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The UP Boiler Burst Tragedy

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Recently, there was an explosion in the broiler of the National Thermal Power Corporation Limited’s  (hereinafter referred to as “NTPC”)  Unchahar Power Plant situated in Rae Bareli. According to the investigators, the engineers were aware of the aware of the problem in the broiler after it was commissioned some months ago. The main reason behind the incident was cited as the extremely high pressure of the content of ash in the furnace. According to the preliminary inquiry by the engineers, there were lack of safety measures.

The NTPC plant is a 1550 megawatt plant, having six power generating units, distributes electricity to six states. These high-pressure boilers are hazardous equipments which are regulated by special laws. The main objective of the Indian Boilers Act, 1923 is to ensure the safety of life and the protection of the property by mandating standards for the broiler’s maintenance.  According to the NTPC officials, they knew of the problem in the broiler thereby, decreased the generation capacity of the plant. The main query was why NTPC did not shut down the unit. The NTPC was trying to repair the broiler, that’s why the unit was not shut down. The cleaning of the furnaces were fully automatic. But there may be requirement of manual cleaning in case of clinkers. Clinkers are lumps formed when the coal is burnt at a high temperature. Due to these clinkers, the ash outlet was blocked thereby increasing the pressure and melting the safety valves inside the broilers. In the aftermath, there were around 100 people who suffered burns and 20 who are still in very critical condition. 32 people died due to the above incident. The National Human Rights Commission has asked for a report on this incident from Uttar Pradesh Government. The issues to be looked into are whether there were enough safety measures and alarm systems in place.

The above incident reminds of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy where there was leakage of Methyl Isocyanide because of high pressure. The casualties were innumerable. In the current gas leakage in Rae Bareli, the casualties were not high but the main dispute remains the same; whether the hazardous industries of India are still not equipped with enough safety measures. Usually what happens is that every broiler is installed with adequate safety alarms which are responsive to the high pressure. In the current incident, the broiler was newly installed and it has been mandated that there should be periodic reviews of the same. Another point to be seen here is that there was blockage in the outlet of the waste gases in the form of ash.

The investigation is conducted by the NTPC officials. There is no third party investigation. The Government must understand as to whose interests are at stake. It is the life of the workers and the people living in the vicinity of the plants etc. According to National Crime Reports Bureau, there were around 61 deaths in the year 2015 and it is still rising. There is no transparent regulatory mechanism for the safety of broilers. The Government had announced compensation of 20 lakhs to the deceased ones, 10 lakhs to seriously injured people and 2 lakhs to the people having minor injuries.

Uma Shankar, India’s former power secretary, opined that there were no such accidents in the NTPC plants from the last 20 years. He affirmed that the NTPC would work on the recommendations given by the inquiry committee. One of the eye-witnesses (worker) stated that there were several people present in the plant during the blast. The workers had already informed the officials about the rise in the temperature. The NTPC officials are lying that only a few people were injured. The Government has kept quiet on the preliminary findings of the engineers and held that all the safety standards were in place. The NTPC officials are taking the defense that the broiler was commissioned in the presence of independent engineer and the NTPC had no role in the same. This is the first time that a new broiler exploded.

In the author’s opinion, the time has already ripened for the Government to take necessary steps regarding the hazardous industries. In last two years, we have heard few industrial accidents and the reasons are inadequate safety measures. An industrial hazard can affect thousands of people. The investigation of all these hazards must be conducted by third party so that the Government can get a clear view of the causes of the hazards. All these industries fall under Maharatna or Navratna categories. The Central Government is responsible for the safety of these industries. Therefore the onus will be on it to prove that they had compiled all the requirements. The process of reinstating all the deficiencies has to be fastened before any more hazard happens in future.

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