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Fire oils wheels of government concern

Calcutta, June 7: After the inferno at Indian Oil Corporation’s Rajbandh terminal that raged for three days, the government has decided to set up a task force to inspect oil installations across the state and make fire-prevention norms more stringent.

Fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee today said the decision was taken following instructions from chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Chatterjee held a meeting with IOC officials and discussed the fire-prevention norms with them. He later said the company had the usual fire-fighting infrastructure but, considering the magnitude of the disaster, it was not enough.

“In fact, if it hadn’t been for the assistance provided by the air force and the army, we wouldn’t have succeeded in fighting the flames,” Chatterjee said.

The task force will comprise three experts from the fire services department, including deputy director D.K. Biswas, and three members from the oil companies. The minister said the panel would be ready in a week.

The subdivisional officer or the district magistrate concerned will join the task force when it is conducting an inspection in their area. The oil companies will have to abide by all the guidelines on fire-prevention framed by the task force, Chatterjee said.

The IOC officials said the fire resulted in a loss of about Rs 5 crore. The storage tank, which contained about 4,000 kilolitres of petrol when lightning struck on the evening of June 3, has been totally destroyed.

IOC general manager Goutam Datta said a new tank will have to be erected, which might cost the company about Rs 1 crore.

General manager (regional services) M.L. Jain said the installation would resume supply in the next couple of days after fire-fighting materials, including water and foam, are replenished.

The IOC authorities refuted media reports of lapses in their fire fighting.

“The fire-fighting exercise had been in place as soon as the lightning set the tank on fire. We had over 53 lakh litres of water in our own storage tank and before that was exhausted, we had adequate water available in (a) nearby canal following release of water by the Damodar Valley Corporation,” Datta said.

He also claimed that no employee or family had to be evacuated from the campus. “In fact, all the employees volunteered their labour in combating the fire.”

IOC general manager (safety) K.K. Gupta also vehemently denied lapses in the fire-fighting drill. “We maintained every recommendation of the Oil Industry Safety Directorate, which has been the benchmark for safety. Even the West Bengal Fire Services has confirmed in its remarks about the adequacy of safety measures to deal with fire,” Gupta said.

Datta said petrol pumps in the Durgapur-Asansol belt have not run dry because of the fire. Supply was provided from the IOC installations at Mourigram and Haldia, besides Bharat Petroleum and Hindusthan Petroleum, he said.

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