HIGHLIGHTS OF GAS LEAK TRAGEDY: LG POLYMERS INDIA PRIVATE LIMITED, VISAKHAPATNAM

Recently, the residents of R.R. #Venkatapuram Village, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, witnessed a catastrophic industrial #accident that occurred at the Chemical Plant of #LGPolymers India Private Limited, Visakhapatnam on 07-05-2020. The Company, LG Polymers, is owned by South-Korea based LG Chem and is engaged in the business of manufacturing #Polystyrene and its #Co-polymers.

In view of the #Covid-19 #Lockdown situation, the Chemical Plant was forced to shut down for more than 44 days. The Plant had around 2,000 metric tons of styrene gas stored in its tanks, and with the use of the Plant’s cooling system, the styrene gas had to be stored within certain temperatures, i.e. 20–22 °C, above which it would vaporize. But during the said Lockdown period, the Plant was left unattended.

Thereafter, the Chemical Plant was reopened on 07-05-2020 to restart the operations, when the workers may have observed that the Plant’s cooling system had malfunctioned. As a result, gradually, the styrene gas leaked from the Chemical Plant and spread to the nearby villages, namely, R. R. Venkatapuram, Padmapuram, BC Colony, Gopalapatnam and Kamparapalem.

In the said Gas Leak Disaster, around 11 people died and several got injured. Those who were affected by the Disaster complained of irritation in eyes, breathlessness, nausea, and rashes on their bodies.

The Government has been taking the following measures in this matter:

1- The Police has evacuated 200-250 families in 5 KM radius around the Plant.

i) The Police has filed a First Information Report (FIR) against LG Polymers for possible charges under the following provisions of the Indian Penal Code 1860 as amended thereof (IPC):

  • Section 278 (for making the atmosphere noxious to health),
  • Section 284 (for negligent conduct with respect to poisonous substance),
  • Section 285 (for negligent conduct with respect to fire or combustible matter),
  • Section 337 (for causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others),
  • Section 338 (for causing grievous hurt by act endangering life), and
  • Section 304 (for causing death by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide) of.

ii) The Andhra Pradesh (AP) Government has set up a High-Power Committee under the Chairmanship of Mr. Neerabh Kumar, former IAS Officer, to look into the matter.

iii) Further, the AP Government has also announced the grant of Rs 1 Crore compensation to families who lost a member, Rs 10 Lakhs to those on ventilator, Rs 1 Lakh to those who had gone to hospital for first-aid care, on 07-05-2020. 

iv) The AP Government has announced that it would be airlifting 500 tons of inhibitors to neutralize the chemical substances leaked during this incident.

Further, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), New Delhi Bench, took suo moto cognizance in the matter In re: Gas Leak at LG Polymers Chemical Plant in RR Venkatapuram Village Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and passed the Order dated 08-05-2020 and directed as follows:

  • NGT held that styrene gas is a hazardous chemical as defined under Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989.
  • Further, that LG Polymers is strictly liable for leakage of hazardous gas, thereby adversely affecting public health and environment.
  • Further, LG Polymers is liable to restore the damage caused to property and environment.
  • LG Polymers to deposit an initial amount of Rs. 50 Crores with the District Magistrate of Visakhapatnam in order to mitigate the damages caused due to the Accident.
  • NGT formed a Committee under former J. B. Seshasayana Reddy, Retired Judge of Andhra Pradesh High Court, to conduct inspection of the matter, determine the cause and extent of damage to life and environment and any remedial measures that may be taken to prevent recurrence of the Accident.

In an earlier case of industrial disaster, i.e. Union Carbide Corporation Etc. vs Union of India AIR 1992 SC 248, (1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy), there was a leakage of approximately 30 tonnes of toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas from Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), in Bhopal, which adversely affected the lives of more than 5 Lakh people. In the said case, the Supreme Court discussed the following principle and directed UCIL to bear the hospital expenses of the victims of the Accident, insurance premiums of claimants, and pay compensation of approximately Rs.750 Crores to the Government of India:

where an enterprise is engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous activity and harm results to anyone on account of an accident in the operation of such hazardous or inherently dangerous activity resulting, for example, in escape of toxic gas, the enterprise is strictly and absolutely liable to compensate all those who are affected by the accident and such liability is not subject to any of the exceptions…

Harini Daliparthy

Senior Legal Associate

The Indian Lawyer

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