Are you aware of the magnitude of the disaster that struck our neighbouring suburb, when a massive explosion occurred on May 26, 2016 around 11.45 a.m. in a factory owned by Probace Enterprises in the Dombivli MIDC? It was so severe that dead bodies of 2 workers were thrown into a nearby compound. While officially only 12 people on the site and vicinity are admitted to have died and a hundred injured, people there believe that the actual number is many times larger. They say about 20 workers, carrying out maintenance in the nearby school, also died. A 42-year-old auto driver who was passing by died of a cardiac arrest on the spot. Thousands of people including small kids would have died if the blast had occurred during the school session!
- The impact of the blast followed by a massive fire resulted in heavy damage to at least four neighbouring factories in the MIDC complex. Nearly 3000 houses, offices, and shops in the 2 kms vicinity were damaged and thousands of people were made homeless.
- In many homes, locked doors flew off hinges, all glass items, fittings, TV sets, crockery, vehicle glasses and even spectacles worn by people were blown to sharp shreds. Even iron rods of certain window panes were deformed due to the shockwaves from the blast. Dozens of people were injured due to shattering of glasses of windows and shops.
- After the explosion residents living nearby complained of breathing problems from the smell of the gas that was released. No information has been given by the government to people so far about the chemicals released in this explosion.
- The explosion shook some of the nearby residential buildings so severely that people thought it was an earthquake.
- No compensation has been given to those whose houses have been damaged.
- The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has washed its hands off the blast by saying “this matter is related to Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health (DISH).”
- The statement of the DISH of the Maharashtra Labour Department is even more shocking. It said, “We inspect various chemical factories on a regular basis and it was done in this case as well. We would also be carrying out inspection of other chemical factories in Dombivli.” If the said factory had indeed been inspected, why was it allowed to continue in such a dangerous manner? Further there are only 12 inspectors for 14 MIDCs in Thane district and only one for the 500 factories in Dombivli!
- As per the rules, there should not be any residential development in at least 1-km radius of the chemical companies in the Trans Thane Creek (TTC) industrial belt. However, not only have residential buildings been allowed next to the MIDC, even a school has been permitted to be set up close to MIDC! Both Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) and Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) are responsible for not ensuring this. The government has totally neglected its duty of planning industrial areas and residential areas so that people can live and work safely.
- Besides the lack of buffer zones, basic safety procedures are also not followed within companies, nor are they enforced by government agencies.
- Dombivli MIDC was identified as a major polluted area by the Union Environment Ministry in 2009 itself, yet nothing has been done to reduce the pollution. The local residents have been complaining about foul smell and choking gases being emitted from agro-chemical, pesticide and other chemical industries since several years. There are nearly 500 companies in MIDC Phase 1 and MIDC Phase 2 in Dombivli (E), out of which 250 deal in chemicals; some of them use hazardous substances and most of them contribute to pollution due to non-compliance of the pollution control norms.
- A worker from one of the chemical factory said, “The factories emit gases at night. They discharge effluents openly into the drain passing through our colony. Any complaint against them will only mean that we lose our jobs.”
- The government’s own National Green Tribunal had directed the state pollution control board in 2013 to shut down polluting industries in the Dombivli industrial cluster that have been polluting the Ulhas River and affecting the health of people. The pollution reached such alarming level that Dombivli received “green rain” in Jan 2014.
- Dombivli, with its 16 lakh residents and 2 lakh people working in its MIDC, is like a chemical time bomb! It is the 14th most polluted city in the country and second in the state of Maharashtra.
- Untreated water, let off into nearby streams and rivers, has contaminated the ground water. People are suffering from breathing problem due to air pollution. The problem is so severe that it is reported that nearly 70% of cough syrup sold in Thane district is sold in Dombivli.
- People have been protesting for years against the pollution. People have filed many complaints and asked for details about polluting factories through RTI. Many officials have been approached but in vain.
- Other factories continue to run in a very dangerous manner. The owners are only interested in maximizing their profits, and that is why they refuse to spend on safety, accident prevention and pollution controlling measures. They have the blessings of the government authorities.
This is not the first incident of its kind in the country. Dombivli itself has seen a number of incidents caused solely due to the neglect of appropriate safety measures. It is well known that the factory owners care not at all for the lives of either their workers or the people in the neighbourhood. They just want to squeeze out as much profit as they can.
It is the responsibility of the government authorities to ensure that all safety measures are implemented. However it is obvious that they do not perform their duty.
This incident shows once again that today we citizens have absolutely no say in matters vitally affecting us. It is evident that only united actions on our part will ensure our safety, health and well-being. It is evident that only unity can empower us. This incident reemphasises the need for people’s empowerment, that is for Lok Raj. Lok Raj Sangathan is an organisation dedicated to the all-round empowerment of our people. We appeal to you to join us in our endeavours!
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