Skip to main content

Industrial fires, blasts are new normal in 'vibrant' Gujarat: Disasters in motion?

By Jagdish Patel, Rohit Prajapati, Krishnakant* 
On June 2, 2022 Gohil had returned his home in Nandesari after daylong work. He suddenly heard a big noise, and he saw people around him running for shelter. It was blast followed by fire in Deepak Nitrite. Before the ink dried, we heard about another blast and fire -- in Valiant Organic in Sarigam industrial area in Valsad. 
This is a new normal. Keep yourself ready for such breaking news at regular intervals.
The Director Industrial Safety and Health (DISH), previously known as the Factory Inspectorate, is made defunct in terms of number of inspectors employed, powers to the inspectors to inspect the workplaces to monitor enforcement of the law, their training and documentation. Clearly it is result of the political will of the political class in general and the Government in specific.
Governments have succeeded in making the society defunct: No independent credible expert agencies to investigate the pollution, health and Safety issues inside the industries.
Health, safety and environment – within the workplace and outside are not the priorities for either the industries or the Governments. While the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) monitors pollution levels outside the industry premise, the DISH has a responsibility to monitor pollution within the workplace, help workers keep good health and reduce numbers of accidents to minimum. Seemingly, both these departments serve their masters, not the society, though in any democratic society ultimately it is society which should be master.
Why do we see an increase in industrial accidents? There will be and may be specific causes in each incident. But broadly it is the result of conducive social environment created by the people in power.
They want more FDI and to attract investment on one hand they convince the investor that there will be no inspectors at your doors either to ask for bribe or for monitoring labor law implementation. 
They want to jump the credit for ease of doing business rank in competition with other countries. Policies are framed to suit the industry. Inspectors are now not allowed to visit any factory at their will. Instead, industry itself is inspector by way of introducing self-certification scheme.
No, they don’t stop there. They are assured, there will be no prosecution in case of accident. Our judiciary is burdened. So it helps both. Government of Gujarat has a very unique policy. Following a fatal accident if the employer pays ex-gratia compensation to the victim, there will be no prosecution and if any cases have been filed, it will be withdrawn. CAG criticised this policy in its report.
Even when they prosecute, they are careful. They see to it that the prosecutions are filed under the sections which would draw minimum fine. Post-Bhopal when Factory Act was amended, Sec 96 A was inserted: Penalty for  contravention of  the provisions of sections 41B, 41C and 41H.
In their report the Government of Gujarat submitted to the DGSAFLI (Ministry of Labour, Central government) in year after year they report that they have not filed any prosecutions under Sec.96-A
In short there is no fear of law and poor governance create an conducive social environment for accidents.
Trade unions have been weakened as part of political will and policy. Workers have lost whatever little control they had over their plants
But this is not all. There are other aspects, too.
Though the primary objective of any Government is to provide rule of law by enforcing existing laws. In last several years the capital has seen that the Government cease. We have a law called Contract Labour (Monitoring and Abolition) Act 1972.
 Contract workers cannot be employed for routine regular manufacturing activities but there is no will on part of the government to enforce the law and as a result we see that the number of contract workers outnumber the permanent workers. Inexperienced contract workers handle the hazardous plants putting everyone’s safety at stake.
When there are no permanent workers there are no unions. Neither industry nor government want strong militant unions. Post-new economic policy trade unions have been weakened as part of political will and policy. So whatever little control the workers had over their plants they have lost.
Specific reasons can be lack of regular shut down for routine maintenance to maximise production and  profits.  Out sourcing of crucial work to the contractors further aggravates in absence of robust monitoring mechanism. 
Post accident who all investigate to find out the causes? Police? No. Their responsibility is limited to see if there was any criminal intent. When it is confirmed that there was no criminal element the investigation is done by the specialised agency called DISH. 
They prepare reports submitted to the department which are kept hidden from the people. These reports are not in public domain. When you ask for reports you may be given much diluted reports. So, the documentation is poor, lack technical expertise and even that weak report is kept hidden. 
No accountability for the Industries and Department Industrial Health and Safety Department. Neither the Factories Act nor the Environment Protection Act are implemented in letter and spirit, and criminal prosecution provisions are not used against the top officials of the industries.
No serious follow up after the incidents. There is a need to review and evaluate all such incidences every 5 years to understand the reasons and systemic action based on that as a matter of the system.
Just condemning the disasters and demanding the compensation will not solve the problem nor stop the disaster.
---
*Jagdish Patel is health and safety expert; Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant are environmentalists based in Gujarat

Comments

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

BSF should take full responsibility for death of 4 kids in West Bengal: Rights defender

By Kirity Roy*  One is deeply disturbed and appalled by the callous trench-digging by BSF in Chetnagachh village under Daspara Gram Panchayat, Chopra, North Dinajpur District, West Bengal that has claimed the lives of four children. Along the entire stretch of Indo-Bangladesh border of West Bengal instead of guarding the actual border delineated by the international border pillars, BSF builds fences and digs trenches well inside the Indian territory, passing through villages and encroaching on private lands, often without due clearance or consent. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

How GMOs would destroy non-GMO crops: Aruna Rodrigues' key submissions in SC

Counterview Desk The introduction of Bt and HT crops will harm the health of 1 billion Indians and their animals, believes Aruna Rodrigues, who has made some 60 submissions to the Supreme Court (SC) during the last 20 years. As lead petitioner who filed Public Interest Litigation in 2005, during a spate of intense hearings, which ended on 18 January 2024, she fought in the Apex Court to prevent the commercialization of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Indian agriculture. 

Social justice day amidst 'official neglect' of salt pan workers in Little Rann of Kutch

By Prerana Pamkar*  In India’s struggle for Independence, the Salt Satyagraha stands as a landmark movement and a powerful symbol of nonviolent resistance. Led by Mahatma Gandhi, countless determined citizens walked from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi in Gujarat. However, the Gujarat which witnessed the power of the common Indian during the freedom struggle is now in the throes of another significant movement: this time it is seeking to free salt pan workers from untenable working conditions in the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK).

Corporatizing Indian agriculture 'to enhance' farmer efficiency, market competitiveness

By Shashank Shukla*  Today, amidst the ongoing farmers' protest, one of the key demands raised is for India to withdraw from the World Trade Organization (WTO). Let us delve into the feasibility of such a move and explore its historical context within India's globalization trajectory.

Jallianwala massacre: Why Indian govt hasn't ever officially sought apology from UK

By Manjari Chatterjee Miller*  The king of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, apologized in July 2023 for his ancestors’ role in the colonial slave trade. He is not alone in expressing remorse for past wrongs. In 2021, France returned 26 works of art seized by French colonial soldiers in Africa – the largest restitution France has ever made to a former colony. In the same year, Germany officially apologized for its 1904-08 genocide of the Herero and Nama people of Namibia and agreed to fund reconstruction and development projects in Namibia. .

Interpreting UAPA bail provisions: Is Supreme Court setting the clock back?

By Kavita Srivastava*, Dr V Suresh** The Supreme Court in its ruling on 7th February, 2024 in   `Gurvinder Singh v State of Punjab’ held that its own well-developed jurisprudence that "Bail is the rule and jail the exception" will not apply to those charged under the UAPA.

A 'distorted narrative' of Indian politics: Congress failing to look beyond LS polls

By Prem Singh*  About 15 days ago, I told a senior journalist friend that there are not even two   months left for the Lok Sabha elections, Rahul Gandhi is roaming around on a delectation (tafreeh). The friend probably found my comment exasperating and replied that he is not on a delectation trip. The conversation between us on this topic ended there. 

Livelihood issues return to national agenda ahead of LS polls: SKM on Bharat Bandh

Counterview Desk  Top farmers' network, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) has claimed big success of Grameen Bharat Bandh and industrial /sectoral strikes, stating, the “struggle reflected anger of farmers, workers and rural people across India”, adding, the move on February 16 succeeded in bringing back peoples’ livelihood issues in the national agenda just ahead of the general election to the Lok Sabha.