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Open letter to Chief Minister over Srisailam mishap

‘Complete lack of safety culture in the corporation’

A group of environmentalists, social activists, power experts, and scientists from varied sectors has, on Monday, addressed an open letter to the Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao, raising serious concerns about the safety aspects of the Srisailam Left Bank Hydro Electric Project, location of the grave fire mishap recently that killed nine TSGenco employees.

The deaths were unnecessary and a result of complete lack of safety culture in the corporation, the letter said.

It also questioned the government’s decision to hand over the investigation to the police, instead of the experts in the fields concerned.

Design faulted

Listing the probable reasons for the mishap, the letter signed by power policy expert E.A.S. Sarma, and Ramon Magsaysay awardee Sandeep Pandey among others, found fault with the design of the hydro power station building.

There was no evidence of the station being built to international standards, in absence of any national standards, and no safety upgradation was done to meet the current safety standards, even after two flooding incidents respectively in 1998 and 2009, and one fire accident last year at the right bank station.

There is no mention of any fire alarm alert to employees, nor about smoke/heat/flame detectors. It appeared that no fire hazard risk assessment had been carried out for the station, the letter noted, and questioned if the station has a fire safety permission and renewed it regularly.

‘No fire alert’

No emergency action plan exists, and employees were unprepared, apparently due to lack of training. There was no fire suppression system, and portable extinguishers were used to fight panel fire.

“Fire can double in size every 30 seconds, and fire extinguishers are inadequate after initial stages….. If the employees were trained in fire safety, and had at least a rudimentary understanding of fire science, they would have attempted to exit the building immediately after failing to contain fire with extinguishers,” the letter said.

There were no adequate means of egress either. Standard limits of distance to a fire escape from anywhere in the plant are seemingly not adhered to.

In the light of several other lapses listed, the letter demanded that investigation into the accident should involve an independent body of experts in fire protection engineering, fire safety, fire hazard assessment, power generation and related disciplines, without conflict of interest.

Call for safety audit

“Nowhere in the world are such industrial accidents investigated by police officers and career bureaucrats. Purpose of any investigation is not to blame individuals but to identify human and systemic causes for such incidents to take corrective action…,” the letter said, requesting for safety audit for all the hydro power stations in the State.

Organisations such as Scientists for People, Human Rights Forum, Jana Vignana Vedika, Telangana Vidyavantula Vedika, National Alliance of Peoples Movements, and others too were signatories to the letter.

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