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Prof. Shyam Sundar's Comment on Gas Leakage in Vizag Company

9th May, 2020

The L G Polymers gas tragedy is another reminder a costly one at that reflect the darker side of ease of doing business and governance deficits. After the Bhopal gas tragedy, the Central government has introduced Chapter IV-A which deal with provisions relating to hazardous processes, though inadequately. The Act requires every occupier of a factory which handle or use hazardous processes and/or substances to constitute a bi-partite committee, viz. Safety Committee and empowers workers in matters relating to safety at the workplace (S.41G). It also requires the occupier to draw-up onsite emergency plan and disaster control measures and disseminate to the workers and the general public living in the vicinity of the factory concerned (41B(4)]. Given the ongoing generous liberalization of inspection system, it may be difficult to say whether this crucial provision would have been implemented or not.

With tremendous technological advances made in many spheres especially in the chemicals domain the safety concerns should have become a major concern not only for the workers inside the factory and the larger community in the neighbourhood. The safety of the larger community has not been adequately protected. The Factories Act addresses these concerns inadequately even though more than three decades have passed by. The proposed Occupational Safety Code is not addressing these grave concerns as the Code has removed the extant Second Schedule dealing with "Permissible Levels of Certain Chemical Substances in Work Environment" and left the same to the Rules to be made under the Code and more worryingly has removed the Statutory Safe Committee from the Code and left the same to be constituted as per the general or the special orders by the appropriate governments.

While inspection system under the command economy went extreme by creating an inspector-raj notoriety and neo-liberal reforms has gone the opposite and wrong side by generous liberalisation of require[d] reforms liberalisation of labour and factory inspection measures including the provision of self-certification. These are in utter violation of ILO’s Labour Inspection Convention 1947, 081 which requires as many and at any time inspections as necessary to ensure compliance of labour laws.

The OSH Code must address the concerns which are no longer restricted to workers but also of the people and animals and the environment. Ease of doing business does not mean governance deficits which have such costly and lasting adverse impacts. Bhopal, Rana Plaza and now LG Polymers are cruel reminders of the downsides of low-cost globalization paradigm.

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