Mangaluru: District Administration Observes ‘Chemical Disaster Prevention Day’

Mangaluru: The district administration and the district Crisis Group in association with the city’s Department of Factories, Boilers, Industrial Safety & Health, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board and Sequent Scientific Limited, observed ‘Chemical Disaster Prevention Day 2015’, at Sequent Scientific Limited Premises, Baikampady Industrial Area here, on December 4.

Speaking on the occasion, convener of the programme K C Manjappa said that as we make advances in science and technology, we create a more comfortable life for ourselves. But at the same time, these advances also lead to pollution and even a threat to our basic existence.

 

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He proceeded to explain how at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, all of its systems had consecutively failed to due poor maintenance, leading to one of the worst industrial disasters in the world, the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, in the night of 3rd December, 1984. The toxic substance made its way into surrounding populace, killing about 2500 people immediately and causing thousands of causalities due to exposure to methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other chemicals. Many deaths, morbidity and suffering of thousands could have been saved in Bhopal with a proper disaster management strategy, he said.

He further said that following the events of December 3, 1984, environmental awareness and activism in India increased significantly. The Environment Protection Act was passed in 1986, creating the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and strengthening India’s commitment to the environment. Under the new act, the MoEF was given overall responsibility for administering and enforcing environmental laws and policies. It established the importance of integrating environmental strategies into all industrial development plans for the country. India has undergone tremendous economic growth in the two decades since the Bhopal disaster. Rapid industrial development has contributed greatly to economic growth but there has been a significant cost in environmental degradation and increased public health risks. The events in Bhopal revealed that expanding industrialization in developing countries without concurrent evolution in safety regulations could have catastrophic consequences. National governments and international agencies should focus on widely applicable techniques for corporate responsibility and accident prevention as much in the developing world context as in advanced industrial nations. Specifically, prevention should include risk reduction in plant location and design and safety legislation. Some moves by the Indian government, including the formation of the MoEF, have served to offer some protection of the public’s health from the harmful practices.

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Addressing the gathering, Deputy Commissioner A B Ibrahim noted that the continuous series of failures at the Union Carbide plant and lack of awareness among the public resulted in the Bhopal Gas tragedy. “Sometimes even after setting up safety procedures, disasters could happen due to natural calamities. Other times, it could also be created on purpose. With many companies in the petro-hub of Mangaluru, each containing a large number of interconnecting pipelines, it is important that we have documentation from the companies that indicate where these various pipes and cables are, what their function is, etc. so that the concerned authorities have an idea of what they are dealing with.”

Critising the lax attitude of the public, Ibrahim said that responsibility and accountability is a must in these issues. “None of us have woken up even after the Bhopal Gas tragedy. Even educated and intellectual persons live with a ‘chalta hai’ attitude. We are still casual in our approach and think that a prayer will save us. And when someone dies, we say that was his ‘Hanebara'(Fate), ‘Sattu hoda'(died), instead of taking responsibility for our actions. Far more remains to be done for public health in the context of industrialization to show that the lessons of the countless thousands dead in Bhopal have truly been heeded,” he said, adding that even after 31 years of the Bhopal Gas tragedy, Union Carbide has not been made fully accountable for the disaster. “Whoever it is, when a person fails to do his duty, he should be held accountable for it; that will help in making people more alert and earnest in their work,” he added.

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Speaking on the occasion, Adviser, Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India Dr S K Susarla said that the Bhopal Gas tragedy broke two myths – whatever happens within the compound walls of an industrial company is not the public concern, and the issue of the public receiving justice. A disaster management plan is important for any industry, but preventive measures are even more important. It is better to prevent a disaster when it is within the realm of possibility than to deal with the aftermath of a preventable disaster, she said.

Unit head of Sequent Scientific Limited, Sanjay Kumar Vaishnav said that the ‘Chemical Disaster Prevention Day’ being observed all over India on 4th December every year is a grim reminder of the worst recorded accident in the history of the Chemical Industry. With the development of Chemical Processes and Manufacturing Industry and continuing technological advances, it is inevitable that biological and chemical disasters are just round the corner and the community must prepare themselves for these disasters. “As individuals working in the chemical industry, it is of prime importance for us to be alert and serious in our work at all times,” he added.

A skit depicting the negligent attitude of people who deal with chemicals was enacted on stage, which drew a great applause from the audience. Thereafter, an on-site emergency mock drill was conducted to showcase the preparedness of Sequent staff to assess a disaster and execute the applicable disaster management plan.

Commissioner MCC Gopalkrishna, Joint commissioner MCC Gokuldas and others were also present.

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