KOLLAM: The Factories and Boilers Department on Thursday directed a temporary shutdown of the state-owned Kerala Minerals and Metals Ltd (KMML) at Chavara after gas leaked from one of its plants for the second consecutive day on Friday. The incident resulted in the hospitalisation of around 80 students studying in nearby schools.
The government also ordered a probe by ADGP A Hemachandran after sabotage theories were floated. The KMML is awaiting a verdict from the National Green Tribunal on Friday in a case related to pollution.
A tense situation prevailed on the spot as a similar incident on Wednesday had resulted in the hospitalisation of around 40 children. Agitated locals and activists of DYFI and RYF blockaded the National Highway in front of the plant. Police resorted to baton charge as the blocking of the NH resulted in a long queue of vehicles. Later, activists of SDPI joined the protest and this led to clashes among the protesting outfits.
As the clash intensified police had to use the baton again. Assistant Sub Inspector Nasar was injured in stone pelting. When Bindu, KMML welfare officer, visited the community centre, the parents staged a protest.
Labour Minister Shibu Baby John, who represents the Chavara constituency, said the government has taken a serious view of these incidents because it happened on consecutive days. “It happened despite the Department of Factories and Boilers asking them to stop the work on the plant after the gas leakage on Wednesday,” he said.
Shibu, however, said it is strange that the children were showing different symptoms for a supposedly common cause.
While the students admitted to hospitals on Wednesday had complained of nausea, dizziness and breathing problems, the students who were taken ill on Thursday reported irritation of the eye.
The health problems, allegedly on account of the gas leak, was first experienced at 10 am on Thursday morning by students of the Sankaramangalam Government HSS on the southern side of the company. An hour later, students from Lourde Matha school on the northern side of the company reported uneasiness. A school teacher and a peon of the Sankaramangalam school also sought medical aid. The victims experienced suffocation and felt dizzy as the gas with a foul smell spread all over, said Jyothikumar, the PTA president at the girl’s™s school told ‘Express’.
The children were rushed to the community health centre nearby and was later shifted to a private hospital at Karunagapally. Around 20 students were admitted in the intensive care unit. According to doctors there is no need for panic. But the everyone including the company management and doctors appeared to be clueless regarding the cause of the discomfort. The leak on Wednesday was traced to the chlorinator of the Titanium Pigmentation plant. Most of the students from the Government Boys HSS nearby who were admitted on Wednesday have been discharged. Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala who visited the students at the hospital said the government would ask ADGP (Intelligence) A Hemachandran to probe the incident. He also said that medical expense of the children would be borne by the government.
Labour Minister Shibu Baby John who paid a visit to the hospital said that the government was considering a two level probe - one led by the ADGP Hemachandran and other comprising a team of chemical engineers from VSSC, Cochin Refinery, officials of the Pollution Control Board and the Department of Factories and Boilers. All the schools and colleges around the factory premise would be shut till Monday, he said.
Labour Minister Shibu Baby John said he does not want to subscribe to a conspiracy theory though the KMML is awaiting a National Green Tribunal verdict in a case related to pollution.
“It is however strange that the children affected are showing different symptoms for a supposedly common cause. It requires a detailed probe. The blood samples of affected children affected will be tested at the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of biotechnology,” he said.
According to him, officials of Pollution Control Board and the Factories and Boilers Department had run checks on the plant that leaked gas on Wednesday following which one of the valves was closed. The remaining two valves were closed on Thursday at 8.30 am. “Since the gas is believed to have leaked despite these measures a detailed probe on this incident is needed to see if somebody operated the plants despite the stop memo,” said Shibu Baby John.
‘Plant was shut’
KMML Managing Director Michael Vetha Siromony told Express that the plants had remained shut on Thursday and the leak was plugged. “The plant operation too was stopped after the Wednesday incident,” he said. He however said that it was difficult to identify the type of gas that leaked. “It could be sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide or hydrogen sulphide,” he said.