The death of over a dozen people in a devastating fire in Seemandhra on Thursday morning underscores the total lack of concern for safety in the maintenance of gas pipelines in the Gas Authority of India Limited (Gail). Both the central and state governments have ordered their own inquiries into the accident but preliminary reports suggest the authorities had not paid any heed to the complaint from the local people that they had been smelling gas. Had the complaint been attended to and the gas leak plugged, the accident could have been averted. Alas, the problem seems to be more chronic and fundamental, if such incidents in the past are any indication.
Earlier this month, a minor fire was reported from the HPCL Mittal Energy Limited’s Bhatinda refinery. On June 12, six persons were killed and 36 injured after a gas leak at the Steel Authority of India’s plant in Chhattisgarh. In August last, a fire at Hindustan Petroleum’s Vizag refinery killed 30 people. There has been a series of such accidents involving petroleum companies in the recent past to suggest that safety has been of no concern to the authorities concerned. None of the accidents had led to any streamlining of the systems to avert accidents. This time, too, the Gail authorities will go back to their usual ways once the accident moves out of public memory.
The Oil Industry Safety Directorate (OISD), under the petroleum ministry, is supposed to carry out safety audits of all oil and gas installations. It also has to formulate and standardise procedures and guidelines for their design, operation and maintenance. Alas, the OISD is not taken seriously as it does not enjoy any statutory authority. If it has to play an effective role, the directorate has to be given necessary powers. Not only that, it should be asked to review the safety measures in place in all the petroleum and gas-related installations in India and take remedial action. Otherwise, the tragedy will remain one more in a series of endless accidents in the petroleum sector.