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Furnace fire kills 1, plant safety at stake

Dhenkanal, Nov. 13: One person was killed when a major fire broke out in Bhushan steel plant at Kantabania here today.

Sixteen persons were injured in the incident.

Dhenkanal police detained chief operating officer of Bhushan Steels Atul Burma, shift-in-charge Nabin Tyagi and operation head Meghapal Singh in connection with the incident.

The blaze broke out in the blast furnace-2 of the accident-prone plant around 10am while it was on a trial run. The casualties were likely to rise, as a large number of workers were present in the furnace when the fire broke out following a blast.

Seven fire tenders from Dhenkanal and nearby Angul district had to work uninterrupted for six hours to douse the flames.

Dhenkanal collector Rupa Roshan Sahu said the accident might have taken place when hot metal was being poured into the furnace. With smoke filling the plant premises, access to the accident spot became a problem. But, the authorities shifted 11 persons to Cuttack for treatment, she said. Some of the injured have also been admitted to hospitals in Dhenaknal and Angul.

Ever since the construction of this integrated steel plant began in 2005, it has reported 118 accidental deaths officially. Unofficially, the number is believed to be 300. Last month, a major fire broke out in the plant’s transformer, but there were no casualties.

Labour and employment minister Bijayshree Rourtay, who asked senior officials from Bhubaneswar to rush to Dhenkanal, said: “We had asked the plant authorities earlier to conduct safety audit. If we find safety lapses, action would be taken against them,” he said.

Tension prevailed in the factory area as irate workers and local residents locked the plant gate, demanding specific information on deaths and injuries. They also demanded ex gratia of Rs 10 lakh to the bereaved families and Rs 5 lakh for the injured. Led by former MLA Sudhir Samal, the local residents blocked the National Highway-55 in the afternoon, protesting against the casual attitude of the plant authorities towards the safety measures.

Deputy director of the factories and boilers Hrudaya Sahu, who reached Dhenkanal to inspect the site, said the mishap took place in the furnace, which was on a trial run for the third day today. “For some reason the hot metal might have come into the contact with the inflammatory materials and caught fire,” he said.

The collector asked the Bhushan plant officials to submit the complete list of its workers and the number of casualties and injuries. “So far they have mentioned one death, but we will inquire into the incident,” she said.

Demanding criminal action against the owner of the plant and its officials, senior BJP leader and former minister Bijay Mohapatra said: “The plant has turned to be a crematorium. No safety measures are followed there. The plant should be closed for indefinite period.” He alleged that a similar accident had taken place in the plant 10 months ago, but neither the state pollution control board nor the directorate of factories and boilers sealed the factory.

There are several complaints against the plant authorities and their alleged cavalier attitude towards the state officials. In November 2010, they had made members of an Odisha Assembly Committee wait for 45 minutes before letting them on the plant premises. The panel had pointed out violation of environmental norms by the factory. Another panel, which visited the plant the same year, also expressed displeasure with its functioning. Referring to the political clout of the plant owners, a senior officer of the labour department said: “Whenever an issue crops up, they go straight to the corridors of power in the state secretariat bypassing us. This has made things difficult for us.”


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