On May 7th 2020, a deadly gas leak occurred at a LG Corp Polymers plant in Andhra Pradesh, India. The incident, reminiscent of the 1984 Bhopal disaster, has reportedly affected over 1000 people, killed at least twelve and has allegedly damaged the environment. The courageous intervention of local youth, police and members of the National Disaster Response Force, protected the lives of many from potentially worse consequences
Recent reports state that the company had expanded operations without due consent from State and Central regulatory authorities and had previously been operating illegally and without valid environmental clearance. At the time of the accident, LG Polymers India Private Limited had been allegedly operating as an “essential” industry, despite its products merely being used in the manufacturing of children’s toys. The approval and resumption of LG’s operations, allegedly by the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board (APPCB) and land use planning authorities, has been labelled as a “gross violation of all applicable norms and standards”.
According to a statement released by Coalition for Environmental Justice in India:
“This ‘accident’ was waiting to happen and is the direct outcome of a very serious breach of safety protocol in handling toxic and hazardous chemicals. As is now reported, LG opened the plant for production without sufficient strength of technically qualified personnel and supportive staff present who are critical to dealing with any and all exigencies. Profit making and cost cutting appears to have clearly gained priority over public safety and environmental compliance. This is clearly indefensible.”Extract from the Coalition for Environmental Justice in India statement
Dead cows following a gas leak from an LG Polymers plant. Source: AFP via Getty Images
People affected by gas leak are carried in a truck for medical treatment. Source: AP
Man carrying child affected by LG gas leak. Source: CNN
Additionally, we have learnt that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has also taken up this issue suo-motu (on its own motion) based on media reports. The NGT passed an interim order requesting LG Polymers to deposit about USD6.6 million (Rp50 Crores) with the District Magistrate, Visakhapatanam. The NGT has also set up a five member expert committee to enable fact-finding and reporting back on the incident including among others, the extent of damage to life, human and non-human, public health and environment – including, water, soil, air, steps to be taken for compensation of victims and restitution of the damaged property and environment, and the cost involved and remedial measures to prevent recurrence. A separate case on the same issue was also filed by Dr EAS Sarma, a former bureaucrat and social activist through the organisation, Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE). The NGT ordered that this case be heard together with the NGT’s principal Bench.
Apart from the LG Polymers case, two other critical incidents took place at industrial worksites in India on the 7th of May. The first, at the Shakti Paper Mill in Raigarh, Chattisgarh where 7 workers became unwell after being exposed to noxious fumes. The second, at Neyveli Lignite thermal power plant in Tamilnadu where at least 8 workers were seriously injured when a boiler exploded. These three incidents highlight the dangers of reopening industrial production post covid-19, without adequate planning or preparedness measures put in place. The accidents also highlight the ongoing struggle workers face as their rights are systematically ignored, and corporate power continues to prioritise profit over workplace health and safety, and environmental and social safeguards.
Earlier this month, Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM) co-signed a statement regarding the gas leak.
“The LG gas leak will be an unforgettable tragedy. This disaster has shown the importance of putting precautionary and emergency response measures in place prior to re-commencing industry operations. The company should have sought consent from the relevant authorities and installed proper measurements to prevent a tragedy like this from happening. The company LG must compensate the victims and immediately enact a policy to ensure the proper safety management of old facilities in industrial complexes.”Spokesperson from Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM)
Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific stands in solidarity with all impacted workers, community members and the families of those who lost loved ones in the LG disaster. As industrial production and energy generation reopens post-lockdown, we believe that remedial measures must be rapidly put in place, to prevent such dangerous accidents from reoccurring.
In the case of LG facility, we demand that:
- LG Corp must take full responsibility for the incident and the Managing Director of LG India Pvt. Ltd. and senior managers of the company must be held accountable;
- All impacted workers must be compensated and provided with adequate medical and rehabilitative treatment, at no cost to the victims;
- All impacted neighbourhoods and villages must be comprehensively reviewed for damages caused by the gas leak, and victims must receive adequate medical and rehabilitative treatment;
- An independent, thorough and transparent investigation of the incident must begin immediately, and findings must be made public;
- The strict enforcement of environmental, health, social safeguards by regulatory agencies must be undertaken;
- All necessary precautions for industrial production as per India’s Factories Act must be in place prior to industries reopening post pandemic. Regulatory authorities must ensure strict conformance with compliance;
- The Supreme Court of India has refused to stay NGT Order. Therefore the inquiry and action must proceed fast and there must be no further delay in holding the guilty accountable;
- Recently, Andhra Pradesh Govt registered a criminal case against a woman, Poonthota Ranganayaki (under Section 153A, 188, 120B and 505(2) of Indian Penal Code and Section 67 of IT Act) for sharing an Facebook post with some 20 queries, expressing doubts on the manner of investigation against LG Polymers. This is total abuse of power and demand that the state immediately withdraw the case registered against her; and
- India must strengthen its environmental regulatory regime and not dilute it further for business interests, as we are witnessing with the EIA Amendment, 2020.
Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific finally demands that in light of the 3 different industrial incidents that took place within one day in India only, there is an urgent need for a UN binding treaty on transnational corporations and human rights to prevent further violations and abuses to people and the environment.
For further information, please contact:
FoE Asia Pacific Regional Facilitator
FoE Asia Pacific Communications Coordinator
Cover Photo- Smokes rises from an LG Polymers plant following a gas leak incident in Visakhapatnam. Source: www.hindustantimes.com