HPC’s guidelines in the aftermath of Vizag gas leak

'Absolute liability' is a principle followed in India, whereby industries engaged in hazardous activities cannot escape the law on grounds of having taken "all precautionary measures". This is because hazardous activities not only endanger human lives but are harmful to the environment as well.


In May 2020, a chemical plant belonging to LG Polymers in RR Venkatapuran in Visakhapatnam leaked styrene monomer gas. The gas leaked and spread over five adjoining villages which were at a distance of about 3 kilometers. At least 11 people and a 6-year-old girl were found dead and more than 350 people from the nearby villages were admitted to hospitals. Around 2000 people were evacuated after the gas leak was discovered. The leak was reported to have begun around 3.30 am and the authorities discovered it only when it formed a complete dense fog around the areas. Following this incident, the High Power Committee (HPC), which had probed the styrene gas leak from the LG Polymer plant, issued certain guidelines which are required to be followed by all chemical plants in India.

Security measures

The first and foremost thing that has been suggested is to take additional security measures for those industries which are near densely populated or residential areas. The hazardous chemicals need to be stored in tanks below the 500 kilolitre capacity on the industry premises, instead of being stored in larger tanks of capacities of 2,000 kilolitres and above. It has been recommended that storage facilities for bulky, hazardous chemicals be shifted from the industrial premises to bulk storage facilities.

These facilities should be away from human habitation; and should be transported to the factory through tankers or pipelines. Online monitoring of the effluent and emissions by the AP Pollution Control Board and Central PCB should be constantly conducted. Along with this, constant monitoring of onsite and offsite emergency plans concerning such hazardous industries located close to the residential areas is required. It has been suggested that mock drills be conducted on the premises of the industries every six months, and should be conducted outside the industrial premises (in the community) every year.

Local Crisis Group

The suggestion includes the constitution of a Local Crisis Group for every hazardous industry, in adherence to the Chemical Accidents (Emergency Planning, Preparedness and Response) Rules-1996. These groups would be intensely involved in mock drills and training for dealing with emergencies. Further, an adequate number of sensors must be attached with a hooter system to identify the release of toxic gases into the atmosphere, which are harmful to human beings as well as property; these shall be installed not only inside the industry but also outside the industry (within the identified impact zone), based on consequence modeling studies.

The installation of the sensor activation intends to alert the local police stations, nearby fire stations, SDRF cells at Collectorate, Inspector of Factories, and the regional office of the AP Pollution Control Board. According to the guidelines, the HPC has clearly stated that a compulsory annual safety audit and an annual environmental audit would be conducted by the respective regulatory bodies. The industries and commerce department have been recommended to take the lead in developing industrial estates away from inhabited regions, with the development of adequate buffer zones, especially for hazardous industries. The Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) reforms have introduced a single desk policy, with timelines for service delivery of the approvals by each of the regulatory departments.

Common Inspection System

In furtherance of this, the concept of joint inspection by the Common Inspection System (CIS) has been introduced by the EoDB. The need to introduce necessary alerts to the licensing authorities for the timelines by Central Inspection Monitoring Committee (CIMC) has been emphasized upon. Any non-inspection or any other failure in inspections should be adequately addressed. However, the HPC has said that either the single desk system or the CIS should not interfere with or hamper the compliance and safety protocols in any manner. It has also suggested that the constitution of the Factory Safety Board should be coupled with sufficient manpower.

The industries dealing with hazardous activities should be strictly monitored because they have severe impacts on the environment and lives of people. Thus, even if the workers would have taken sufficient measures and precautions to ensure that safety is maintained, the law would hold them accountable considering the nature of their work. Hopefully, all the industries will comply with the safety measures that have been introduced by the HPC. The governments need to ensure that these measures are implemented effectively and in time.


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