The blast in a chemical factory in Dombivli that killed six so far, has brought the debate over shifting hazardous industries out of residential areas back in focus.
On Thursday, a pharmaceutical unit exploded in the residential area near Thane, causing damage within a 1.5 km radius. More than 100 people were injured as windowpanes in buildings around shattered from the blast impact.
The factors that led to the mishap are many – industries located too close to human settlements, lack of buffer zones, expanding cities and a disregard for security norms.
Following the blast, industries minister Subhash Desai announced that steps would be taken to avoid similar tragedies in the future. To start with, the state government is planning to bring in a new policy to shift these industries out of city limits.
However, those who have handled the issue before say the ground realities will make this a tough task.
“The plan looks possible on paper but it is very complex to implement. Before relocating these companies, the government will have to check if the new location is suitable for business of the manufactures. Is it possible to shift the existing workers to new location? In addition, it will have to provide infrastructure like power and water supply in the new area. Availability of land, raw material, and connectivity will remain big issues to sort out while pursuing the plan,” said a former planner with state government’s planning and development body, City and Industrial Corporation (CIDCO).
While moving industries is one part of the problem, expanding residential areas is another.
Many chemical industries in Navi Mumbai were shifted beyond Panvel, but residential colonies have sprung up here as well, another CIDCO officer said.
“Even if the government manages to shift these industries to new areas, it will have hard time ensuring that the required buffer area between industries and human settlement is maintained,” the official said.
Besides buffer zones, basic safety procedures are also not followed within companies nor are they enforced by civic bodies.
“As per the rules, there should not have been residential development in at least 1-km radius of the chemical companies in Trans Thane Creek (TTC) industrial belt. As there were no checks, ancillary companies and labourers’ camps, residential buildings mushroomed in the area. We have seen (that) except (for) very few companies, which are giants in the business, no company took safety measures seriously,” said Satish Deshmukh, a former deputy manager at a chemical manufacturing company.
Environmentalist D Stalin blames officials of the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) and Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) for not ensuring this.
“The National Green Tribunal has observed that the safety norms were not followed by these companies. MIDC and MPCB were silent on this, despite declaration of Dombivli MIDC as major polluted area by the Union environment ministry in 2009,” he pointed out.