Taking note of reports that heavy smoke from the Guru Gobind Singh Refinery in Bathinda is causing health problems for residents of nearby villages in Punjab as well as Haryana, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Tuesday sent notices to the Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) and governments of both states. Chief secretaries of the states and the chairman and managing director of HPCL have been directed to submit a detailed report on the issue within four weeks.
Observing that the state governments had failed to take prompt action to address problems of these villagers, the NHRC said, “The refinery is least bothered about the health hazards.”
As per reports appearing in English dailies, the refinery — a joint venture of state-owned HPCL and Mittal Energy Investment Private Limited (Singapore), located near Phullokhari village on the Bathinda-Dabwali road, 45km from Bathinda — is emitting heavy smoke and, therefore, causing asthma, cough, eye infections and allergic conditions to residents of 12 villages in Dabwali segment of Sirsa (Haryana).
The problem was highlighted as recently as June 20, when fire — the second time since the refinery opened in 2012 — broke out and caused a large explosion.
A panel of experts including those from the Punjab Pollution Control Board was recently constituted and took air samples from Kanakwal and also visited refineries in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Panipat (Haryana) and Mathura (UP). The panel is likely to table its report soon.
The Bathinda refinery is the first oil and gas project to be set up in Punjab, built by the publicprivate partnership company.
Mittal Energy and HPCL — in a joint venture, named HMEL — own 49% stake each in the refinery, while the rest is with financial institutions. When contacted, HMEL spokesperson Sangeetha Chaturvedi said the notice concerned the HPCL expressly, so she could not comment. She redirected HT to HPCL spokesperson Sushant Dhar, who said the matter concerned the HMEL that runs the refinery, so the HPCL as such could not respond. However, the HPCL would talk to the HMEL about it, he added.