Report on ADB Funded Unchahar NTPC Explosion Blames Tearing Hurry to Commission The Project As Cause: Recommends Judicial Enquiry
The tearing hurry in commissioning the unit VI of the ADB Funded Unchanar Thermal Power project, violating all safety norms, is the key reason for the explosion at the project on November 1, a report released in New Delhi on International Human Rights Day (December 10) said. The report titled, “How Many Deaths Will It Take… A Preliminary Report on Unchahar Tragedy” also said that the number of deaths is under-reported and migrant labourers with no formal training, nor safety gears are forced to carry out critical operations of the project, and many migrant workers are still missing – their whereabouts are not known to anyone.
The 1,550 MW Feroze Gandhi Unchahar Thermal Power project, a coal-based power plant, met with an accident at its Unit VI, which was under construction, killing at least 46 and injuring many. Most of the labourers had suffered burns of 50-70%, and doctors are of the opinion that even if they recover from injury, they would be impaired for life and the ones with very severe burns might not live more than three to four months.
In September 1988, the Asian Development Bank approved a loan of USD 160 million with Uttar Pradesh Rajya Vidyut Upbhokta Parishad (UPRVUP) to fund the second stage of the Unchahar Thermal Power Plant, which consisted two units of 210 MW. In the same year, after approving the loan, UPRVUP had serious issues in finance and management. Consequently, the construction of the plant was not moving. Due to the payment overdue by the Uttar Pradesh Government, NTPC purchased the two units from UPRVUP and proposed to construct the second stage of the project. While the approved loan amount was USD 160 million, later the loan amount was revised to USD 126 million.
Addressing the gathering Urmila, sister of Awadhesh Jaiswal who died in the accident said, “There are more deaths than what the authorities are claiming. At the time of accident over 300 labourers were working near the Unit VI. At least 150 people might have died in the accident, many of them burned and buried in the ash.”
Prabit Purkayastha, a power engineer for the past four decades and an employee at NTPC years back said that had the basic safety procedures were followed, this accident would not have happened. “Haste to complete the project ahead to schedule, ignoring basic norms and criminal negligence towards safety procedures led to this ghastly incident,” he said. The cost of unbridled development is that the human lives are devalued and failure to hold the authorities accountable in accidents like the one at Unchahar promotes more such accidents, he added.
A member of the enquiry team, Awadhesh Kumar said that since most the labourers are migrant labourers from different states, they are employed through a contractor and there are no records available on the details of them. “We met many family members who were searching for their dear ones, who were working at the plant. Neither could they find them, nor the authorities are helping them find the missing people.” He narrated reported incidents of labour law violations at the plant.
“What one is witnessing in Unchahar is not an isolated case. The plight of workers in all these development projects are the same – their rights are not recognised, their safety is not the concern of the project owner, nor the government carry out inspections and take adequate steps to protect the labourers,” Roma from New Trade Union Initiative said.
Senior Congress party functionary Chandrakant Dubey, A.K.Jain of All India Power Engineers Federation, Ashok Chowdhury of All India Union of Forest Working People and Sreedhar Ramamurthi of Mines, Mineral and People attended the report release function and spoke at the occasion.
The report, published by Delhi Solidarity Group, recommended a judicial enquiry into the accident to investigate it thoroughly and to fix responsibility on the ones who erred. It also recommended that the government should immediately constitute a task force to ascertain the whereabouts of the missing persons, provide adequate compensation and recommended that the Ministry of Power should carry out an audit of all coal power plants to ascertain the state of workers, adherence to safety measures and preparedness for emergencies.
Download Report (English): http://napm-india.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Unchahar-Prelim-report-Final.pdf
Download Report (Hindi): http://napm-india.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Unchahar-report-Hindi.pdf