Visakhapatnam Gas Leak: LG Polymers Operated Since 1997 Without Environmental Clearance, State Authorities Ignored

Dhir Acharya - May 14, 2020

Visakhapatnam Gas Leak: LG Polymers Operated Since 1997 Without Environmental Clearance, State Authorities Ignored

Visakhapatnam Gas Leak: It appears that LG Polymers have never obtained a proper clearance or permit as required. The firm denies it, the state ignores it.

Last week, the entire country was left in horror when the massive Visakhapatnam Gas Leak happened at LG Polymers, a Korean plastic factory, killing 12 people and causing hundreds more sick. Now, though the company is found to lack federal government clearance, it has got state permits to operate. This indicates a potentially dangerous gap in enforcing the country’s law.

Visakhapatnam Gas Leak
Visakhapatnam Gas Leak happened at LG Polymers

According to an affidavit in May 2019 by LG Chem, the owner of LG Polymers factory in Andhra Pradesh, which formed part of the clearance application, the firm does not have a valid environmental clearance from the competent authority that substantiates its produced quantity to continue operations.

Choi Sang-kyu, LG Chem spokesman, said that the firm had followed the country’s law and had operated the factory based on officials’ guidance at the federal and state level. Had added that affidavit was their promise to be compliant with Indian law in the future rather than an admission of violations.

From interviews with legal experts and officials, LG Polymers was operating in a legal grey area, meaning it had to have environmental clearance as required in the federal regulations but states made the decision in enforcing those requirements.

Visakhapatnam Gas Leak
The gas leak killed 12 people and put thousands of people in the hospitals with serve health effect

It’s not official that the lack of an environmental clearance was related to the gas leak disaster, but experts say that the plan operating for years despite the clearance indicates the insufficiency of environmental laws in a country that has some of the most polluted cities in the world.

LG Polymers is facing several charges after the May 7 disaster that not only killed people but also put over 1,000 in hospitals.

LG Polymers has already been charged with culpable homicide, which includes negligence in handling toxic substances. The company was also asked to pay $6.6 million of penalty by the court for causing damage to the environment, public health, and life.

Besides, the court is considering a plea that questions how state authorities approved of the company functioning despite the lack of federal clearance.

Visakhapatnam Gas Leak
Visakhapatnam Gas Leak spread to as far as 3 kilometers

Choi said that the company would cooperate with authorities during the investigation. The plant has operated since 1997 with only state permits, obviously.

Now, here’s another thing to consider, the new federal rules require firms in industries including petrochemicals to get a federal environmental clearance each time they expand a pant or change their manufactured products. From 2006 to 2018, LG Chem expanded LG Polymers’ operation 5 times but never obtain environmental clearance, according to the affidavit mentioned above.

Choi said in 2006, the firm had already consulted the ministry when the rules were changed, being told that no environmental clearance was required. However, CK Mishtra, Environment Secretary, said that the company didn’t need a clearance in 2006 but had to follow the new rules after that time.

It appears that LG Polymers hadn’t been asked for the clearance until 2017 when the company approached the Pollution Control Board of Andhra Pradesh to present plans of manufacturing engineering plastics at its factory. However, the request was denied due to the lack of a federal clearance. On the other hand, it seemed that the state didn’t tell the firm to stop the plant operation.

Visakhapatnam Gas Leak
Visakhapatnam Gas Leak: LG Polymers never got proper clearance for its manufacturing

Documents show that LG Polymers applied for its first environmental clearance in 2018 when it wanted to increase its polystyrene manufacturing capacity. The application was flagged for review as the firm didn’t even have a clearance for the chemicals it was manufacturing at the time.

Then LG Polymers withdrew the application and applied for a retroactive clearance, which the Environment Ministry offered firms in 2018 as a one-time thing. The application, however, was still pending at the time the massive leak happened.

According to Choi, the company applied for the EC in compliance with the central government policies. He added that whenever the firm expanded the factory, it was approved by the state.

In India, state authorities issue 2 permits, the first of which is for launching a new business while the second one is for running it. Both the permits are required in all industries that were potential polluters to the water or air. Besides, the operational permits need renewing every five years.

An environmental lawyer said that each time LG Polymers renewed its permit, the pollution board could have denied or fined the company. But it never did. In response to questions about this matter, second-in-command Vivek Yadav of the state board said they were examining the issue.

>>> Massive Gas Leak Disaster In Visakhapatnam: 8 Dead, Hundreds Admitted To Hospitals



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