Skip to main content

Official report finds huge gaps in dealing with chemical disasters in Gujarat

By Rajiv Shah 
The Gujarat government’s just-released high-level report, “Gujarat State Chemical Disaster Management Plan (CDMP)”, has said that while formation of new rules and regulations as also enactment of new laws is important to fight chemical disasters, a more serious and immediate concern is regarding existence of what it calls a “serious gap” in enforcing existing rules and regulations to fight them. The problem has arisen particularly because, says the report, “currently, no single agency or department is made responsible for coordinated response for chemical emergency. In practice, the collector is expected to fulfill the role of coordinating response.”
Pointing out that “the international best practices are to have a single agency responsible for coordinating response of multiple response agencies during disasters, ensuring that individual response agencies are prepared to required level, and develop integrated response capability for the state”, it wants the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) to do role as a “response coordinating” agency. It underlines, “Such single emergency response office /agency is advised not only for chemical emergencies but for all hazards.”
Recommending the establishment of a chemical cell within the GSDMA, the report suggests, it should be based on international model approaches and International Labour Organisation (ILO) guidelines, and should be “helpful in preparing guidelines and procedures for the inspection, enforcement, and legal compliance by the industry, and serve as a key knowledge resource in planning for and responding to chemical emergencies.” It adds, “This cell can advise the training courses for its staff on chemical emergency management and monitor the training effectiveness. This cell can even itself conduct internal training of regional and field staff on special chemical emergencies related topics not covered in a formal training institute.”
The report simultaneously recommends that the Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health (DISH) and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) with the support of GSDMA should develop guidelines for the industry to report chemical leaks on basis of “quantity leaked” without waiting for the emergency to become offsite. It says, “Incidents should be reported even when they threaten environment and ecology, pointing to the type of leaks that should be reported: (i) A release of any hazardous chemical or petroleum product (in any amount) to water bodies (lake, rivers, dams, canal, sea, creek, etc.) within the state of Gujarat, and (ii) a release of any hazardous chemical or petroleum product, in a quantity of 95 litres or more, to the surface of the land (whether or not there is evaporation or fire).
At the same time, the report insists, “A state-level survey has to be done to obtain information on resource infrastructure (contact, equipment, location, etc.), critical or sensitive installations (schools, government offices, etc.), routes (chemical transportation routes, evaluation, road traffic/ condition information), and industry specific information (chemicals, location, quantity). This information must be available in interactive GIS format. The GIS database is not a one-time activity but need to be updated and maintained regularly. The most effective strategy to ensure this is that the local authorities, response agencies, and the industry are entrusted with regular updating of information.”
Referring to the poor state of fire safety in Gujarat because of lack of any central regulatory authority, the report states, “Our assessment of fire stations identifies that fire departments in larger municipal corporations such as Ahmedabad and Surat are comparatively well equipped, staffed, and trained, but all lacked sufficient trained man power and equipment as discussed in the gap analysis report and response mechanism report. Because the fire departments are attached to the municipalities, we also find lack of standardization in procedures related to staffing, training, equipment, and response between different fire departments.”
Dishing out figures, the report underlines, “Currently, only 35% of the required number of fire stations is available in the state. In addition to lack of adequate number of fire stations, even the existing fire stations have limited manpower, equipment, vehicles and training. For example, currently Gujarat has manpower of 1,447 people which is only 7.5% of the required strength of 19,222; the requirement will be higher if new fire stations are built.”

Pointing out that it is “important to build capacity of fire fighting and emergency service in Gujarat as a precursor to having chemical emergency response capability of international standard”, the report says, “At present, fire services can deal with normal fires, and their knowledge base has yet to be upgraded with an understanding and capability to handle the various types of chemical fires. A comprehensive training programme for fire department personnel is needed including but not limited to the following: Basic awareness of chemical emergency response (toxic, explosion, and fire hazards), personal decontamination and mass decontamination, coordinated response with police, search and rescue in chemical emergencies, preservation of evidence for criminal investigation, and first aid.”
In fact, the report underlines, there should basic fire structural (coat and trousers) or work uniform, a hard hat, chemical work gloves, safety glasses, safety shoes/boots, and a personal alert safety system (PASS) device, basic liquid splash and minimum respiratory protection for known chemical hazards includes, chemical specific protective coverall or two-piece suit, chemical gloves, safety glasses, safety boots, and an air-purifying respirator (APR) with appropriate cartridge or self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). nitrile gloves both outer and inner, neoprene and butyl rubber outer gloves, chemical resistant boots and chemical resistant booties, first aid kit monitoring equipment, electronic pulse and blood oxygen monitor, oral digital temperature thermometer, basic four gas monitor – includes cartridges for oxygen (O2), carbon monoxide (CO), Lower Explosive Limit (LEL), and choice of common toxic gas like hydrogen sulphide (H2S), sulphur dioxide (SO2), or chlorine (Cl2), and so on.
The report underlines that the need to form a special state emergency response team (SERT), which should be the most advanced hazardous chemical response team. “The key safety concern for this team is to be able to identify when an event exceeds their capacity and seek external (national/ international) support as needed.” SERT, it says, “would be primarily responsible for responding to high-risk, high-volume, and thus, less frequent incidents that surpass capacity of local or regional response agencies”. Local and regional response teams should be trained sufficiently to:
• Recognize events that may surpass local capacity to respond
• Rapidly collect information needed to define the situation and organize the appropriate response resources
• Support local incident command functions as the incident escalates.
Pointing out that a specialist regional response team (RRT) for chemical emergencies should be established from a core of the most capable local fire departments, the report states, “It will be a state level asset that can be officially mobilized for fail-proof and speedier communication. It will respond to the higher-toxicity, higher-volume chemical release incidents, releases of unknown chemicals, and complex or long duration events that require more resources than local teams are able to support. The regional response team will not replace but will augment local response capacity, and will be trained to identify events that necessitate the request for state-level (e.g., SERT) or national-level resources (e.g., NDRF).”
Then, there would be local emergency response teams (LERTs) for district or block levels, the report states, adding, “There should be at least one LERT in an industrial pocket area. LERT may draw from the local fire department and other public agencies that can provide on-scene response. LERT can include members of the industry, provided these ‘private’ resources are officially and bindingly committed and involved in planning, practice, and training. LERT should be well trained and well equipped to deal with small scale and frequent local emergencies (90% of chemical incidents).”
Finding yet another “critical gap” in fighting chemical disasters in Gujarat, the report states, this is regarding lack of “mutual aid between industries”. It says, the small industries are particularly hard-pressed as they do not have their own resources to respond to chemical emergencies. “The primary reason for this is that large industries in the mutual aid seek commensurate level of reciprocity from other member industries. Large industries do provide help to smaller units on request from them or district authorities, but as a benefactor and not under a formal or binding agreement. Considering this, we recommend a replication of Disaster Prevention and Management Centre (DPMC) model, as it exists in Ankaleshwar, for other industries’ pockets in Gujarat to serve smaller industries. “DPMC can also serve larger units in addition to mutual aid assistance from other large industries”, the report says.
Other recommendations of the report include having a structure for mock drills at local, district and state levels; Chemical Emergency Community Awareness and Preparedness (CECAP) and Chemical Emergency Community Awareness and Preparedness (CECAP) Outreach programmes to tailor to each community’s needs; Quick Reaction Medical Teams (QRMTs) to reach the accident site immediately along with resuscitation, protection, detection, and decontamination equipment and materials; a special Toxic Risk Reduction Programme, which should be “tailored to identify priority toxic chemicals in fixed industrial installations; and a special land use policy for buffer zone around major accident hazard (MAH) installations (handling/ storing extremely/ highly toxic chemicals).
Recommending a major policy change by having a buffer zone around MAH units, the report states, “Under the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) guidelines and also under industrial policy these installations are permitted to be set up only 25 kilometres away from major population hubs (five lakh) in case of environmental guidelines and (10 lakh) in case of industrial policy guidelines. It is necessary to have in place a mandatory mechanism by which the concerned authorities are able to regulate the development of population settlements in the proximity of the installations.”
The report recommends, “A no-population buffer zone of 500 meters around the perimeter of the MAH installations is to be set up for future installations. There should be a specific provision in the central legislation on land use planning requiring the concerned authorities in the (centre or state as the case may be ) to maintain a no population buffer zone of approximately a 500 meter width around the perimeter of an MAH installation. After the provision suggested above is made in the land use planning legislation, the necessary amendment shall be made in the rules and the environmental impact assessment notification 2006 to give necessary effect for implementation.”
The report adds, “The time to provide effective response to chemical emergencies is a key determination for buffer zone dimensions. For example, even with rapid and qualified response, population within a certain zone cannot be protected. On other hand, without a qualified response, a buffer zone of 500 meter may not be adequate. Therefore, the land use planning and permissions for new infrastructure development should consider existing hazards and vulnerability to them… Additionally, the environment department and the GPCB may consider chemical vulnerability assessment as a part of chapter on disaster management in the environmental impact assessment report as a key decision factor to permit new industry.”

Comments

TRENDING

Constitution day makes us remember and rethink the values that India stands for

By Dr. Kapilendra Das*  India, also known as Bharat, was liberated from British rule and gained Independence on August 15, 1947. So every year on 15th August we celebrate Independence Day throughout the country. The Indians felt the taste of freedom, but there were no rules and regulations to govern the country for which British rules were effective up to January 25, 1950. To govern India, the draft constitution was prepared by the Drafting Committee which was published in January 1948, and the same was finally adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 26 November 1949, the day of an important landmark in India’s journey as an independent, Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic, Republic. The constitution so adopted came into force on 26 January 1950. To memorize 26 January, every year we observe Republic Day throughout India. To mark rethinking and remembrance of the day of adoption of the constitution of India, 26 November has been celebrating as “Constituti

Seventh most vulnerable nation, effects of climate change can be seen in Bangladesh

Mashrur Siddique Bhuiyan*  From November 6–18, 2022, Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt is hosting the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This two-week climate conference is critical for the globe because it occurs at a time when nations are coping with a global energy crisis, the conflict in Ukraine, rising inflation rates, and dwindling funding for climate adaptation. It also has great significance for Bangladesh, as the country's ability to maintain its economic growth depends on raising the necessary finances for urgent climate action and mitigation. This year’s theme is "Delivering for People and the Planet," which aims to hasten global climate action by lowering greenhouse gas emissions, fostering resilience and preparing for climate change's unavoidable effects, and increasing the flow of climate finance to developing nations. The goals of COP27 are based on the outcomes of COP21, which was held in Paris in 2015

Unsung, tens of Morbi youth of local fishing community saved many, many lives

By Rajiv Shah  It was indeed a treat to listen to Bhavik Raja, who spoke at a meeting of the Movement for Secular Democracy the other day in Ahmedabad. Speaking in chaste Gujarati, Raja recalled his childhood days in Mobi when he and his friends would often go to the town's Jhulto Pul (Hanging Bridge) in free time. I listened to him online. The bridge, which should have been given a heritage status, was handed over to the owners of a watch-making tycoon for repair. The repair was carried out so shoddily that it broke down in less than a week after it was opened for general public, leading to the death of more than 140 persons, many of them children. Raja, who formed a group of three-person activists' team on a fact-finding mission to Mobi, said, what isn't taken note of is how tens of youth, belonging to the local Muslim fishing community, jumped into the river and saved many, many lives. It's a marshy river, and to navigate in there is an extremely difficult exercise.

Zakir Naik tumult, Catholic Church power abuse: will Anwar Ibrahim save Malaysia?

Anwar Ibrahim By Jay Ihsan*  Anwar Ibrahim, a hardcore reformist who took a punch to his eye in 1998 from then inspector-general of police, Rahim Noor, has finally been given the mandate by Malaysians to serve as the nation's 10th prime minister. Anwar knows too well the burden of staying true to both trust and faith the people have in him requires every once of commitment and dedication. The question is will he be apologetic for his transgressions enroute to "rebuilding" Malaysia? In his overzealousness to get the job done, Anwar, 75, needs to safeguard every bit of gumption to address prickling issues plaguing the safety of the nation especially those involving communal sensitivities. For one, dare Anwar get rid of terrorist hate preacher and fugitive Zakir Naik for inciting religious unrest in Malaysia? In November 2016, India’s counter-terrorism agency filed an official complaint against Naik, holding him responsible for promoting religious hatred and unlawful activi

Ukraine war revitalizes silent competition between China and Russia in Central Asia

By John P. Ruehl  At the recent Commonwealth for Independent States (CIS) summit held on October 14 in Astana, Kazakhstan, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon expressed previously inconceivable remarks. His public admonishment of Russian President Vladimir Putin to treat Central Asian states with more respect showed the growing confidence of Central Asian leaders amid Russia’s embroilment in Ukraine and China’s expanding regional influence. After coming under Russian imperial rule in the 18th and 19th centuries , five Central Asian states—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan— emerged independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. While these countries remained heavily dependent on Russia for security, economic, and diplomatic support, China saw an opportunity in their vast resources and potential to facilitate trade across Eurasia. Chinese-backed development and commerce increased after the Soviet collapse and expanded further after the launch of China’s Belt an

Adequate attention not paid on changing human life to realize climate change aim

By Bharat Dogra  Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our times. It has to be checked as a matter of highest priority. Despite this adequate attention has not been given to how human life must change to realize this objective. We know that fossil fuels must be phased out and replaced by renewable energy. But is renewable energy capable of meeting the present day massive energy requirements, along with the increase taking place? Even if it is, what are the implications if renewable energy has to be scaled up to this level, and at such gigantic level won’t renewable energy also have very adverse consequences, although of a different kind? Such questions make the situation more complicated, but these have to be faced. So let us try to approach the issue in a somewhat different way. Since the daily consumption of various goods and utilities involves the use of fossil fuels in various ways, if all excessive, wasteful and harmful consumption can be given up, this will also lead

Integrating biodiversity for poverty removal still not binding for this UN body

Reacting to a statement of the executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity ( CBD ), United Nations, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, on the occasion of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which fell on October 17, well-known Thiruvananthapuram-based ecologist S Faizi has objected to the CBD’s plan for “effective integration of biodiversity for poverty eradication”. *** I compliment you for issuing this statement . However, I am disappointed to see that the CBD COP's output on poverty and biodiversity, namely the Chennai Guidance is not even referred to in your statement, particularly so since the 12th COP has asked the Executive Secretary to "continue the work requested by the Conference of the Parties in decisions X/6 and XI/22, for the effective integration of biodiversity for poverty eradication and development, taking into account also the related decisions of the Conference of the Parties at its twelfth meeting" and to promote the Chennai

Much like earlier meetings, COP 27 fails to find real solution to overcome climate crisis

By NS Venkataraman* COP 27 in Egypt was organized with much fanfare and expectations, similar to COP 26 at Glasgow that was organised in 2021. While nothing significant was achieved in combating the climate crisis subsequent to the Glasgow Meet, one thought that COP 27 would be more productive and would find some real solutions to overcome the climate crisis. Leaders and representatives from most of the countries participated in the COP 27 including the President of USA, Prime Minister of UK and so many others. Cosmetic speeches were made by the leaders, committing themselves to save the world from global warming and noxious emissions. Finally, resolutions would be adopted after representatives of all countries put their heads together . With no tangible agreement about the fundamental issues, the resolutions would inevitably end up as face saving documents. During COP 27, the UAE President clearly said that the UAE would not reduce production of crude oil and natural gas. In t

Bangladesh to import diesel from India: Win-win situation amidst economic turmoil?

Kamal Uddin Mazumder*  Bangladesh and India had been sharing friendly and warm relations since 1971. Both of the countries have been kith and kin through crisis moments. Bangladesh has witnessed India’s support from the liberation war to the Covid-19 pandemic. As now the world is facing the repercussions of the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war through the economic crisis and the energy crisis, India is still with Bangladesh through a cooperative framework. The government of Bangladesh had decided to cut down its fuel consumption to keep up with the global energy crisis. It was necessary to import fuel at the cheapest possible rate to mitigate the crisis. Some talks had been initiated with countries like Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Brunei but India came forward first. The geographical proximity and the longest shared border had ushered multidimensional ways of cooperation and collaboration in many areas. The import of diesel from India through the pipeline is one of the prime example

Maldives migrants' death: Govt bodies haven't done enough for workers' safety, security

By Kirity Roy*  We have been notified by the media that a hazardous fire, which erupted in a cramped neighborhood of Maldivian capital Male, has killed 10 migrant workers including 9 Indians. We are much aggrieved by this incident, and sending our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims. Many are missing. Almost half the population in the Maldivian capital constitutes of migrant workers, and out of them many are Indians. During the COVID-19 pandemic it was reported by many media outlets that due to the cramped and unsuitable living conditions, the disease spread more rapidly among the foreign workers than anywhere else in the country. This brought the light upon the serious housing problem for the migrant workers in the country. The current incident shows that the Government bodies have not done enough to ensure safety and security for the workers. While the United Nations have established the rights of the Migrant workers through the International Convention on the Prot