Bhubaneswar: The owner of a leading exporter of frozen and fresh seafood in Odisha denied that toxic gas leakage at the company’s prawn processing plant in Balasore district was the reason that over 100 women workers had fallen sick and were hospitalised late on Wednesday evening.
“There was no gas leak at the plant. Bleaching powder was sprinkled across the plant premises for routine cleanliness purposes. Some of the workers had difficulty in breathing as a result and were hospitalised. Chlorine gas is not used at the plant,” said Tara Ranjan Patnaik, chairperson of Falcon Marine Exports Limited, the largest Indian exporter of frozen and fresh shrimps.
More than 100 women working at the firm’s plant at Khantapara in Balasore district had to be rushed to hospitals after feeling breathlessness and dizziness at about 8:30pm on Wednesday. Sick workers were first brought to the community health centre at Khantapada buses, but were then shifted to the district headquarters hospital at Balasore.
The condition of most of the workers was said to be stable at the Balasore hospital, said Chief District Medical Officer (CDMO) Bannerjee Prasad Chhotray. Putting the total number of the workers under treatment at 98, he said all of them were likely to be discharged by Thursday evening.
A team of specialist doctors from SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack examined the workers and found their condition stable, said a doctor at the Balasore hospital.
The report of the workers falling sick due to the alleged gas leakage triggered panic in Odisha on Wednesday night. Balasore district magistrate K Sudarsan Chakrabarty and superintendent of police B Jugalkishore visited the plant and the hospital. State labour minister Sushant Singh also visited the hospital and inquired about the treatment of the workers.
Hours after the incident, the administration sealed the plant and a forensic examination was conducted to ascertain the exact causes of the workers falling sick. Seven executives of the company were detained by police for interrogation into allegations levelled by some of the workers and the locals that negligence was behind the women workers’ sudden sickness.
Falcon executives detained by police are general manager Pravek Pillai, production manager Jayadev KS, HR manager Nedihes Prakash, shift in-charge Bulu Swain, safety officer Ramakanta Mahapatra, and supervisors Rabindra Nath Parida and Rakesh Dhal.
Allegations that many of the workers at the plant were underage are being investigated by the state labour commissioner’s office, sources said. Falcon chairperson Tara Ranjan Patnaik, however, asserted that none of the company’s employees is underage.
“You can go and meet the workers and employees to verify,” said Patnaik, 65, who set up Falcon Marine Exports Limited in 1985 and led its continuous growth story.
(With inputs from Satyajit Senapati)