Villagers demand Vizag unit closure after Styrene gas leak killed 12
The Andhra Pradesh government on Saturday announced a door-to-door survey in all villages close to LG Polymers India Limited to identify residents exposed to the leak of Styrene gas near this coastal city that claimed 12 lives, as hundreds of villagers staged a sit-in protest with bodies of the victims at the plant, demanding its immediate closure.
LG Polymers, a unit of the Korean conglomerate offered an apology to the people affected by the gas leak and condolences to the families of the dead and said normalcy had been restored at the plant .
“We would like to assure everyone that the company is committed to work closely with the concerned authorities in India to investigate the cause of this incident, prevent recurrence in the future, and secure the foundation for care and treatment,” a statement by the company said.
State industries minister Mekapati Gautam Reddy said situation at the plant was under control and normalcy would return to Visakhapatnam in 48 hours. “We shall conduct door-to-door survey soon to identify the affected people and extend all possible to help to them. There is no need for the people to get panicky,” he said.
In the morning, tension prevailed at the LG Polymers plant in R R Venkatapuram village, where hundreds of people belonging to the surrounding villages staged a sit-in protest demanding the immediate closure of the plant.
Several men and women tried to barge into the plant’s premises even as state director general of police Gautam Sawang was inspecting the storage tank from where the leak took place. “We want justice,” chanted the protestors.“Close down the company.”
The villagers stopped ambulances carrying the bodies of three of the victims from King George Hospital mortuary to their villages for cremation after a post-mortem examination and kept the bodies on the road in front the company’s gates.
The protestors tried to gherao Sawang as he emerged from the plant. A distraught woman protester fell on his feet, but she was pushed away by women constables. Sawang was escorted out of the premises by the police.
“It has been two days since the cases were filed against the management of LG Polymers. But no action has been taken against any of the company officials till date. We shall not allow the company to run under any circumstances,” an angry villager told reporters.
The police resorted to a lathi charge to disperse the protestors. They bundled scores of protesters into vans and took them away to the Gopalapatnam police station. Many others assembled at the spot and gatecrashed into the premises.
Visakhapatnam police commissioner R K Meena intervened and with the help of additional forces, managed to force the protestors out of the premises. The police managed to shift the bodies from the spot to Venkatapuram village for cremation.
State minister for tourism M Srinivasa Rao and other ruling YSR Congress Party leaders tried to soothe the angry villagers saying the government would make efforts to see that LG Polymers shifts from the location.
“The government has appointed a high-powered committee which would go deep into the mishap and take stern action against the company. Please bear with us,” Srinivasa Rao appealed to the villagers with folded hands.
Sawang told reporters the situation was under control. He said more technical teams from Delhi would be arriving later in the day to study the situation and suggest the way forward.
Sawang, who had a meeting with technical experts, scientists and a special team from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), appealed to the people not to rush back to their villages but remain in relief camps for another 48 hours, which was mandatory period to restore normalcy as per the safety protocol.
He said the high-powered committee would take up the investigation soon and based on its report, action would be initiated against the company. “There is no need for us to protect anybody. Depending on the progress of the case, we shall invoke more sections of the Indian Penal Code against the company,” he said.
In a statement, LG Polymers said initial investigations suggested that the cause of the incident on Thursday was a leakage of vapour from the Styrene Monomer storage tank.
The statement said that while focusing on stabilizing the plant, the company was doing its best to extend support to ensure those who had been exposed to the leak were taken care of.
A special task force has been formed to help the victims, which would contact all the families shortly and provide medical care and emotional and psychological counselling, the statement said.