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Old pipe blamed for Bhilai gas leak

Raipur, June 13: Bhilai Steel Plant authorities had been requested over the past year to replace the ageing pipeline that burst yesterday and led to the gas leak that killed two managers and four others, union sources said today.

The pipeline, which supplies water to a gas-cleaning unit attached to the blast furnaces, had deteriorated over the years, the sources said. The plant of the Centre-owned SAIL dates back to 1959.

“The plant management was informed repeatedly over the past year about the poor shape of the pipeline but no action was taken,” said Kaladas Daharia, convenor of the Loktantrik Ispat Union, one of the associations at the plant.

A key reason for the delay is seen to lie in a sputtering three-year modernisation plan at the Bhilai plant — SAIL’s highest profit-making unit. The revamp was to over in 2011 but is still on. Officials have blamed the economic slump that has hit demand for products.

SAIL officials, including chief C.S. Verma, refused comment. The PSU had announced an inquiry yesterday, as had the government of Chhattisgarh, of which Bhilai is a part. A plant official said the gas leak resulting from the pipeline burst was unexpected. “Never in the past 50 years has an incident like this been reported at SAIL plants.”

Five employees, including two deputy general managers, died yesterday. The toll rose to six today, after the body of a contract labourer was found in a pump house where work was on to fix the pipeline rupture.

Water flow had been halted for the repairs, leading to a sudden loss in pressure because of which a combination of the deadly methane and carbon monoxide entered the pipeline from the blast furnace units.

Of the over 30 employees admitted to hospital yesterday, 22 were discharged today and another eight being treated were “out of danger and stable”, said a SAIL release from the PSU’s Delhi head office.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the deaths. Rahul Gandhi sought a “thorough” probe.