EDITORIAL: Ticking bombs

Although there are over 50 filling plants across the country, the government has not introduced any independent safety standards

Two firefighters were killed and three others injured when an LPG filling plant— Super Gas Factory—located at Sukhasaina, Birgunj caught a massive fire due to leakage while unloading gas from an LPG bullet to a gas reservoir on Wednesday. This is the first ever massive fire incident that took place in an LPG filling plant, raising serious questions over the safety of the plant and security of nearby settlements. Independent probe teams formed by LP Gas Industry Association and Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) will come out with a report about the actual cause of the fire on the plant, but a preliminary report prepared by police suggests that the plant caught the fire due to leakage of gas while unloading the fuel on the underground reservoir. Except for the huge losses of property of the gas company and deaths of two firefighters, police managed to save people from the nearby villages as the locals were told to stay away about one kilometre from the accident site. The locals could manage to run to safety as it happened in the daytime. It took about eight hours for the firefighters from Birgunj and Simara airport to extinguish the blaze.

Although there are over 50 LGP filling plants across the country, the government has not introduced any independent safety standards. But they are required to follow the LPG safety standards prescribed by the Indian Oil Corporation, the sole supplier of the petroleum products to Nepal. In the wake of the massive inferno in the bottling plant a serious question has arisen whether these plants have ever followed the safety standards which are mandatory for the safety of the plants themselves and security of the local areas. The Nepal Bureau of Standards and Metrology (NBSM) and NOC are the two competent agencies responsible for ensuring safety standards

of all bottling plants. The officials at the NBSM have openly admitted that Nepal’s bottling plants have not been complying with even 10 per cent of the prescribed safety standards. The officials have said only eight companies have followed the safety standards and others are compromising with the rules.

As per the general rules prescribed by the NOC, all the bottling plants must be located about five kilometers away from the settlements, roadsides and forest areas. But most of the filling plants are seen stationed close to the settlements and roadsides. This is a clear violation of the prescribed safety rules. On the other hand, the regulatory authorities responsible for monitoring these plants do little to ensure that they are operating as per the standard rules. These are the gas companies which are also supplying poor quality of gas cylinders to every household. It may be recalled that six persons had lost their lives in Kathmandu alone over the last six months due to explosions of gas cylinders in the kitchens. This is a serious case which should be dealt with utmost seriousness. Although Super Gas factory suffered a huge loss of property, its proprietor should be booked for sheer negligence. The regulatory bodies also equally deserve legal actions for not carrying out timely inspections of all the plants that supply LPG in poor quality cylinders.

Towards ODF goal

Bhojpur Municipality has decided to cut off drinking water and electricity supply to those houses who fail to build septic tanks for their toilets. The decision has been taken to achieve the goal of making the district an Open Defecation Free (ODF) zone within this year. A septic tank for toilets is an underground tank in which human waste is collected and allowed to decompose through bacterial activity before draining by means of a leaching field. For rural communities, septic tanks are an excellent option, as they last for years and their maintenance is easy.

The move by Bhojpur Municipality to make households build septic tanks is a welcome step, as apart from helping the district attain the status of open defecation free zone within this year, toilets with septic tanks also come with multiple benefits. Common latrines with no septic system often get filled very early, which could force people to practise open defecation. This comes with serious public health hazard. Bhojpur can set an example if it can enforce septic tanks in toilets in all households by warning them of cutting off utility services, as it will help other districts to follow suit.