New Delhi, 7 May 2020: New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) expresses deep anguish at the death of 11 persons from the gas leak at LG Polymer located at Gopalpatanam, Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. The NTUI also expresses concern over the critical condition of the 7 sanitation workers at Shakti Paper Mills, Raigarh, Chhattisgarh who fell prey to toxic fumes while cleaning a tank and the 8 workers injured in the public sector NLC India Limited’s boiler blast at its second thermal power plant at Neyveli, Tamil Nadu. We strongly condemn the criminal negligence of the employers in both the cases:of LG Polymer India, a South Korean firm, and Shakti Paper Mills that has resulted in the loss of lives and the endangering of lives of many others.
At the LG Polymer plant, a gas leak from the two 5,000 tonne tanks holding Styrene (Phenylthelene, a neuro-toxin, inhalation of which could cause immobilisation and death) around 3 am today affected over 1000 people within a 5 km radius of the factory reminding the country of the Bhopal gas leak, the greatest industrial tragedy in the world. 300 people have been hospitalised at the King George Hospital, Vizag where the condition of over 45 persons remains critical. National Disaster Relief Force has evacuated over 250 families residing in the vicinity of the factory.
Set up in 1961 as Hindustan Polymers, the company was taken over by South Korea’s LG Chem Ltd. and renamed LG Polymers India in 1997. According to the largest Korean chemical company and the 10th largest chemical company in the world, the gas leak was first reported at 2.30 am by a night-shift worker a few hours after the polymer manufacturing unit was made operational after the 40-day lockdown. Chemical reactions in the two tanks led to excessive heat resulting in the gas leak which makes it obvious that necessary checks were not followed before the plant was made operational. The rush to get back into the business of making profits after the lockdown has cost the lives of 10 and endangered many more. This gas leak is in continuation of a long series of workplace disasters that have infested the manufacturing sector since the state governments following the cue from the Centre and amended laws relating to workplace safety rendering workers more vulnerable than ever.
Accidents are Symptoms, Minimum Governance system is the disease
Be it Union Carbide in Bhopal, NTPC in Unchahar or now LG Chem in Vizag these are merely the symptoms of a governance system which promotes and incentivises with impunity private profits over lives of workers. This gas leak has come in the wake of an unplanned and haphazardly implemented nationwide lockdown pushing lakhs of migrant workers stranded and starved, leaving them at the mercy of private and corporate charities. The long nationwide lockdown has led to severe desperation among the working class who are joining duties risking their lives at work. This complete apathy for workers’ lives stems from the confidence that theBJP government provides to corporations to ‘self-regulate’ & ‘self-certify’, themselves with the punitive measures, if found in violation, being minimal. It has been 36 long years since the world’s worst industrial disaster due to corporate criminal negligence occurred at Bhopal and the victims still await justice. Let us together hold the government responsible and demand and end to the ‘self-certification’ and ‘self-regulation’ regime.
The NTUI stands with the affected workers and their families and demands:
- Charge of criminal negligence be brought against the management of LG polymer, Shakti Paper Mills and NLC Limited and a probe be launched by the respective state governments.
- The companies (LG polymer, Shakti Paper Mills and NLC) bear all medical and rehabilitation expenses of all affected people.
- LG Polymer provide employment to next of kin of deceased people.
- Government of India to direct all states to initiate a complete safety audit of all manufacturing units before starting any operations.