Hyderabad: Urging the Telangana government to initiate an independent professional investigation into the fire and explosion accident that occured on August 20 night at the Srisailam Left Bank Hydro Electric Scheme of the Telangana State Power Generation Corporation Limited (TS Genco) in which nine employees were killed and 15 others survived injuries, a group of experts, retired bureaucrats and civil society organisations have written an open letter the Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao while highlighting numerous lapses at the power plant.
Pointing out that the deaths were a result of inadequate safety provisions in the design of hydropower station building, the letter stated that there is no evidence that the hydropower station was built to international standards such as “Recommended Practice for Hydroelectric Generating Stations, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)” in absence of any national standards. It added that there was no safety upgrade done to meet the current safety standards after two previous flooding incidents (in 1998 and 2009) and one fire accident in 2019 at the right bank station of the plant.
The signatories of the letter include EAS Sarma, Former Secretary, Union Ministry of Power, Justice Chandra Kumar, President, Telangana Rythu Sankshema Samithi, Dr Sandeep Pandey, Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, Capt J. Rama Rao, Indian Navy (Retd), Human Rights Forum and Scientists for People among other organisations.
The state government had ordered a Criminal Investigation Department (CID) probe into the accident and TS Genco has formed a five-member committee of senior officials to investigate the reasons that led to the accident.
The letter suggested that any 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 who do not have any conflicts of interest. “Nowhere in the world are such industrial accidents investigated by police officers and career bureaucrats,” it added.
Videos captured at the time of the accident show that staff initially tried to douse the fire with the help of portable extinguishers but in vain. The fire was followed by a series of explosions, it is reported. Among the nine dead, seven were TS Genco’s employees including two women engineers and two others were technicians of a private company, Amara Raja Batteries Limited. The accident was so massive that the rescue teams took over 17 hours to recover the dead bodies from the underground tunnels of the plant.
In the letter, the experts questioned whether there were smoke, heat or flame detectors in the station or if the station had obtained fire safety permission and renewed it regularly.
Furthermore, the experts pointed out that the accident has similarities with Watts Bar hydroelectric plant fire in the United States of America in 2002 and doubted if the plant is in compliance with Life Safety Code of NFPA which requires “the employees or attendants of assembly occupancies shall be trained and drilled in the duties they are to perform in case of fire, panic, or other emergency to effect orderly exiting”.
“There are several combustibles like hydraulic and lubrication oils in a hydropower station and they contribute to fire and smoke. Smoke is more harmful than fire as it incapacitates a person in two subsequent breaths without leaving anytime to react. Those remaining in the station were overwhelmed by the smoke and lost life. Proper escape route would have saved those lives,” stated the letter.
While the state government announced an ex-gratia of Rs 50 lakh for the deceased Deputy Engineer’s family and Rs 25 lakh to each of the other eight victims families, the Telangana Electrical Engineers Association (TEEA) has demanded to pay Rs 2 crore each to all the nine victims families.
The TS Genco authorities are yet to estimate the damage at the plant but initial reports suggest that at least four units of the 6x150 megawatt hydel station are damaged.
Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) has demanded an expert probe into the accident and questioned why private contractors were outsourced work at the plant. Meanwhile, Congress party has doubted negligence of TS Genco authorities for not fixing glitches despite repeated complaints and demanded a criminal investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the accident.
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