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Probe smells cheaper oil, firm disagrees

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By JAYANTA BASU AND UTTAM DUTTA
  • Published 10.06.10
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The medical team’s car being gheraoed. Picture by Ananda Das

Singur, June 9: Some members of a probe team have held the use of creosote oil or tar oil as a possible reason behind yesterday’s “unusual rise” in carbon deposits on leaves and crops in villages around the Haripal plant of Himadri Chemicals and Industries.

A seven-member team of the state pollution control board (PCB) is probing the emission of ash that spread panic in the area a day after the Bhopal gas tragedy verdict was delivered.

Several people in villages around the plant complained of breathlessness and nausea yesterday after one of the 13 chimneys at the plant, a few hundred metres from the aborted Tata Motors plant in Singur, spewed carbon soot-laced smoke.

“We could not collect the necessary samples as it rained today. But our preliminary survey reveals that the industry did not use the right oil for combustion purposes. Furnace oil is stated to be a far better fuel option. But the use of cheaper alternatives like tar oil at night-time is a common practice,” said a member of the probe team that visited the plant today.

A spokesperson for the company contested the initial findings.

“We use low-sulphur fuel oil and that cannot cause such emissions. The soot discharge took place as the burner malfunctioned,” the spokesperson said.

The company official said the plant was operating at full capacity though attendance was poor. Police have posted a picket outside the plant to avoid a repeat of yesterday’s violent protest.

The company had alleged yesterday that the protests were motivated. A senior official of the company has visited Haripal police station and lodged FIRs against “12 people and others” for looting company property and provoking others to create trouble.

According to company sources, some residents who had failed to sell land at a premium to Himadri Chemicals and Industries had masterminded the protest.

“We have started an investigation on the basis of the complaint,” a police officer said.

The PCB team has also broadened the scope of its inquiry. As an earlier PCB report had found the factory “a fit case for closure” because of non-compliance with environmental norms, the team has the mandate to run a thorough check on the pollution prevention system at the plant.

“It is almost certain that yesterday’s emission was not the only reason behind the protest at the plant site. The villagers vent their pent-up ire after they spotted an unusual rise in carbon deposits in the area,” said a PCB official.

Biswajit Mukherjee, the chief law officer of the state board, said residents had lodged several complaints blaming the plant authorities for their failure to contain pollution.

The district administration sent a five-member medical team to examine villagers who had complained of breathlessness and other problems. But the team was gheraoed by the villagers, who complained that it did not have medicines and was ill-equipped. The gherao was lifted three hours later.

Bhusan Chakraborty, chief medical officer of health, Hooghly, said over the phone later that there was no medication for the symptoms. “It was like excessive passive smoking. The only way to control the problem and provide some relief to those affected is to reduce the pollution levels in the surroundings,” he said.