The National Green Tribunal (NGT)slapped an interim penalty of Rs 50 crore on LG Polymers India and sought response from the Centre and others on Friday in the gas leak incident in Andhra Pradesh’s Visakhapatnam, which 11 people have died and hundreds were admitted in the hospital. NGT said that “there appears to be a failure to comply with the said rules and other statutory provisions”.

The incident of styrene gas leakage occurred in a chemical plant at 3 am on Thursday in RR Venkatapuram village, Gopalapatnam Mandal in Visakhapatnam District. It affected the surrounding villages namely Narava, BC Colony, Bapuji Nagar, Kampalapalem and Krishna Nagar.

The NGT on Thursday took suo-motu cognizance of the incident and today a bench, headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, set up a 5-member Committee to probe Vizag gas leak incident and submit a report before May 18 on sequence of events, causes of failure and persons and authorities responsible, extent of damage to life among others.

“Having regard to the prima facie material regarding the extent of damage to life, public health and environment, we direct LG Polymers India Pvt Ltd to forthwith deposit an initial amount of Rs 50 crore, with the District Magistrate, Vishakhapatnam, which will abide by further orders of this tribunal. The amount is being fixed having regard to the financial worth of the company and the extent of the damage caused,” the bench said.

The NGT issued notices to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, L G Polymers India, Andhra Pradesh State Pollution Control Board, Central Pollution Control Board, Vishakhapatnam District Magistrate and sought their response before May 18, the next date of hearing.

The committee comprises former AP High Court judge Justice B Seshasayana Reddy; V Rama Chandra Murthy, Former Vice Chancellor, Andhra University, Vizag; Professor Pulipati King, Head of Chemical Engineering Department, Andhra University; CPCB Member Secretary, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology Director, and head of NEERI in Vizag.

DM of Vishakhapatnam and regional office of State Pollution Control Board has been directed by the NGT  to provide logistic support to the committee to enable their fact-finding and reporting.

“The Chairman, CPCB may steer and facilitate the functioning of the committee using available technology. CPCB will bear the initial cost of functioning of the Committee to the extent necessary. The committee will be at liberty to take assistance of such experts, individuals and institutions as may be considered necessary,” the bench said.

The committee may visit and inspect the site at the earliest and give its report before May 18 by email and the site visit may be initially conducted by members available locally in consideration with outside members online, added the NGT.

The NGT said that Styrene gas is a hazardous chemical as defined under Rule 2(e) read with Entry 583 of Schedule I to the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989 and the Rules require on-site and off-site Emergency Plans to ensure prevention of damage.

“There appears to be a failure to comply with the said Rules and other statutory provisions. Leakage of hazardous gas at such a scale adversely affecting public health and environment, clearly attracts the principle of ‘Strict Liability’ against the enterprise engaged in hazardous or inherently dangerous industry,” the bench said, adding that such an entity is liable to restore the damage caused under the Environment Law, apart from other statutory liability.

The statutory authorities responsible for authorising and regulating such activities may also be accountable for their lapses, the NGT said.

A major early morning chemical leak from a polymer plant near Visakhapatnam impacted villages in a five-km radius, leaving many people dead and scores of citizens suffering from breathlessness and other problems, as the AP government ordered a probe into the issue.

The leak was noticed by company staff who were reportedly inspecting machines to restart the factory and raised an alarm.

Hours after the styrene gas leak around 2.30 am on Thursday from the multinational L G Polymers Plant at R R Venkatapuram village near here, scores of people could be seen lying unconscious on sidewalks, near ditches and on the road, raising fears of a major industrial disaster.

Around 800 persons were initially rushed for treatment to various hospitals after complaining of breathing difficulties, and burning sensation in the eyes. Currently, over 240 people with health complications are undergoing treatment at the King George Hospital, Visakhapatnam and 20 of them are on ventilator support.

National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), Andhra Pradesh Special Police (APSP) and nearby police swung into action to rescue and shift people to safe places.

The plant makes polystyrene, a versatile plastic used in fiberglass, rubber and latex and for making toys and appliances among other things. Set up in 1961 as Hindustan Polymers, the company was taken over by South Korea’s LG Chem and renamed LG Polymers India in 1997.