Accident at thermal plant raises Sino-Indian tension

NEW DELHI: An accident at a thermal power plant being constructed in Korba town in central India’s Chhattisgarh province has raised Sino-Indian tensions with China objecting to Indian attempts to pin the blame

for the tragedy on its personnel. The Indian

government has issued ‘look out notices’ at airports and train stations against the Chinese personnel who were working on the project to build a 1200MW

thermal power plant, and asked for them to be available for inquiries into the cause of the accident that claimed over 50 lives.

While Indian officials deny that Chinese personnel working on the project have been targeted as responsible for the tragedy, they claim the Chinese engineers and technicians present in Korba were evacuated to other cities to prevent a backlash against them from local people whose kin were killed. More than 50 people were killed when a 100-metre high chimney under construction collapsed on September 23.

Around 89 Chinese personnel, mostly engineers, working at Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd (Balco) in Chhattisgarh’s Korba town reportedly fled fearing attacks by locals. All of the Chinese employees were deployed in Korba by the Shandong Electrical Power Corporation (SEPC), which was awarded the contract to construct the power plant.

The Balco plant, in which the Indian government holds 49 per cent stake, is controlled by the Vedanta Resources group, which

had in 2007 awarded

the China-based firm SEPCO rights to construct a 1,200 mw thermal power plant at Korba. SEPCO later outsourced construction of the civil works, including the 275-metre chimney for the plant, to

Gannon Dunkerley and Company Ltd (GDCL). SEPCO, one of China’s leading power construction firms which also constructs nuclear power plants and has built over 32 power plants across the world, had won the contract from aluminum major Balco to construct two power plants of 600 MW each.

China has objected to the Indian government refusing permission to some of the Chinese personnel, who have moved from Korba to larger cities like Mumbai, Raipur and Kolkata, who wanted to return home for

a brief lay off while formal investigations into the cause of the accident are on. The Chinese personnel have been asked to stay on in India while the judicial probe is conducted to determine the cause of the chimney collapse. According to one report, five Chinese engineers were stopped by police from trying to fly out of Raipur airport. They

were detained for questioning by local police.

Chhatisgarh is run by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party-led government. The Chief Minister, Raman Singh, has turned down the Congress party’s demand for an investigation

into the causes of the accident by the Central Bureau of Investigation, but said stringent legal action would be taken against those found guilty for the sudden collapse of the chimney under construction.