Indian steel plant fire ignites political furore
18 November 2013
One person died and 17 others were critically injured on November 12 when a fire broke out during commissioning at blast furnace No 2 of Bhushan Steel Plant at Meramunduli, Odisha (Orissa). The fire, which was triggered by an explosion, engulfed the blast furnace area within minutes. Local press reports say the blast furnace did not have Consent To Operate (CTO) from the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB).
Three senior plant officials were arrested on November 13: the Chief Operating Officer, Shift Leader and Steel Department President.
In the last eight years, the State Directorate of Factories and Boilers has registered 69 cases against BSL management in the local courts for violation of safety norms under Orissa Factories Rules, 1950, and the Factories Act, 1948. Other cases that were filed against the company were related to non-compliance of the directions issued by Government authorities following spot visits, violation of environment norms, unauthorised constructions and fatal accidents leading to death of workers.
But no case has seen a judgement executed against the company so far, local government sources said.
According to official reports, 95 persons have died due to industrial mishaps in the plant ever since it was commissioned. There were 65 fatal accidents. As many as 29 accidents have occurred at the plant from the date of its commissioning, and in the past three years, the OPCB had ordered closure of two of the site’s power plants for violation of pollution norms, which resulted in one-month closures.
The State Minister for Forests, Environment and Labour, Bijayashree Routray, said he might resign if strong action was not taken against the company. Asked about previous failures to act on incidents and irregularities at BSL, he said the media should ask the Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, why his instructions earlier to indict BSL authorities for lapses in safety measures were not followed through by his department officials.
“If I am unable to satisfy the families of injured workers, trade unions and the media, then I will express my displeasure by any manner. I can even quit the cabinet if I feel that my service is no longer required,” he said.
Members of trade unions ransacked the office of the Directorate of Factories and Boilers after the event because of their perceived failure to act against Bhushan Steel.
Police in the east Indian state of Odisha said 42 of the 70 non-Indians working at the Bushan Steel Plant have moved to the state capital Bhubaneswar for security reasons due to unrest in the area.
"Forty two engineers and consultants, all Italians, moved to Bhubaneswar as there is no work in the plant due to the unrest after the Nov 13 mishap," Dhenkanal Superintendent of Police Manoranjan Mohanty said.
Claims by State Labour Minister Bijayashree Routray that two Thai and three Chinese engineers were missing after the blast were later refuted by his department.
Sources told the Calcutta Telegraph the blast occurred as 1,200°C slag metal came into contact with cold water. A two-member probe team from Rourkela Steel Plant indicated that the plant authorities did not follow the standard operating procedure (SOP).