The second blast in less than two months at the NLC India Limited (NLCIL), Neyveli has exposed a barrage of administrative shortcomings. The contractualisation of work and alleged corruption are being cited as the reasons for the deteriorating safety standards at the unit.
The trade unions have alleged that the lack of regular maintenance and shortage of staff are behind these frequent accidents. The stretched lifespan of the units could also have played a role in the accidents, they believed.
The blast on July 1 in Unit V of the thermal power station-II of the NLCIL claimed six lives and injured 17. Eight workers from the same power plant had suffered burn injuries in a similar incident in May. The workers, who were injured in the boiler blast, included both regular and contractual employees.
LAPSES IN MAINTENANCE OF BOILERS
The dust particles getting deposited on the inner part of the boiler towers increase the possibility of blasts. The trade union leaders claim that the boilers were earlier cleaned thrice a day—a practice that has been reportedly compromised now.
C Amirthalingam, general secretary of the NLC General Workers and Employees Union, said, “The cleaning of boilers used to happen on each shift till a few years back. Now, with the decreasing workforce, daily maintenance has almost stopped. The privatisation of maintenance work and the consequent improper maintenance work have led to recurring accidents.”
‘SHUT PLANT DOWN TILL INSPECTION’
The trade union leaders have accused the management of compromising the safety of the workers. The boilers were installed 35 years ago and hence, require the mandatory life extension programme.
Sreenivasan, another leader of the workers’ union, said, “The boilers were designed and installed by the Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) and our union was demanding that maintenance work should be allotted to the same company or an experienced organisation. But the roping in of private organisations has led to poor maintenance work.”
The lifespan of the boilers can be extended by 10 to 20 years with proper life extension programmes. The union has demanded that the organisation shut the plant until a stability test is carried out on the boilers by an expert committee.
CPI(M) DEMANDS ENQUIRY
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPI(M) Tamil Nadu state committee has reiterated its demand to probe alleged corruption in the NLCIL. In June, the party had demanded enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Central Vigilance Commission following allegations of corrupt practices in the organisation.
The state secretary of the party, K Balakrishnan, in a statement, said, “The private contractors have failed in proper maintenance of the boilers leading to the accident. The details on the process of allocating contracts for maintenance works need immediate enquiry by a high-level committee and action on the culprits”.
The president of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, M K Stalin, too, issued a statement and said: “The accident took place because of the indifferent attitude of the NLC management. Failure to maintain the units periodically is said to be the reason for the boiler blast”, as reported by The Hindu.
UNIT HEAD SUSPENDED
The head of the thermal power station-II has been suspended in the wake of the accident. The trade union alleged that the move is an eyewash as the administration is at fault for the poor maintenance work. The union also alleged that the committee set up to probe the accident that took place in May has not begun any investigation.
“The decision to privatise the maintenance works was taken by the administration and not by any individual. The organisation is responsible for the loss of lives. This is the fourth major accident in the last three years. The need of the hour is the strengthening of the PSUs and not privatisation for short term gains,” added Amirthalingam.
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