Andhra Pradesh police today said it has started a probe into allegations of some residents of Nagaram, where a massive blaze today claimed 15 lives, that GAIL failed to act on their complaints of gas leaks from its pipeline in the past few days.
Police, who have lodged a case in connection with today's fire-blast at Nagaram in the East Godavari district, said they were also investigating whether GAIL had taken necessary safety measures for the gas pipeline passing through the village.
According to police, leaked gas from the GAIL pipeline was ignited when a hotel owner lighted stove to make tea.
Gail officials said the cause for the fire was being thoroughly probed.
Police is also probing whether it was negligence that led to the fire or whether it was an accident, said Atul Singh, Inspector General of Police, North Coastal Zone.
"A case has been registered under section 174 of Criminal Procedure Code (unnatural death). It is being alleged that the leakage had been reported in the past few days...if it is so the case will be changed to 304 A of the Indian Penal Code (causing death by negligence)," he said.
The Razole police investigating the incident said some villagers claimed that they had approached GAIL authorities many times to report the gas leaks in the area, pressing for repairs, but no action was taken.
"We have to find out whose responsibility it is.....We have to inquire into these allegations and also (verify) the villagers' version that gas had been leaking for the past few days and they had approached the authorities a week ago," another police officer said.
Andhra Pradesh Director General (Fire Services) Sambasiva Rao, who inspected the fire site earlier in the day, said the blaze which erupted at around 5 am was brought under control in two hours by eight fire tenders.
"The exact cause has not yet been established. As per the preliminary investigation the leaked gas enveloped the area and lighting of a gas stove by a hotel owner to prepare tea sparked the fire and the fireball ignited the leaking pipeline resulting in a blast," he said.
The the impact of the blast was so severe that it left a huge crater on the ground and the fire spread rapidly engulfing houses, coconut trees and vehicles over a large area. At least 20 thatched houses were reduced to ashes.