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No agency to handle oil spills

The oil spill from MV Rak has once again brought to the fore the state’s inadequacy in dealing with such situations.

mumbai Updated: Aug 18, 2011 01:01 IST
Presley Thomas

The oil spill from MV Rak has once again brought to the fore the state’s inadequacy in dealing with such situations.

According to Coast Guard sources, such was the state of local agencies that they had to be supplied with plastic gloves in order to conduct the clean-up operation.

The situation was not very different last year when in August 2010, more than 800 metric tonnes of oil spilled from MV Chitra had sparked environmental concerns around the state’s coast.

An assessment of the agencies drawn out to combat this oil spill found that the local state government was not prepared to prevent the spill from reaching the shoreline or to undertake a shoreline clean up, said Coast Guard officials. It was also found that there was no private provider available to undertake an oil spill response on behalf of the polluting ship or on behalf of the port.

“The contingency plan prepared by the ports and oil-handling agencies do not cater to a complete response for a vessel weighing more than 100 tonnes,” said a senior Coast Guard official, on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

In fact, there is not a single state agency dedicated to tackle an oil spill with the state pollution control board stating that it is not a response agency.

The constitution of Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) makes it just a regulatory body with few men or equipment trained to respond to an oil spill.

Of the 677 employees, 352 have been recruited as stenographers, drivers, peons and others. An MPCB official, on condition of anonymity said, “We have skimmers to tackle an oil spill. But it does not fall under our purview.”

“The state environment department should appoint or constitute an agency which would respond to an oil spill.”

Valsa Nair Singh, state environment secretary who is also the chairman of MPCB said, “No single agency exists to handle an oil spill. The MPCB facilitates the shore clean up, co-ordinates with all other departments for a clean up and gets compensation from the ship’s insurance.”

The agencies with which MPCB co-ordinates include DG Shipping, Coast Guard, Indian Navy, district administrations and municipal corporations, said Singh.