Hyderabad: The gut-wrenching scenes from the Vizag gas leak on May 7 make one wonder whether the growing industry hub of Telangana- Hyderabad would turn into another Vizag someday.
NewsMeter discussed this hypothetical question and the cautiousness required with a few environment experts in the city.
Environmental Engineer Sagar Dhara, who heads Cerana Foundation, a think tank on energy, environment and development told NewsMeter that similar lethal gas blow-outs and leaks are inevitable and can occur anytime in India including Hyderabad.
“We have similar chemical storages even in Hyderabad. The pharmaceutical industries here have solvents that are toxic and explosive. In 1997, around 70 people were killed after six LPG tanks exploded at Hindustan Petroleum’s refinery in Vizag itself. There are LPG storages in Cherlapally. Sometimes you get warning signals, sometimes not. Bihar, Mumbai and Tamil Nadu have all witnessed such tragedies. We can only reduce the intensity of such disasters by taking enough safety cautions”, he said.
What third world countries like India lack are a proper investment in safety measures. “Pollution control board and factory officers are not doing their job. If you cannot maintain safety measures, then you should have the guts to shut down such factories at least,” he said.
Industrial zoning may not help the situation
Anant Maringanti of Hyderabad Urban Labs opined that the distance between industry and settlements doesn’t matter to avert gas leaks.
“What safety precautions and protocols you follow matters the most. You should know accidents can occur from an industry. We must have an understanding of the place. For some industries, even if you settle close by, there is no harm. While there are industries that can put you in threat even if you stay far. For instance, in the Vizag gas leak, only people who were staying at one part of the hill were affected. While people settled on the opposite side of the hill like Madhurawada had no impact, even though they are both at equal distance from the plant,” said Maringanti.
According to study reports, there are over 400-odd chemical, pharmaceutical, and drug manufacturing industries that are causing air, soil, and water pollution within ORR. Also, as per Telangana State Industrial Infrastructure Corporation Ltd (TSIIC), there are 1,125 polluting industries within ORR.
The 2019 Nacharam fire accident and repeated promises
The government of Telangana has promised umpteen times that polluting industries in the Hyderabad city will be shifted outside ORR.
In September last year, a fire broke out at a chemical factory in the Industrial Development Area of Nacharam twice in less than two months. Six workers who were inside the factory escaped while one sustained an injury.
Minister for Municipal Administration of Telangana KT Rama Rao then promised action. “We are seriously concerned about the polluting (Red/Orange) industries & adjoining residential neighborhoods. We will make sure to move these industries outside of ORR in a phased manner,” he said.
However, not much has changed since then and no industry has been moved out.
Hazardous industries within the green zone shall remain
When NewsMeter enquired about the progress in KTR’s promise to shift industries outside ORR, IT and Industries Principal Secretary Jayesh Ranjan said an audit of all hazardous industries in Hyderabad has been started in the light of the Vizag incident.
“There is a difference between polluting and hazardous industries. We are not planning to shift the hazardous industries outside ORR if they remain within the green category. We have started an audit of all industries which are hazardous. There are many industries- pesticide, fertilizers, chemicals, bulk drugs and they store them inside these factories. Five teams have been formed on Thursday with people from the Fire Safety, Pollution Control Board and Industries department. They are going around verifying whether their storage systems are in place as per the safety norms,” he said.
Poor settlers have nowhere to go
Nacharam is an industrial development area and residential colonies came around later. Many small-scale industries also function here. The same is the case with several other industrial zones in Hyderabad. Residential areas are also developing around Pharma city and Agricultural Industry in Katedan.
“During lockdown we saw the condition of our laborers working in these industries. You create jobs inside cities but do not provide enough pay and infrastructure. They have no option but to settle around these low-cost industrial areas that highly at risk," Dhara added.