A fire department employee sprays water in the scrap iron yard to dilute the effect of the gas. Picture by Santosh Kumar Mandal
Asansol, Aug. 27: The owner of an Asansol scrap iron yard blamed for a gas leak that killed two persons last night was arrested today, with police saying he did not have a licence.
Naushad Ali, the owner of Bright Enterprise, has been booked for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The 25 people who were hospitalised yesterday are stated to be stable.
Many in the locality and a section of BJP leaders wondered how the scrap iron yard was allowed to operate in a congested residential area that also has two nursing homes.
“During interrogation, Naushad said he had a licence to run the scrap iron yard, set up eight years ago, but failed to produce the document,” said Biswajit Ghosh, the additional deputy commissioner of police (central).
“We have closed down the yard and are investigating whether it had been operating without a licence. We are yet to ascertain the gas,” Ghosh added.
Two elderly women died and 40 other residents of Gopalpur, on the outskirts of Asansol town, fell ill following the gas leak.
Ghosh said the police were probing whether the scrap iron at the yard had been obtained legitimately or smuggled out of the IISCO plant nearby.
The officer in charge of the Asansol fire services, Javed Khan, said Bright Enterprise did not obtain a licence from the fire department.
Asansol sub-divisional officer Amitava Das said the situation at Gopalpur was under control. “A medical team was sent to examine the residents of the area near the yard,” he said.
Mousumi Banerjee, an assistant professor of chemistry at Bengal College of Engineering and Technology, said: “Acetylene gas is required to cut iron. Acetylene is not life-threatening. Gases such as chlorine and ammonia can cause breathing problems, dizziness and vomiting. It can also cause death of children and elderly people.”
Neither chlorine nor ammonia is, however, used to cut iron.
Asansol BJP president Nirmal Karmakar alleged that no action was taken against the scrap iron yard earlier “even though it was operating without a licence” as the owner was “close to a Trinamul MLA”.
Trinamul denied any link with yard owner Naushad.
Local Trinamul MLA Tapas Banerjee said he had instructed the police to arrest Naushad. “I don’t know the owner,” Banerjee said.
Residents said leaves of trees near the yard had turned yellow and yellow dust had gathered on utensils following the gas leak.