Recently, a grave accident has taken place in the factory belonging to Shasun Pharmaceuticals Limited at Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu in India. One person was charred to death and three others were injured in a fire that broke out in the shop floor.
It is reported that the employees were working in the production block located in the 3rd floor of the factory, when fire broke out after hexane spilled over from a tank. The employee who tried to remove the chemical with the help of a bucket was charred to death in the fire.
A day after the accident , Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board(TNPCB) served the closure order on Shasun Pharmaceuticals Limited’s Cuddalore plant for non compliance of conditions..
Immediately after the accident , local politicians agitated against the unit. An NGO said that closure of the unit was a welcome move and it insisted that the government should also prosecute the people responsible for the accident.
A number of industrial accidents do take place around the world. Inevitably, they are followed by detailed enquiry. In some cases, the factory management have been judged as not complying with the regulations or negligence and heavy penalty were imposed. Closure of factories as an impulse decision of the authorities are never allowed. If factories were to be closed, it would be done only after conducting detailed enquiry and based on the findings. In many large global companies such as DuPont, BASF and others, accidents have taken place, but they were never asked to be closed.
Lack of consistent policy in India
In India, in the case of many small units such as small explosive units, fire cracker units in places like Sivakasi , in the event of an accident ,the owners and directors are immediately arrested by the local police, even before conducting an enquiry and they are put behind the bar for several days. However, in the case of medium and large companies , the executives are rarely arrested . In the case of public sector units ,when accident takes place, the Pollution Control Boards never order closure of units and the police never arrest the directors. Obviously, authorities seem to be making distinction between small units and big units and between the public sector and private sector units. Several case studies can be readily pointed out to illustrate such conditions.
The decision of TNPCB to order the cutting of power supply and total closure of the chemical factory of Shasun Pharmaceuticals Ltd at Cuddalore appear to be kneejerk reaction.
It is necessary that detailed investigation should be conducted wherever and whenever such accidents take place. Immediate closure of the unit even before detailed enquiry appear to be a case of arbitrary use of power by TNPCB. There are number of statutory bodies like TNPCB and Inspectorate of Factories etc. who are supposed to monitor the safety standard of all industrial units. One wonders as to what is the responsibility of such statutory bodies in the case of such safety issues.
Shasun Pharmaceuticals Ltd. has excellent track record and it is an important producer of sophisticated pharmaceutical products, which are exported around the world . It’s unit at Cuddalore has approval of its facilities from US based FDI and several other overseas organizations of standing. Closure of such unit would inevitably render the unit sick, cause loss of employment for people and loss to several organizations who depend on Shasun Pharmaceuticals for sourcing products etc. This will also lead to loss of income to the state by way of taxes and duties.
Conduct quick enquiry
Having taken decision to close the unit of Shasun Pharmaceuticals at Cuddalore by TNPCB , it should immediately appoint competent agency to quickly look into the problem and ask the unit to implement appropriate remedial measures in time bound manner and TNPCB should allow the unit to reopen atleast in next 10 days. TNPCB should realize that it’s responsibility to ensure environmental standards should not be viewed in isolated manner and it should have holistic outlook. Certainly, TNPCB should not approach the issue as if the factories in which accident take place should be suspected. On the other hand, it should realise that such accidents may take place in spite of the precautions taken by the units and safety measures implemented.
Need for appropriate policy towards industrial accidents
Government of India should carefully examine the accidents in the industries and evolve a policy approach as to how to handle such situations by government agencies. It should not be left to the local police or the Pollution Control Boards to take a view as it deem fit in it’s wisdom.
It is possible that different persons at different times in these bodies may take a different view.
Appropriate government policy is necessary to view the issue in proper perspective , so that the kneejerk reaction of the government agencies would not result in industrial promoters developing cold feet in promoting and running industrial projects.