The National Green Tribunal slapped an interim penalty of Rs 50 crore on LG Polymers India and sought response from the Centre and others on Friday in the gas leak incident in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, saying "there appears to be a failure to comply with the said Rules and other statutory provisions".
A bench, headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, set up a 5-member Committee to probe Thursday's gas leak incident in the chemical factory, in which 11 people were killed and 1,000 exposed, and submit a report before May 18.
"Having regard to the prima facie material regarding the extent of damage to life, public health and environment, we direct LG Polymers India Pvt Ltd to forthwith deposit an initial amount of Rs 50 crore, with the District Magistrate, Vishakhapatnam, which will abide by further orders of this tribunal. The amount is being fixed having regard to the financial worth of the company and the extent of the damage caused," the bench said.
The NGT issued notices to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, L G Polymers India, Andhra Pradesh State Pollution Control Board, Central Pollution Control Board, Vishakhapatnam District Magistrate and sought their response before May 18, the next date of hearing.
The committee comprises former AP High Court judge Justice B Seshasayana Reddy; V Rama Chandra Murthy, Former Vice Chancellor, Andhra University, Vizag; Professor Pulipati King, Head of Chemical Engineering Department, Andhra University; CPCB Member Secretary, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology Director, and head of NEERI in Vizag.
The NGT directed Vishakhapatnam DM and regional office of State Pollution Control Board to provide logistic support to the committee to enable their fact-finding and reporting.
"The Chairman, CPCB may steer and facilitate the functioning of the committee using available technology. CPCB will bear the initial cost of functioning of the Committee to the extent necessary. The committee will be at liberty to take assistance of such experts, individuals and institutions as may be considered necessary," the bench said.
The committee may visit and inspect the site at the earliest and give its report before May 18 by email and the site visit may be initially conducted by members available locally in consideration with outside members online, the NGT said.
The committee has to submit report on sequence of events, causes of failure and persons and authorities responsible, extent of damage to life among others.
The NGT said that Styrene gas is a hazardous chemical as defined under Rule 2(e) read with Entry 583 of Schedule I to the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989 and the Rules require on-site and off-site Emergency Plans to ensure prevention of damage.
"There appears to be a failure to comply with the said Rules and other statutory provisions. Leakage of hazardous gas at such a scale adversely affecting public health and environment, clearly attracts the principle of 'Strict Liability' against the enterprise engaged in hazardous or inherently dangerous industry," the bench said, adding that such an entity is liable to restore the damage caused under the Environment Law, apart from other statutory liability.
The statutory authorities responsible for authorising and regulating such activities may also be accountable for their lapses, the NGT said.
The matter was taken up suo-motu (on its own) by NGT on the basis of media reports to the effect that leakage of hazardous gas, Styrene, took place on May 7 from a chemical factory owned by the South Korean company LG Polymers India Pvt Ltd, R.R. Venkatpuram village, Pendurthy Mandal, Vishakhapatnam resulting in death of 11 persons.
A major early morning chemical leak from a polymer plant near Visakhapatnam impacted villages in a five-km radius, leaving many people dead and scores of citizens suffering from breathlessness and other problems, as the AP government ordered a probe into the issue.
The leak was noticed by company staff who were reportedly inspecting machines to restart the factory and raised an alarm.
Hours after the styrene gas leak around 2.30 am on Thursday from the multinational L G Polymers Plant at R R Venkatapuram village near here, scores of people could be seen lying unconscious on sidewalks, near ditches and on the road, raising fears of a major industrial disaster.