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Safety glare on Tatas

- Case against steel major for Nov. 14 blast

Jamshedpur, Dec. 12: Jharkhand’s chief factory inspector, probing last month’s explosion and fire at Tata Steel works in Jamshedpur that killed an employee and injured 10 workers, has filed a case against the company for not conducting a mandatory safety audit.

Awadesh Kumar Singh filed the case against Tata Steel MD T.V. Narendran today in the court of chief judicial magistrate, Jamshedpur, Piyush Kumar, alleging violations of norms prescribed in the Environment (Protection) Act 1986.

In his complaint petition, Singh claimed the company had not taken prior permission before storing hazardous chemicals and failed to conduct a safety audit within the stipulated time at the LD-II unit where the accident occurred.

Tata Steel refused to comment as company representatives were yet to study the case papers. “We have heard of the complaint case. However, we are not in a position to make any comment till we go through the case papers,” said a company spokesperson.

The factory inspector’s case is based on the findings of a three-member probe panel comprising deputy chief factory inspector A.K. Mishra, Ranchi factory inspector Manish Kumar and himself. The panel, set up by state labour commissioner Pooja Singhal after she visited the site a day after the blast, will submit its report on Saturday.

Around 3.30pm on November 14, an explosion shattered the calm at the Tata plant. The blast triggered a fire at LD-II which refines molten iron into flat steel for use in the auto industry.

An initial probe report said air leak led to the formation of an explosive mixture in the unit’s gas-holder that came apart under the impact and landed onto supply pipelines about 50 metres away. One of the pipes developed a leak, triggering a spark that ignited the inflammable gases.

In all, 11 people, including six contractual labourers, were injured. Later, B.N. Sikdar, a technician, succumbed to his injuries at Medanta Medicity in Gurgaon.

In his complaint petition, Singh cited violation of two aspects of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 — rule 7, sub-rule (1) and rule 10, schedule 8.

“During the probe, we found that the LD-II gas holder was an isolated gas storage unit of hazardous chemicals of toxic nature with a capacity of 80,000 cubic metres. As per Environment (Protection) Act rule 7 (sub-rule 1), generation and storage of hazardous chemicals require prior permission from the chief factory inspector before starting the unit,” said deputy chief factory inspector Mishra.

“Tata Steel in its reply has failed to show any permission from the chief factory inspector on this provision,” Mishra added.

Tata Steel, the chief factory inspector alleged, had also flouted rule 10 of the act.

“The unit, as per rule 10 of the act, should have submitted a safety report and safety audit from an external agency within 15 days (of commissioning the unit). However, the company failed to produce a safety audit report in its reply,” Mishra added.

In his petition, chief factory inspector Kumar cited the probe committee’s assertion that the explosion could have been averted had the company undertaken a safety audit, based on which the fault in the gas holder could have been detected earlier.

Also, the chief factory inspector had sought Tata Steel MD’s views on the alleged violation of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 on November 21. But, the company did so only on December 3.

According to lawyers, violation of provisions of the 1986 act was a non-bailable offence, attracting jail term of anything between one and five years or fine of a maximum of Rs 1 lakh or both.