The National Green Tribunal has directed the Centre to undertake safety audit of thermal power stations, throughout the country expeditiously while disposing of the suo motu plea initiated by it on Tamil Nadu Neyveli boiler blast which had left 15 people dead and 8 injured.
“The Centre to undertake a safety audit of thermal power stations throughout the country within six months in order to avoid incidents arising out of the leakage of hazardous gases,” the Tribunal said.
A bench headed by the Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, Justice Sheo Kumar Singh (Judicial Member), Dr Satyawan Singh Garbyal (Expert Member), & Dr Nagin Nanda (Expert Member) has directed to continue the remedial measures suggested in the report in future also. It also directed that the report of the committee may be placed on the website of the CPCB and the State PCB for the purpose of reference for at least six months.
The Court noted that, as per the report, the cause of the incident is failure of the staff handling the situation which did not have the knowledge of the SOPs and of the process. The staff was not given due training and requisite work permits. Thus, the Occupier, the Head of the Operation and Maintenance and the Safety Officer are mainly responsible for the accident.
“There is a violation of safety norms under Section 38 of the Factories Act, 1948. There is also a violation of the Manufacture, Storage, Import of Hazardous Chemicals Rules, 1989. In the process, hazardous gases are generated, attracting the said rules. It is mandatory to prepare an on-site and off-site emergency plan and holding of mock drills once in six months. The standard operating procedure has not been followed nor appropriate training given to the staff handling the process. Safety protocols have not been followed. It would have been desirable that the standards operating procedures were duly explained to the handling staff in vernacular language as a part of the process of awareness,” it held.
The National Green Tribunal had taken suo motu cognizance in the matter on the basis of a news article published in The Indian Express dated 01.07.2020 titled “Tamil Nadu Neyveli boiler blast: 6 dead, 17 injured”. Advance notice were sent to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, Central Pollution Control Board, District Magistrate & Collector, Cuddalore, M/s Neyveli Thermal Power Station (NLCIL), Cuddalore, and the Director of Industrial Safety and Health Department, Tamil Nadu.
The Tribunal was informed that the compensation of amount Rs 6,11,28,881 has been paid to the injured workers and to the family of the diseased till 16.12.2020 for incidents on 01.07.2020. It was also informed that the amount of Rs 5 crore stands deposited with the Collector in compliance of its order.
The National Green Tribunal also disposed of another application which was filed in the Southern Bench on the same incident but later transferred to Principal Bench. The application had sought directions to shut down the all thermal power plants which have outlived their respective lives. The applicant had submitted,
“Frequent blasting incidents show that there are serious lacunae in the monitoring of Environmental Parameters of the Respondent No. 1’s units specially those related to emergency preparedness, occupational health, risk management, safety norms and Human Health Environment issues.”
The Court took note of the reply that has been filed which said, “The recommendation of the Central Electricity Authority about retirement of the units is recommendatory. The technology is not obsolete. The internal and external teams have ensured that the entire Risk Assessment processes are foolproof. Hence, there is enhanced risk management at the plant. The unit is operating consistent with occupational health, risk management assessment and safety or workmen parameters.”
The Court has held, “in view of the above, while we refrain from directing retirement of the unit, all safety measures may be duly adopted which may be regularly monitored and audited by teams of Experts on the subject and also the Regulators.”