GANAPATHI BHAT, AKOLA
THE recent chemical factory tragedy in Maharashtra’s Pune district is another in a list of similar ones in the not too distant past. That seventeen lives of poor labourers were lost in the deadly fire in Pirangut town points to the gravity of the tragedy. The gory incident shows how safety norms are thrown out of the window in such establishments. Safety measures seemed so brittle that no lessons were learnt from a fire of a small magnitude that reportedly broke out in the same factory a few days ago. The water purification plant used chlorine dioxide as a disinfectant, and the making of the latter by sodium chlorite or sodium chlorate, must have sparked the inferno. The factory owners may not have taken note of the permissible levels of chlorine dioxide in air. The alcohol in the sanitisers, stocked in the factory, would have help spread the fire entrapping hapless workers. It is said that about 20,000 to 30,000 of 500 ml sanitiser bottles had piled up in the unit——the owners lacked the requisite permission to prepare or repackage sanitisers. In pressure situations involving inflammable gases, explosion leads to fire. In any case, visible negligence is shocking. Evidently, safety rules were flouted with disdain. Top officials of the district have lamented the absence of emergency exit in the establishment. There were little fire safety norms in place and negligible fire fighting tools in function. An officer has gone on record that no valid “no-objection certificate was procured by the owners. An open ground on the premises was conspicuous by its absence. Therefore, inefficient higher supervision appears to have been the most predominant reason for the killer fire. Proper procedures for producing gases are rarely adhered to, and law implementation has been very poor, in most chemical plants. Thousands of poor labourers earn their bread by working in hazardous chemical factories. It is high time precautionary steps are taken on war footing. Erring chemical gas companies have to be closed down while reallocating the employees suitably. It is also imperative to have a relook at the National Factories Act of 1948 to provide it more teeth. Most of our ‘Acts’ remain only on paper, and the authorities wake up from their slumber after a major tragedy to go to sleep again, and the incident fades from public memory.