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News updated at 3:30 AM IST

GAIL to blame

Jun 30, 2014 : 23:42 IST
The devastating gas pipeline fire which killed 20 people in a village in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh has shocked the nation.

Five others with 80-90 per cent burns are still battling for their lives. The massive explosion, which jolted villagers out of their sleep early on Friday morning, was apparently caused by the gas leak in a pipeline operated by the Gas Authority of India (GAIL). The volcano-like fire that ravaged for two hours engulfed the entire Nagaram village and surrounding areas of about five acres. Villagers had complained that gas was leaking for about three days leading to the tragedy from the underground pipeline. According to them, shockingly, all that the authorities did was to put sand and soil on leakage. But there was no improvement. The leakage of natural gas did not stop but spread to inside the houses and shops of Nagaram and nearby villages resulting in the disaster.

The horrific tragedy – the biggest pipeline fire in the history of the country – has exposed criminal negligence and an inexcusable lapse of duty on the part of the officials of the GAIL. There are reports that the pipes were over 20 years old and had weakened in places. The technology used is also considered to be obsolete. The old pipes should also have been replaced in time.

Worse, GAIL has blamed the villagers for the fire but there is no point in blaming them as the state-run enterprise is responsible to ensure that pipes remain leak-proof. The government has announced an inquiry by a committee headed by Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry joint secretary R K Singh. The committee is expected to pinpoint the causes of the fire. But that’s not enough. Criminal negligence should be established and those responsible should face not only departmental action but criminal proceedings also under relevant provisions of the law. There should be no cover-up.

With the likely exponential increase in the use of gas for industrial and domestic purposes, GAIL will take up many future investments to lay pipelines. Taking proper precaution in safety should be of paramount concern for the company in these projects. It must ensure that the people who live in nearby areas are properly trained and awareness is created. Safety precautions should be such that tragedies like the Nagaram fire should never happen again.

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