Monday, October 21, 2013

Gujarat has 30 per cent of India's major accident hazard units, yet doesn't have chemical emergency plan

By Our Representative
In a major revelation, senior environmentalists Rohit Prajapati and Trupti Shah have said that Gujarat has the highest number of major accident hazard (MAH) factories anywhere in India. According to their estimate, the state has a total of 497 MAH class factories, which amounts to 30 per cent of MAH factories of the country. “Major accident” means an incident involving loss of life inside or outside the site or ten or more injuries inside and/or one or more injuries outside or release of toxic chemical or explosion or fire of spillage of hazardous chemical resulting in ‘on-site’ or ‘off-site’ emergencies or damage to equipments leading to stoppage of process or adverse effects to the environment.
Despite this, the environmentalists regret, the Gujarat government does not have a chemical emergency plan. What the state government’s Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) came up recently was “only a disaster management plan, which is a general one”. They point out that the GSDMA does not seem to think that chemical industries have potential to cause chemical disasters in the state. “Despite the Bhopal gas tragedy that took place 28 years ago, which killed at least ten thousand persons and resulted in about 500,000 more people suffering agonizing injuries with disastrous effects of the massive poisoning, the state government doesn't seem to have learnt anything”, they say.
Meanwhile, Gujarat has “succeeded in widening its industrial base”, the environmentalists, in a recent ind-depth analysis in “Radical Socialist”. At the time of inception in 1960, the industrial development was confined only to four major cities, viz. Ahmedabad, Baroda, Surat and Rajkot, and some isolated locations such as Mithapur and Valsad. “Today, almost all the districts of the state have witnessed industrial development in varying degrees. Such a massive scale of industrial development has been possible on account of haphazard and severe exploitation of natural resources”, the environmentalists say.
“The discovery of oil and gas in Gujarat in the decade of 1960s played an important role in setting up of petroleum refineries, fertilizer plants and petrochemical complexes. During the same period, the state government established a strong institutional network. Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC), established industrial estates providing developed plots and ready built-up sheds to industries all across the state”, they add.
Today, the situation is such that Gujarat contributes “more than 62 per cent of national petrochemicals and 51 per cent of national chemical sector output. It leads all states in India in terms of the investments committed in the chemical and petrochemical sector. Nearly 30 per cent of fixed capital investment is in the manufacturing of chemical and chemical products. Manufacturing of chemicals and chemical products contribute to around one fifth of the total employment in state.”
In fact, “the production capacity of major suppliers of polymers, PE/PP/PVC in Gujarat is nearly 70 per cent of the whole country’s production. The province also has large quantity of production of basic chemicals like caustic soda, caustic potash and chloromethane. It is the largest supplier of biofertilizers, seeds, urea and other fertilizers”, the environmentalists point out
In this context, the environmentalists take particular note of the fact that the state government is not following the basic thrust of the GSDMA Act, whose clause 2(h) says that disaster  means an  actual or imminent  event, whether natural or otherwise,  occurring in any part of the state which causes, or threatens to cause,  all or any of  the following: (i)  widespread loss or damage to property, both immovable and movable; or (ii)  widespread loss of human life or injury or illness to human beings; or (iii)  damage or degradation of  environment”.
Despite this, the website of the GSDMA states “The GSDMA has been constituted by the Government of Gujarat by the GAD’s Resolution dated February 8, 2001. The authority has been created as a permanent arrangement to handle the natural calamities.” The environmentalists wonder, “What about environmental disasters?” They say, not without reason, “there is no comprehensive chemical emergency plan with the GSDMA. The Director, Health and Safety Department has an offsite emergency plan”, which has not been made public.
“When we demanded a copy of it, we were told that it is secret. Indeed, a chemical emergency plan is not among the priorities in Gujarat, a state with one of the country’s highest concentration of chemical industries”, the environmentalists say, adding, things have turned so bad that in 2009, the Ankleshwar’s industrial area, with 88.50 comprehensive environmental pollution index (CEPI), topping  the list of ‘critically polluted areas’ of India. In 2011 and 2013, Vapi industrial area, with CEPI of 85.31, topped this list.
Thus, point out environmentalists, “Gujarat is able to top in 2009 in ‘critically polluted areas’ in India and continues to maintain its position in 2011 and 2013. The Gujarat chief minister, who is the BJP’s PM-designate does not comment or engages ever on this issue.” In fact, in his book, ‘Convenient Action: Gujarat’s Response to Challenges of Climate Change’ published in 2011, celebrates Vapi’s Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) “which even today does not operate as per the prescribed norms of Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB)”.
“When the CETP of Vapi industrial area is not able to meet the prescribed GPCB norms, what message does the CM want to convey to the country and the world by printing a two page photograph of this treatment plant?”, they wonder, adding, “Despite the polluter pays principle, CETPs are supported by public money; 25 per cent of the cost is state subsidy, 25 per cent central subsidy, 30 per cent loans from financial institute, and only 20 per cent is directly paid by industries. In essence, half of the ’supposed’ solution to the pollution generated for private profit, is funded by the general public”.

Thus, the recent pipeline project of the final CETPs, “was built with the sweat of tax payers. Out of a total project cost of Rs 131.43 crore, the industries paid only Rs. 21.75 crore (about 17%); the rest, Rs 109 crore, was borne by the Central Government, the Gujarat Government, and the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) – all of which ultimately draw from public money. It is a familiar story: The profits are distributed privately, but the institutional costs and environmental burden are borne by general public.”
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