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Industrialization in Odisha: Accidents are becoming habit; state government too scared to act!
Explosion in the second blast furnace of Bhusan Steels Ltd. at Kantabania, Dhenkanal has exposed the soft underbelly of the state government as well as the whole industrialization process in Odisha. It has raised some very important questions like - are the industries, those have come up in Odisha capable enough to run them?

Are the different departments with the mandate of industrial safety, worker’s safety, interest of the workers, protection of environment etc. capable enough to handle the present process of industrialization? And what is happening in Odisha in the name of industrialization - industrialization or mafia raj? Sounds a bit exaggerated? No after going through what all has come to the fore are the accident in the second blast furnace.

The second blast furnace that exploded during the time of commissioning, did not have the requisite Consent to Operate from the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB). It also did not have the nod from the Directorate of Factories and Boilers. So the rule book has been thrown to the dust bin and it was being commissioned illegally.

Had no accident happened, such an information would have been a a Chalo Cahlta hai (taken for granted). But after the accident of such a magnitude, it certainly is a recorded heinous crime. But nothing has been done to bring the criminals to the book. “Investigations are going on and stern action will be taken against those found guilty” has been the common refrain.

In another bizarre development the SPCB has ordered shutdown of the second blast furnace and a power plant. Blast furnace for the accident and the power plant as the board found (nay say discovered) that the company has set up a mini power plant without any clearance (including the environmental clearance). A mini power plant is not a small gadget to be hidden from the supervising officials of SPCB.

Two rolling mills also had been set up as per the discovery of the SPCB clandestinely. Now the board officials reveal in private that BSL has not adopted the safety measures, and has glossed over the compliance reports submitted to SPCB and Directorate of Factories and Boiler (DFB). The board has now admitted that ‘it has been fooled’.

And these agencies are enforcement agencies to ensure that the rule of the land is respected. In the first place it had not given the permission to run them, they were being run illegally. But now it orders to shut them down. Little reading between the lines will reveal, despite the accident and such developments, may be even the SPCB was apprehensive that BSL will be audacious enough to run these units again. It SPCB acts smart to shut them down. Is not it bizarre?

Even more bizarre is the fact that till date nobody knows (BSL excluded) the number of workers working in the blast furnace unit. How many workers were there in the accident site is a million dollar question. Million dollars is not the prize for the right answer, it is the cost of hiding it. BSL did not have any documentary evidence to provide to the district collector Ms. Rupa Roshan Sahu regarding the number of workers inside the plant.

The District Labour Office also did not have the information on the labourers working there. The Labour Minister Bijoyshree Routray has admitted in a public statement that the company is not cooperating in sharing information. He also has said that BSL is not complying with the orders of the State Government. He himself had ordered for the Safety Audit in the month of April. But, his own department is not notifying this order. But despite this the Labour Minister was kind enough to give audience to two officials of the BSL in late night, on the day following the incident.

When hounded by the media on this meeting and who is protecting the government officials who are protecting BSL, his answer was “ Ask the Chief Minister”. Though there had been a lot of efforts afterwards to do the damage management, it certainly has dragged Naveen Patnaik, who boasts of a clean image USP, into the eye of the storm.

What makes Bhusan so powerful so that it can set up power plant without a single permission, set up rolling mills clandestinely, commission a blast furnace without a consent to operate from the SPCB and DFB, not maintain the records/registers for the attendance of the labors, stall the decision of the Labour Minister to undertake safety audit, be responsible for death of two workers (who knows what is the actual figure) and injury of many, can make the SPCB apprehensive about BSL being audacious enough to continue operating the illegal units and able to silence the opposition and the media to a great extent?

Now everything about BSL is a hush hush affair. Sources in the different departments and officers before divulging any information doubly ensuring anonymity. Normally in any such case the standard modus operandi has been to roll the head of some of the government officers. But this time that also has not happened.

But the worst fear comes from the silence of the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Mr. Patnaik has not even come out with his trademark statement “Law will take its own course. The matter is under serious consideration and stern action will be taken against those found guilty.” Is the Chief Minister too scared? Or not bothered?

None of the above probabilities are a good sign for the people of Odisha. The chief minister of the state not being bothered about an industrial accident of such scale against the back drop of the same company being responsible for death of more than 98 persons since the plant started operating. And this is official figure.

Unofficial figures for this is claimed to be more than 200. In this year alone till date 13 persons have died. For the previous year the toll was the highest (officially known) 20. Can a chief minister, who is so passionate about the industrialization be indifferent to such an extent? With the elections around, the CM and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supremo can ill afford it. Then it clearly leaves one with the option of CM being scared.

From where does this Singhania company outfit garner so much of power so that everyone - starting from the villagers nearby, workers, government officials, ruling and opposition leaders and even the Chief Minister is scared of BSL. One of the trade union leaders explains that BSL draws its strength from Muscle, Money, Management and Prem.

The workers in the plant are bullied in the plant premises as well as their villages by the goons in the pay roll of the company. If they fail to do so, the local police carries it further. While the police station is set up in Kantabania village, BSL has managed to get it nomenclature as Bhusan Steel Ltd. Police Station. The locals complain that this police station is the extension of BSL. People are strongly convinced that the police station is there to protect the interest of the company.

The second line of garnering power is money and management. Officials, local leaders etc. are sent regular packets to safeguard their interests. They take care that Bhusan can get away with anything, can violate the rules, orders with impunity. And along with the packets, BSL also ensures that these officers are protected through managing their bosses. This can even frustrate the Labour minister to admit in public that his own department also does not cooperate with him to act against Bhusan.

But can muscle, money and management silence the Chief Minister from issuing his trademark statement- Law will….. Despite being busy in the Municipal Corporation Elections, he certainly could have issued this statement.

Some local people allege, “The argument put forth for the silence of the CM and the protection to the erring officials is said to be Prem. No it is not the love of Bhusan, it is one Mr. Prem Patnaik, who holds the strings of Odisha bureaucracy. The inner circles in the power corridor say that the strings are being pulled from Delhi and that provides the final shield to Bhusan.

And even the Chief Minister is scared. With all such bizarre and brazen development where the logic does not piece together, this looks like a probability as the CM Naveen Patnaik also has a brother named Prem Patnaik and has quite a say in Odisha politics and administration.”

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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