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Environment India

New Normal: Increasing incidents of Industrial Accidents, Fire, Blasts & workplace disasters

Dilution of all environmental protection regulations, assiduously fought for coupled with an utter lack of transparency makes Indian workers completely vulnerable, Gujarat leads the way

Jagdish Patel 09 Jun 2022

Increasing incidents of Industrial Accidents
 

On June 2, 2022 there was blast followed by fire in Deepak Nitrite in Nandesari area in Vadodara district, Gujarat. The very next day there was a blast and fire in Valiate Organic in Sarigam industrial area in Valsad.

The Director Industrial Safety and Health (DISH) previously known as the Factory Inspectorate has been made defunct in terms of the number of inspectors employed, powers to the inspectors and their training. Clearly these developments have taken place as a result of the political will of the Government.

Why do we see an increase in industrial accidents? There will be and may be specific causes behind each incident. But broadly, these are the result of a conducive social environment created by the people in power.

The powers that be want more FDI and to attract investment on one hand they convince the investor that there will be no inspectors at your doors either to ask for a bribe or for monitoring labour law implementation. They want to jump the credit for ease of doing business rank in competition with other countries. Policies are framed to suit the industry. Inspectors are now not allowed to visit any factory at their will. Instead, industry itself is inspector by way of introducing self-certification scheme. So, now there is no Inspector Raj.

No, they don’t stop there. They are assured, there will be no prosecution in case of an accident. Our judiciary is burdened. So it helps both. The Government of Gujarat(GOG) has a very unique policy. Following a fatal accident if the employer pays ex-gratia compensation to the victim, they are assured of no prosecution and if any cases have been filed, these will be withdrawn. The Comptroller Editor General (CAG) has criticised this policy in its report.

Even when they prosecute, they are careful. They see to it that the prosecutions are filed under the sections which would draw the minimum fine. Post-Bhopal when the Factory Act was amended, Sec.96-A was inserted. This section expressly outlines a penalty for the contravention of the provisions of sections 41B, 41C and 41H of the Act. 

In their recent reports, year after year, submitted to the DGSAFLI (Ministry of Labor, Central Government), the GOG, states that they have not filed any prosecutions under Sec.96-A. The report also provides data according to which the Government loose the cases in 80% of the prosecution filed! Government pleader and the accused both are happy with the result. What fails is justice – justice to the accident victims and justice to society. 

In short there is no fear of law and poor governance which has together created a conducive social environment for accidents. This is how they do it. 

Though the primary objective of any Government is to ensure the rule of law and protection of all citizens without discrimination, through the enforcement of existing laws. Over the last several years, powerful vested interests among industry owners have ensured that the Government cease undertaking it fundamental constitutional duty. We have a law in force called the Contract Labour (Monitoring and Abolition) Act 1972. Contract workers cannot be employed for perennial activities. However, there is no will on part of Government to enforce the law and as a result we see that the number of contract workers outnumber the permanent workers. Inexperienced contract workers handle hazardous plants putting everyone’s safety at stake. 

When there are no permanent workers there are no unions. Neither industry nor Government want strong unions. Post-new economic policy Trade Unions have been weakened as part of political will and policy. So the workers have lost whatever little control they had over their plants. 

The lack of regular shut downs for routine maintenance, the unnecessary haste in restarting plants after maintenance, not following SOPs during shut down are some of the most common causes behind accidents.  Out sourcing of crucial work to the contractors further aggravates in absence of robust monitoring mechanism.  

Post-accident investigation is done by the specialised agency called DISH. They prepare reports submitted to the department which are kept concealed from the people. These reports are not available in the public domain. When you ask for reports you may be given a much diluted version of the reports. So, the documentation is poor, there is a lack technical expertise and even that weak report is kept hidden.

The Industries and Department Industrial Health & Safety Department operate with an absence of transparency. Neither the Factories Act nor the Environment Protection Act are implemented in letter and spirit and criminal prosecution provisions are not used against the top officials of the industries. Neither is there a serious follow up after the incidents. There is a need to review and evaluate all such incidences every five years to understand the reasons and systemic action based on that as a matter of the system.

Just condemning the disasters and demanding the compensation will not solve the problem nor stop further industrial disasters.

(The author is a health and safety expert)   

The views expressed in the articles of this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the SabrangIndia

Related:

Gujarat’s environmental group demands cancellation of GPCL’s environmental clearance

Development as Disaster

Env group asks Guj gov't about land acquisition for bullet train project

Vadodara’s industries continue to pollute river and groundwater with impunity

Gujarat tribals protest land grab around Statue of Unity

Environmentalist decries continuous pollution of Daman Ganga river by Vapi industriest

 

New Normal: Increasing incidents of Industrial Accidents, Fire, Blasts & workplace disasters

Dilution of all environmental protection regulations, assiduously fought for coupled with an utter lack of transparency makes Indian workers completely vulnerable, Gujarat leads the way

Increasing incidents of Industrial Accidents
 

On June 2, 2022 there was blast followed by fire in Deepak Nitrite in Nandesari area in Vadodara district, Gujarat. The very next day there was a blast and fire in Valiate Organic in Sarigam industrial area in Valsad.

The Director Industrial Safety and Health (DISH) previously known as the Factory Inspectorate has been made defunct in terms of the number of inspectors employed, powers to the inspectors and their training. Clearly these developments have taken place as a result of the political will of the Government.

Why do we see an increase in industrial accidents? There will be and may be specific causes behind each incident. But broadly, these are the result of a conducive social environment created by the people in power.

The powers that be want more FDI and to attract investment on one hand they convince the investor that there will be no inspectors at your doors either to ask for a bribe or for monitoring labour law implementation. They want to jump the credit for ease of doing business rank in competition with other countries. Policies are framed to suit the industry. Inspectors are now not allowed to visit any factory at their will. Instead, industry itself is inspector by way of introducing self-certification scheme. So, now there is no Inspector Raj.

No, they don’t stop there. They are assured, there will be no prosecution in case of an accident. Our judiciary is burdened. So it helps both. The Government of Gujarat(GOG) has a very unique policy. Following a fatal accident if the employer pays ex-gratia compensation to the victim, they are assured of no prosecution and if any cases have been filed, these will be withdrawn. The Comptroller Editor General (CAG) has criticised this policy in its report.

Even when they prosecute, they are careful. They see to it that the prosecutions are filed under the sections which would draw the minimum fine. Post-Bhopal when the Factory Act was amended, Sec.96-A was inserted. This section expressly outlines a penalty for the contravention of the provisions of sections 41B, 41C and 41H of the Act. 

In their recent reports, year after year, submitted to the DGSAFLI (Ministry of Labor, Central Government), the GOG, states that they have not filed any prosecutions under Sec.96-A. The report also provides data according to which the Government loose the cases in 80% of the prosecution filed! Government pleader and the accused both are happy with the result. What fails is justice – justice to the accident victims and justice to society. 

In short there is no fear of law and poor governance which has together created a conducive social environment for accidents. This is how they do it. 

Though the primary objective of any Government is to ensure the rule of law and protection of all citizens without discrimination, through the enforcement of existing laws. Over the last several years, powerful vested interests among industry owners have ensured that the Government cease undertaking it fundamental constitutional duty. We have a law in force called the Contract Labour (Monitoring and Abolition) Act 1972. Contract workers cannot be employed for perennial activities. However, there is no will on part of Government to enforce the law and as a result we see that the number of contract workers outnumber the permanent workers. Inexperienced contract workers handle hazardous plants putting everyone’s safety at stake. 

When there are no permanent workers there are no unions. Neither industry nor Government want strong unions. Post-new economic policy Trade Unions have been weakened as part of political will and policy. So the workers have lost whatever little control they had over their plants. 

The lack of regular shut downs for routine maintenance, the unnecessary haste in restarting plants after maintenance, not following SOPs during shut down are some of the most common causes behind accidents.  Out sourcing of crucial work to the contractors further aggravates in absence of robust monitoring mechanism.  

Post-accident investigation is done by the specialised agency called DISH. They prepare reports submitted to the department which are kept concealed from the people. These reports are not available in the public domain. When you ask for reports you may be given a much diluted version of the reports. So, the documentation is poor, there is a lack technical expertise and even that weak report is kept hidden.

The Industries and Department Industrial Health & Safety Department operate with an absence of transparency. Neither the Factories Act nor the Environment Protection Act are implemented in letter and spirit and criminal prosecution provisions are not used against the top officials of the industries. Neither is there a serious follow up after the incidents. There is a need to review and evaluate all such incidences every five years to understand the reasons and systemic action based on that as a matter of the system.

Just condemning the disasters and demanding the compensation will not solve the problem nor stop further industrial disasters.

(The author is a health and safety expert)   

The views expressed in the articles of this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the SabrangIndia

Related:

Gujarat’s environmental group demands cancellation of GPCL’s environmental clearance

Development as Disaster

Env group asks Guj gov't about land acquisition for bullet train project

Vadodara’s industries continue to pollute river and groundwater with impunity

Gujarat tribals protest land grab around Statue of Unity

Environmentalist decries continuous pollution of Daman Ganga river by Vapi industriest

 

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