KOCHI: The recent ammonia leak from a barge at Kunnar near Vyttila has brought to fore the lack of a proper disaster management set up in the city. The district administration jolted by the incident which affected over 200 families and landed over 50 in ICU have decided to form a Disaster Management Committee (DMC), which will be responsible for tackling such emergencies.
Mayor Soumini Jain announced this at the Council meeting-the first to be held since the Assembly poll-after both the ruling and Opposition members voiced concern over accidents happening while transporting hazardous chemicals in the district.
According to the Mayor, DMC will be formed after consulting the state government.
“We will brief the state government on the issue since it is important to form a Disaster Management Committee, comprising people’s representatives and other officials. We will also organise a medical camp at Chambakkara to provide treatment to the victims of ammonia inhalation,” she said.
The leader of opposition K J Antony said, “FACT is not the only one which ferries chemicals, there are huge chemical stockpiles in West Kochi and many ships are engaged in transporting the same. If we fail to put in place the necessary precautions, a major disaster is waiting to happen.”
Backing the Antony’s call, Deputy Mayor T J Vinodh pointed out that except the captain of the barge the rest were clueless on how to deal with ammonia leak.
“When the leak occurred there were no safety measures in place to tackle it. Even the technicians, who reached the scene, did not know how to deal with it. So it’s better to form a DMC to tackle such incidents,” said Vinodh.
Sabu, Welfare Committee chairperson, said, “The situation at Chambakkara worsened after the authorities failed to act on time. Even the safety measures and the absence of qualified hands on the barge is questionable.”
Restriction on Transport of Ammonia
The district administration has restricted the movement of ammonia to the FACT following the incident. The authorities concerned said that the decision on transportation of hazardous chemical through the city will be taken only after the inspection report is submitted. The deadline for the submission of the inspection report is June 1.
The Motor Vehicle Department the other day cancelled the license of the bullet tanker lorry, which transports ammonia to FACT. The team led by RTO K M Shaji, which inspected the reasons behind the leak, found that ammonia is not being transported as per the safety standards set and also there are many technical issues.
Violation of Restriction
The Collector had imposed restriction on transportation of hazardous chemicals during the peak hours from morning 8 to 11 and evening 4 to 6, but the movement still continues.
No Qualified Crews
Rule stipulates that a technical person has to accompany the vehicle transporting hazardous chemical. The rule, however, is seldom adhered to. When ammonia leaked at Chambakkara canal, there were no qualified persons on the barge who knew how to tackle the problem. It was on the behest of local people that the crew poured water on the chemical to contain the spread.
Awaiting Inspection Report
District Collector M G Rajamanickam has ordered a joint inspection to be carried out by Factories and Boilers, Police, Fire and Rescue Service. They have been directed to submit the report on whether the barge was fit enough to operate as per the hazardous chemical transportation guidelines.
According to the Collector the barge lacked many things- no technical persons capable of handling emergency situations on board; the service of floating fire engine was neither available nor sought on time; no proper lighting, especially lack of ASKA light on the barge and FACT’s inability to handle ammonia leak.
IWAI is responsible
The accident took place on International Waterway, but IWAI is yet to wake up and assume responsibility.
According to IWAI former member R M Nair, the agency should launch an investigation into the incident immediately, under the IV Act. “As per the the Inland Waterways Authority of India Act-1985, IWAI should ensure safe movement of cargo and passengers along the International Waterways. IWAI should order a detailed probe into Chambakkara incident instead of deputing engineers and other agencies for joint inspection,” said Nair.
“FACT’s failed to put in place a proper disaster response mechanism. The facts point out that it is dangerous to allow the barge from which ammonia leaked to continue operation,” said Rajamanickam.