NTPC Blast and the Misery of the Margins

NTPC’s Unchahar power plant witnessed a tragic boiler blast claiming the lives of over 22 individuals and leaving many others critically injured. The incident occurred due to negligence and inadequate safety measures and is being probed into in order to gain a better understanding of how the tragedy unfolded itself so that events of this kind can be avoided in future. It is time we asked ourselves why it is the margins of the society that alone suffers the brunt of inadequate safety measures be it at NTPC, the BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur or waiting in ration lines for food in the absence of Aadhar cards? Why does this section of the population continue to be marginalised in their helplessness, anguish and lack of resources? Are we even listening?


The nation was recently jolted buy a tragic and shocking incident that unfolded in Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh.  The incident took place when there was a boiler blast at the state run NTPC Ltd’s Unchahar power plant where due to the accident more than 32 people are feared to have died.The 1,550 mega watt (MW) coal-fuelled plant (about 110km from state capital Lucknow)  supplies electricity to Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Delhi and Uttarakhand has 840MW capacity available for the process of electricity generation.  In the unfortunate blast that took place in the boiler in one particular unit many workers have succumbed to injuries while many have died.

It is in this context that the Uttar Pradesh government has ordered an inquiry to determine within seven days the cause of the blast in the Unchahar plant. It is being estimated that severe blockages in the flue gas pipe in a unit had led to the blast. Hot fuel gases and steam let out by the blast severely injured several workers. A magisterial inquiry has been initiated. This two-member technical team will submit its report on the accident very soon. It is in the face of this tragic incident that The National Human Rights Commission issued a notice to the state government to look into the matter deeply and take due action.

While the process of boiler cleaning is largely automated, there are times when it needs manual cleaning in the case of clinker formation. Clinkers are lumps formed after burning of coal at high temperature in the furnace. It is now being argued that with the clinkers choking the bottom ash outlet, the pressure in the boiler went up leading to a situation where it started melting the water valves surrounding the boiler. This created a vent, with hot flue gases and steam at high temperature escaping. This got mixed with ash (around 200°C) present and injured and killed those present at the site. NTPC has initiated an inquiry into the matter to probe the tragic incident. Experts believe that the incident points to a serious safety issue.

It is also being reiterated that there has either been instrumentation failure or compromise on operational safety in this case. One has not heard of major accidents in NTPC plants over the last 20 years. Investigations have to be done to find out why this has happened. It is believed that an organisation such as the NTPC would be prompt in installing safety measures to avoid this situation in the future.

It is tragic that the most vulnerable sections of our society-the workers, the labouring class, and the poor are the perpetual victims of this callousness. Whether we talk about the BRD Medical College hospital in Gorakhpur, the denial of food to the needy in the absence of Aadhar cards, the NTPC Power plant etc. we always see tht the utter helplessness and marginalisation of this section of the population is only being aggravated. Given this context are we prepared to ask whether they are merely being seen as a vote bank by the establishment in times of electoral politics or are they really concerned about their survival or dignified existence? Unless we begin to ask these important questions we shall be condemned to a life of ignorance, marginalisation and helplessness.


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