Vizag Gas Leak : A reminder of the chasm between policy-making and effective implementation

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On the morning of 7th May 2020, a toxic gas, presumably styrene leaked from a storage unit at Vishakhapatnam. It immediately rendered people in its vicinity unconscious and had severe an impact on the various individuals, leading to the death of some. The unit in question was operated by LG Polymer India Pvt. Ltd a subsidiary of the South Korean chemical firm, LG Chem.

Upon further examination it was found that for majority of time between 1997 and 2019, the plant did not possess requisite essential environmental clearance to operate. According to the document submitted to Andhra Pradesh Environment In-Fact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), the company admitted to not having requisite clearance. The company did not have clearance from the Union Ministry of Forest Environment and Climate Change. It only had consent for establishment and for operation from the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board (APPCB). The company further admitted to expanding production beyond the limit of environmental clearance and changing product mix without prior permission as mandated by Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006.

After the incident, the NGT took up suo moto cognizance of the case and termed it as one attracting strict liability, although this principle was made redundant in India in 1986 by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of  M.C. Mehta v. Union Of India & Ors [1987 SCR (1) 819].

Several experts drew comparisons of this incident with the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy. Experts claim that the leak was a case of human negligence. Although the South Korean subsidiary claimed to have been following international standards on safety, the accident has raised questions over lack of compliance to the Standard Operating Protocol (SOP), mismanagement in the handling of the hazardous chemical, lack of onsite and offsite emergency plans to control the after-effects of the accident.

This incident has raised pertinent questions for policy makers in relation to the effectiveness of the legislations that are in place. The huge gap that exists between law making and effective implementation of the same has been brought to the front play by this ghastly incident.

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