| Firefighters try to keep the burning tank cool. Picture by Amit Datta
Rajbandh, June 5: Panic-stricken Indian Oil Corporation staffers had rushed to evacuate their families from the official quarters within the compound of the company’s Rajbandh installation rather than help the firefighters battle the blaze on Thursday evening, a report sent to the Centre said.
After the fire brigade, the sleuths of the state police have pointed a finger at inadequate safety arrangements and negligence of duty by the IOC staff during the hours of crisis.
In an inquiry report routed to the Centre through the home department, the police said it found IOC guilty of multiple acts of negligence.
Investigations showed several of the 20 officers and 107 workers had run homewards when lightning torched tank number 12, leaving only a few senior officers like S. Bandopadhyay, the senior terminal manager, and A. Nandy, the terminal manager, to assist the fire brigade. The IOC officials regrouped and returned after several hours only on realising that the tank would not explode, the sleuths said.
The report added that the Rajbandh installation, the biggest in these parts, did not have the minimum fire-safety facilities. “It is strange that companies like Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd, which take petroleum products from IOC in Rajbandh, are better equipped with adequate quantities of foam, chemicals and water than IOC,” a senior police official who had read the report said.
The foam used to battle the blaze was sourced from Durgapur Steel Plant, Alloy Steel Plant, HPCL and other companies as Rajbandh had only a meagre quantity at its disposal.
Yesterday, fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee had criticised the IOC’s “vastly inadequate” firefighting facilities.
IOC spokesman S.K. Tripathi said from Calcutta: “IOC is an oil company and we cannot fight fire as it is the job of the fire brigade…. At the moment, we will not comment on the police investigation or the fire brigade’s allegations. We would only like to thank the police for all their help and support throughout the danger period.”
The report also mentioned documents at Rajbandh that showed a similar, but smaller, fire had broken out at in 1993 in tank 13, which stored naphtha, which is highly explosive. “The incident had obviously not opened the eyes of the IOC authorities to make necessary safety arrangements,” a sleuth said.
Poor lightning conducting facilities and inadequate earthing of tank 12 have also been mentioned. “They (IOC) have been saying that no tank could withstand such high voltage lightning, but our men have found that the earthing should have been much stronger and better,” an intelligence official said.
The investigators have also slammed the office of the chief controller of explosives for inadequate inspection at Rajbandh. The Asansol office of the deputy controller of explosives had apparently not done its job properly, the report said.