As various agencies have begun to probe the gas leakage in Andhra Pradesh’s coastal city of Visakhapatnam that was reminiscent of Bhopal gas tragedy, the demand for the closure of the polymer plant is gaining momentum.
Tension gripped the region on Saturday (May 9) when hundreds of people from nearby villages gathered at LG Polymers, demanding immediate closure of the plant from where the poisonous Styrene gas vapour leaked on May 7, claiming 12 lives and affecting over 1,000 people.
The agitators stormed the plant and tried to barge into the premises, raising slogans demanding that it be shut immediately and shifted away from residential localities. “Our fight is not for compensation. It is to ensure that this plant is shut down permanently. We are demanding a permanent solution,” said a villager.
As the protest was happening, ambulances carrying the bodies of some victims from King George Hospital mortuary to the villages for cremation were passing by. The angry villagers stopped them and placed the bodies on the road in front of the company gate to stage a dharna.
The police had a tough time controlling the protesters even as the force was mobilised in large numbers in view of Director General of Police Gautam Sawang’s visit to the plant.
A female protester prostrated before the DGP demanding justice for the people by taking immediate action against the company. However, a few female constables took her away. Later, the DGP was escorted out of the premises with heavy police security.
“It has been two days since the cases were booked against the management of LG Polymers. But no action was taken against any of the company officials till date. We shall not allow the company to run under any circumstances,” an angry villager told reporters.
With the situation getting tense, the police resorted to lathi-charge to disperse them. They bundled scores of protesters into vans and took them away to the Gopalapatnam police station. But within no time, many others assembled at the spot and gate-crashed into the company premises.
Visakhapatnam police commissioner RK Meena quickly intervened and, with the help of additional forces, managed to force the protesters out of the company premises. The police also managed to shift the bodies from the spot to Venkatapuram village for cremation.
Later, State Tourism Minister M Srinivasa Rao and other leaders of the ruling YSR Congress party tried to convince the angry villagers, saying the government would make efforts to see that the LG Polymers was moved out.
“The government has appointed a high-powered committee to probe the accident and take stern action against the company. Please bear with us,” Srinivasa Rao said and appealed to the villagers with folded hands to withdraw their protest.
The DGP Gautam Sawang told reporters that the Styrene gas leakage was under complete control and it would be neutralised by evening. “We are not here to protect anybody. The investigation has begun and we shall take action based on the investigation. There is no need for the villagers to get agitated,” he said.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) and Andhra Pradesh government have set up separate committees to probe different aspects of the industrial mishap at the factory operated by South Korean company LG Polymers Ltd.
Taking suo moto cognizance of the accident, the NGT ordered the company to immediately pay a penalty of ₹50 crore. The company is required to deposit the amount with the Visakhapatnam district magistrate.
Also, the green tribunal has set up a five-member committee, headed by a judge of the Andhra Pradesh High Court B Seshasayana Reddy, to look into the causes of the accident.
The committee, comprising former Andhra University vice-chancellor Prof Ch V Rama Chandra Murthy and the head of the chemical engineering department of the Andhra University Prof Pulipati King as members, will submit the report within ten days.
It will also suggest steps to be taken to extend the compensation to the victims and restitution of the damaged property and environment, along with remedial measures to prevent recurrence of such disasters.
On the other hand, the state government has constituted a five-member committee to probe the gas leakage. The committee, headed by special chief secretary (environment, forests, science and technology) Neerab Kumar Prasad, will inquire into the causes of the leakage and verify whether the company had adhered to all safety protocols.
It will study if there are long-term effects of the gas leakage on the surrounding villages and recommend actions to be taken against the company in case of any negligence. The committee will also suggest measures to be taken by industrial units to prevent such mishaps and submit its report within a month.
Meanwhile, LG Polymers, in a statement on May 9, saying it would “investigate the cause of this incident, prevent recurrence in the future, and secure the foundation for care and treatment.”
Stating that the situation of the gas leak was under control, it said an initial investigation had suggested that vapour had leaked from the Styrene Monomer (SM) storage tank near the GPPS (General Purpose Poly Styrene) factory.
“While focusing on stabilising the plant, we assure that we are doing our best to extend all possible support to ensure people and their families who have been affected by this incident are taken care of,” the company said.
“Our teams are working day and night with the government to assess the impact of the damage caused and create concrete measures to deliver an effective care package that can be implemented immediately,” it said.
A special task force has also been set up to help victims and their families to resolve any issues and provide assistance to the kin, the company said.