New Delhi: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), on Friday, heard and accepted the action taken by the authorities in the aftermath of the Styrene gas leak that occurred on May 7, 2020. Officials from the AP government told the NHRC that an ex-gratia of Rs 1 crore has been paid each to the families of the 12 people who died in the tragedy, and 485 people who were hospitalised for two or three days were paid Rs 1 lakh each. People who were on the ventilator were given Rs 10 lakh each. The commission was also informed that criminal proceedings were initiated against 12 persons.
The commission had taken suo motu cognizance of early media reports about the death of eight persons and over five thousand others falling sick due to leakage of styrene gas in Vizag. The leakage of the gas had reportedly affected people within a radius of about 3 km. Many were reported lying on the roads while some complained of difficulty in breathing and experienced rashes on their bodies.
On the basis of the early media reports then, the commission had observed that "though prima-facie, as of now, there are no reports regarding human error or negligence but the fact that so far at least eight innocent citizens have lost their lives and thousands have fallen sick, is indeed a serious issue of violation of human rights. Right to life of the victims has been grossly violated. At a time when the human lives across the country are at stake due to spread of COVID-19 virus and everyone is forced to stay indoors, the gruesome tragedy has come as a bolt from the blue for the people."
Accordingly, the commission had issued a notice to the chief secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh, calling for a detailed report in the matter including the status of the rescue operation, medical treatment provided to the people who fell sick, and relief and rehabilitation by the state authorities to the affected families. A notice had also been issued to the director general of police, AP, to inform within four weeks about the registration of FIRs in the matter and status of the investigation being conducted. A notice was also sent to the Union Ministry of Corporate Affairs, through its secretary, to examine whether the norms laid down under relevant provisions of the law are being implemented at the particular industrial unit.
Pursuant to the directions of the commission, the DGP submitted a detailed report. The report said that nearly 20,000 people from 17,000 houses of RRV Puram, Nandamuri Nagar, Kamparapalem, Padmanabha Nagar, SC/BC Colony, Meghadripeta Colony were moved to 23 rehabilitation centers of the GVMC and the Simhachalam Devasthanam authorities.
The report said that special teams were constituted to conduct door-to-door verification of all the victims. Similarly, another committee was formed to validate the claims of the hospitalised persons under various categories. After completion of the process, the ex-gratia amount was paid to the persons affected.
The report also contained testimonies from 437 witnesses including the statement of 16 officials, security and technical persons who worked at the LG Polymers Company. During the course of the investigation, based on the evidence and witness testimony, 12 persons were arrested and produced before the AMM Court, Visakhapatnam. The court remanded them to 15 days of judicial custody. The passports of CEO, directors, and senior employees of the LG Polymers, RR Venkatapuram were seized to be kept in police custody. The material objects seized at the scene of offence were sent to director, FSL, Mangalagiri, AP for chemical analysis and opinion.
The final reports from the director of factories, dy. chief controller explosives department, director, Pollution Control Board were reported to be pending.
The NHRC observed that having considered the requisite reports received from the authorities concerned and also the facts and circumstances of the case, any further proposition from their end is not required.
It further observed that "It was an unfortunate incident in which 12 people lost their lives due to a gas leak. However, the state government has compensated the bereaved families by paying an ex-gratia to the tune of Rs 1 crore each to the next of kin of the deceased, adequate monetary compensation to more than 2,000 victims, who fell sick and were hospitalised, besides taking legal action against the accused. The state government has also deposited an amount of Rs 50 crores with the collector and district magistrate, Vishakhapatnam as per the orders of the NGT, New Delhi, for the restoration of environment and payment of interim compensation to victims of the gas leak."