lawyers in India

Chemical Disaster Management - Policy Initiatives

Written by: Urja Bidhan Dave - 2nd year students of B.A.LL.B(Hons) Nirma University, Institute of Law
Constitutional Lawyers in India
Legal Service
  • The term ‘Disaster’ owes its origin to the French word desastre, which is a combination of two words ‘des’ meaning bad and ‘aster’ meaning star. Thus, the term ‘disaster’ refers to ‘Bad or Evil Star’. In earlier days disasters were considered to be an outcome or outburst of some unfavourable star.[1]

    Ideally, a disaster may be defined as an event concentrated in time and space which threatens a society or a relative self sufficient subdivision of a society with major unwanted consequences as a result of the collapse of precautions which had hitherto been culturally accepted as adequate.

    Disaster according to the Disaster Management Act 2005 means a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or manmade causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of, property, or damage to, or degradation of, environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area;
    Disasters are extreme events which cause great loss to life and property. They pose a serious threat to the normal life as well as the process of development and strike with sudden violence, tearing bodies, destroying lives and structures and throwing apart families. Natural disasters, which are both sudden and powerful, damage national economy and cause hardships to a large section of the population. They are the single largest concern for most of the nations as they take a heavy toll of human life, destroy belongings and infrastructure and have far reaching economic and social consequences for communities. Thus, the impact of disasters on human life is multi – dimensional, affecting it in all aspects- domestic, social, economic etc

    Types of Disaster:
    Generally, disasters are of two types – Natural and Manmade. Based on the devastation, these are further classified into major/minor natural disaster and major/minor manmade disasters. Some of the disasters are listed below:
    Major natural disasters:
    # Flood
    # Cyclone
    # Drought
    # Earthquake
    Minor natural disasters:
    # Cold wave
    # Thunderstorms
    # Heat waves
    # Mud slides
    # Storm
    Major manmade disaster:
    # Setting of fires
    # Epidemic
    # Deforestation
    # Pollution due to prawn cultivation
    # Chemical pollution
    # Wars
    Minor manmade disaster:
    # Road / train accidents, riots
    # Food poisoning
    # Industrial disaster/ crisis
    # Environmental pollution

    Disaster management according to Disaster Management Act 2005 means a continuous and integrated process of planning, organising, coordinating and implementing measures which are necessary or expedient for-

    (i) Prevention of danger or threat of any disaster;
    (ii) Mitigation or reduction of risk of any disaster or its severity or consequences;
    (iii) capacity-building;
    (iv) Preparedness to deal with any disaster;
    (v) Prompt response to any threatening disaster situation or disaster;
    (vi) Assessing the severity or magnitude of effects of any disaster;
    (vii) Evacuation, rescue and relief;
    (viii) Rehabilitation and reconstruction;

    Disaster Management activity basically comprises of three stages, i.e.
    · Pre- Disaster Stage
    · Emergency Stage
    · Post-Disaster Stage

    Industrial hazards are threats to people and life-support systems that arise from the mass production of goods and services. When these threats exceed human coping capabilities or the absorptive capacities of environmental systems they give rise to industrial disasters. Industrial hazards can occur at any stage in the production process, including extraction, processing, manufacture, transportation, storage, use, and disposal. Losses generally involve the release of damaging substances (e.g. chemicals, radioactivity, genetic materials) or damaging levels of energy from industrial facilities or equipment into surrounding environments. The growth of chemical industries has led to an increase in the risk of occurrence of incidents associated with hazardous chemicals (HAZCHEM). A chemical industry that incorporates the best principles of safety can largely prevent such incidents. Common causes for chemical accidents are deficiencies in safety management systems and human errors, or they may occur as a consequence of natural calamities or sabotage activities. Chemical accidents result in fire, explosion and/or toxic release.

    The nature of chemical agents and their concentration during exposure ultimately decides the toxicity and damaging effects on living organisms in the form of symptoms and signs like irreversible pain, suffering, and death. Meteorological conditions such as wind speed, wind direction, height of inversion layer, stability class, etc., also play an important role by affecting the dispersion pattern of toxic gas clouds. The Bhopal Gas tragedy of 1984—the worst chemical disaster in history, where over 2000 people died due to the accidental release of the toxic gas Methyl Isocyanate, is still fresh in our memories. Such accidents are significant in terms of injuries, pain, suffering, loss of lives, damage to property and environment. A small accident occurring at the local level may be a prior warning signal for an impending disaster. Chemical disasters, though low in frequency, have the potential to cause significant immediate or long-term damage.

    Sources of Chemical Disasters:[2]

    Chemical accidents may originate in:
    I) Manufacture and formulation installations including during commissioning and process operations; maintenance and disposal.
    II) Material handling and storage in manufacturing facilities, and isolated Storages; warehouses and godowns including tank farms in ports and docks and fuel depots.
    III) Transportation (road, rail, air, water, and pipelines).

    Major Accidents in India:
    Following the Bhopal Gas Disaster in 1984, major incidences of chemical disasters in India include
    · a fire in an oil well in Andhra Pradesh (2003);
    · a vapour cloud explosion in the Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited Refinery (HPCL), Vishakhapatnam (1997); and
    · an explosion in the Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Limited (IPCL) Gas Cracker Complex, Nagothane, Maharashtra (1990).
    Over 20 major chemical accidents have been reported in MAH units during 2002–06.

    Present Status:
    India is amongst the very few countries, which have enshrined the right to live in a clean and wholesome environment as a fundamental right. The Factories Act was enacted in 1948, for ensuring safety, health and welfare at the workplace. Recognising the need to mainstream environmental Concerns in all developmental activities, a separate ministry—the Ministry of Environment and Forest—was created in 1980, and was declared as the nodal ministry for the Management of chemical (industrial) disasters. CDM received greater emphasis the world over only after the Bhopal disaster in 1984. The regulatory framework on chemical safety can be traced to the Factories Act, 1948 and chemical class-specific regulations like the Explosives Act, 1884; the Insecticide Act, 1968; and The Petroleum Act, 1934. Later, an umbrella Act, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, was enacted, which also deals with chemical management and safety. A number of regulations covering safety in transportation, insurance, liability and compensations were enacted thereafter. The Government of India has further reinforced the legal framework on chemical safety and management of chemical accidents by enacting new rules.

    Disaster Management Act:

    The DM Act, 2005 provides for the requisite institutional mechanism for drawing up and monitoring the implementation of the DM Plans ensuring measures by various wings of government for prevention and mitigation effects of disasters and for undertaking a holistic coordinated and prompt response to any disaster situation. The Act seeks to institutionalise the mechanisms at the national, state and district levels to plan, prepare and ensure a swift response to both natural calamities and man-made disasters/accidents.

    The Act, inter alia mandates:
    I) The formation of a national apex body, the NDMA, with the Prime Minister of India as the ex-officio chairperson.
    II) The state governments to establish SDMAs, and also create DDMAs.


    Powers and functions On NDMA[3]:
    The NDMA constituted under Section 3 of the DM Act, 2005, has the responsibility of laying down the policies, plans and guidelines for effective Disaster Management.

    As mandated, the NDMA may:
    I) lay down policies on disaster management;
    II) Approve the National Plan;
    III) Approve plans prepared by the ministries or departments of the Government of India in accordance with the National Plan;
    IV) lay down guidelines to be followed by the State Authorities in drawing up the State Plan;
    V) Lay down guidelines to be followed by the different ministries or departments of the Government of India for the purpose of integrating the measures for Prevention of disaster or the mitigation of its effects in their development plans and projects;
    VI) Coordinate the enforcement and implementation of the policy and plan for Disaster Management;
    VII) Recommend provision of funds for the purpose of mitigation;
    VIII) Provide such support to other countries affected by major disasters as may be determined by the Central Government;
    IX) Take such other measures for the prevention of disaster, or the mitigation, or preparedness and capacity building for dealing with the threatening disaster situation or disaster as it may consider necessary;
    X) Lay down broad policies and guidelines for the functioning of the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM).

    National Plan[4]:

    A plan for disaster management for the whole of the country to be called the National Plan. The National Plan shall be prepared by the National Executive Committee having regard to the National Policy and in consultation with the State Governments and expert bodies or organisations in the field of disaster management to be approved by the National Authority. The National Plan shall include-
    (a) Measures to be taken for the prevention of disasters, or the mitigation of their effects;
    (b) Measures to be taken for the integration of mitigation measures in the development plans;
    (c) Measures to be taken for preparedness and capacity building to effectively respond to any threatening disaster situations or disaster;
    (d) roles and responsibilities of different Ministries or Departments of the Government of India in respect of measures specified in clauses (a), (b) and (c).

    (4) The National Plan shall be reviewed and updated annually.
    State Plan[5]:
    The State Plan shall include,-
    (a) The vulnerability of different parts of the State to different forms of disasters;
    (b) The measures to be adopted for prevention and mitigation of disasters;
    (c) The manner in which the mitigation measures shall be integrated with the development plans and projects;
    (d) The capacity-building and preparedness measures to be taken.
    District Plan[6]:
    The District Plan shall include-
    (a) The areas in the district vulnerable to different forms of disasters;

    (b) The measures to be taken, for prevention and mitigation of disaster, by the Departments of the Government at the district level and local authorities in the district;

    (c) The capacity-building and preparedness measures required to be taken by the Departments of the Government at the district level and the local authorities in the district to respond to any threatening disaster situation or disaster;

    (d) The response plans and procedures, in the event of a disaster, providing for-
    (i) Allocation of responsibilities to the Departments of the Government at the district level and the local authorities in the district;
    (ii) Prompt response to disaster and relief thereof;
    (iii) Procurement of essential resources;
    (iv) Establishment of communication links; and
    (v) The dissemination of information to the public;
    (e) Such other matters as may be required by the State Authority.

    Disaster Management Policy:[7]

    Disaster Management Policy demonstrates government’s commitment to disaster management. Past experiences have shown that disasters can cause extensive damage to life and property and can adversely affect the economic condition of the Territory. In light of this, the Government is committed to taking a pro-active, comprehensive and sustained approach to disaster management that encourages buy-in by all players and that is focused on risk and vulnerability reduction.

    Disaster management is shared responsibility between government, the private sector and civil society. Partnerships between government and the private sector are a prerequisite in order for sustainable and effective disaster management to take place. Similarly cooperation between government agencies is equally important due to the crosscutting nature of disaster management.

    Disaster Management requires multi-disciplinary and pro-active approach. Besides various measures for putting in place institutional and policy framework, disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness enunciated in this paper and initiatives being taken by the Central and State Governments, the community, civil society organizations and media also have a key role to play in achieving our goal of moving together, towards a safer India. The message being put across is that, in order to move towards safer and sustainable national development, development projects should be sensitive towards disaster mitigation.

    Our mission is vulnerability reduction to all types of hazards, be it natural or manmade. This is not an easy task to achieve, keeping in view the vast population, and the multiple natural hazards to which this country is exposed. However, if we are firm in our conviction and resolve that the Government and the people of this country are not prepared to pay the price in terms of massive casualties and economic losses, the task, though difficult, is achievable and we shall achieve it.

    Our vision 2020 is to build a safer and secure India through sustained collective effort, synergy of national capacities and people’s participation. What looks a dream today will be transformed into reality in the next two decades. This is our goal and we shall strive to achieve this goal with a missionary zeal. The path ahead, which looks difficult today, will become a lot easier as we move along together.

    [1] Dr. Satendra (I.F.S), 2003. Disaster Management in the Hills, concept publishing company, New Delhi
    [2] Chemicaldisasterguidlinesnidm.pdf
    [4] Disaster Management Act 2005, Section 11.
    [5] Disaster Management Act 2005, Section 23.
    [6] Disaster Management Act 2005, Section 31

    · CDM: Chemical Disaster Management
    · DDMA: District Disaster Management Authority
    · DM: Disaster Management
    · HAZCHEM: Hazardous Chemical
    · MAH Unit: Major Accident Hazard Unit
    · NDMA: National Disaster Management Authority
    · NDRF: National Disaster Response Force
    · NIDM: National Institute of Disaster Management
    · SDMA: State Disaster Management Authority

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