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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

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