Topic of the Day – Chemical Disaster Risk in India

UPSC Exam Preparation: Topic of the Day – Chemical Disaster Risk in India

India, in the year 1984 has witnessed the world’s worst chemical (industrial) disaster – the “Bhopal Gas Tragedy”. The Bhopal Gas tragedy was most traumatic chemical accident in history.  The tragedy led to the death of over 2500 people due to accidental release of toxic gas Methyl Iso Cyanate (MIC). The current generation continues to bear the ill-effects of the tragedy.

Such accidents are significant in terms of loss of lives, suffering, pain, injuries, damage to environment and property and loss of lives. India continued to witness a series of chemical accidents even after Bhopal had demonstrated the vulnerability of the country.

There are about 1861 Major Accident Hazard (MAH) units, spread across 298 districts and 25 states & 3 Union Territories, in all zones of country. Besides, there are thousands of registered and hazardous factories (below MAH criteria) and un-organized sectors dealing with numerous range of hazardous material posing serious and complex levels of disaster risks.


Factors causing chemical disasters:

  • Ageing of process plants, defects in design and inadequate steps to pace with modern technologies in Indian chemical industry has increased vulnerability to chemical disasters.
  • Organic solvents are the most common source of fires and explosions in the chemical industry.
  • A majority of the industrial accidents occur due to human error as a result of non-compliance of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Piper alpha accident is a classic example of how human error can lead to chemical disasters, wherein a worker accidentally activated a pump under maintenance without safety valve in place that lead to gas leak and subsequent explosion.
  • There is an increased threat due to terrorist activities and sabotages. Natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes have also caused a major disaster in chemical industry.
  • Another common cause that results in chemical disasters is improper maintenance of equipment. Regular maintenance at scheduled intervals following the manufacturer’s recommendations is important for ensuring that the equipment runs smoothly and safely. The Flixborough incident is a prime example of improper maintenance which lead to the death of 28 people and injured many.
  • Non-availability of an emergency response team to mitigate accidents during the transportation of hazardous chemicals have also resulted in major disasters in several locations in India.
  • Hazardous waste processing and its proper disposal needs special attention as these activities can also contribute to fire, explosions and toxic releases to the environment.
  • Terrorist attack/ unrest leading to sabotage


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