plastics manufacturing unit like this can be called “essential”. Someone senior in the govt should be held responsible for this lapse.

Pollution in principle reduces the body’s immunity to diseases like Corona. It is ironic that both the Centre and the State should jointly encourage activities such as liquor sales and industrial pollution that weaken human immunity at a time when the country is facing an unprecedented crisis due to Corona virus spread.

Kindly direct your officers to prosecute the promoters and the senior managers of LG Polymers urgently as a deterrent measure. Please fix responsibility on APPCB and the officers of the industrial safety wing for allowing such an industrial unit to expand operations and resume manufacturing.

How did a foreign company operating in India conduct its operations so casually and carelessly?

It appears that foreign companies like this one are moving into India as the Union Ministry of Environment, in the name of “easing business”, is progressively relaxing the environment clearance procedures and encouraging polluting industries to set up shop in the country, knowing well that even if they violate the law of the land, they will get protection from the official organs of the State.

Who will pay for the adverse health impact on the workers and the people in the vicinity? Both IPC proceedings and a heavy civil penalty are called for in this case.

Regards, Yours sincerely, E A S Sarma Former Secretary to GOI Visakhapatnam