India - 9 gas pipeline accidents in 1 year (2 of them in Jan 2000) : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

February 16, 2000

Mumbai, India

Is piped gas just a pipe dream in the city?

By Janaki Krishnamoorthi

With nine pipe gas related accidents reported in one year, questions are being raised whether this form of domestic gas is the solution to the demands for fuel in the city.

On January 12, a fire broke out on the road at Garodia Nagar, Ghatkopar, following a natural gas leak from a ruptured underground supply line. It was promptly extinguished by the fire brigade and Mahanagar Gas Limited's (MGL) emergency squad.

Earlier, on January 2, yet another fire had broken out in a residential complex at Ghatkopar East, when a housewife, Prerna Shah, lit a stove operating on Piped Natural Gas (PNG). Shah ran out of the kitchen and the fire was put out by neighbours before the fire brigade could arrive. A leak in the internal supply line reportedly caused the fire. The leak had not been detected as there had been no smell.

In November, yet another PNG leak was reported from a flat at Mathrukrupa building, Ghatkopar. Fortunately the residents heard the hissing sound of the leakage and switched off the supply and thereby averted a fire. Here again no smell was noticed.

Since 1996, when MGL began supplying PNG to domestic consumers in Mumbai, 25 gas leaks were reported, some of which resulted in fires. There were no casualties in almost all the cases. However, in two major blasts - where the cause of fire and the involvement of PNG was yet to be established - two residents were killed and two MGL men injured. Both the accidents occurred in residential premises where Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) was in use, and PNG installation work was in progress.

The first incident took place in December 1998 at Prakash Vora's flat in Nutan Kailash, Ghatkopar East. Two MGL workers were reportedly at work in the flat when the fire broke out killing 68-year-old Jyotiben Vora. Recalled Daksha Vora: "We were all out of town and my mother-in-law was alone at home. From what we gathered from her before her death, the MGL workers were checking the installation in the kitchen when she, who was in the drawing room, noticed flames through the service window. She got up to investigate, but by the time she reached the passage the fire had engulfed the kitchen. When she realised what was happening and tried to run, the loft in the passage fell on her. The MGL workers ran out calling for help. Somebody called the fire brigade. She was rescued and rushed to the hospital where she died the next day. Our house was totally destroyed and we had to rebuild it." The Voras also filed a case against MGL in the consumer court.

The second explosion occurred at Hemant Patil's flat in Gamdevi Society, Kurla East in September 1999. Patil, who was alone at home, lit the gas stove and immediately everything went up in flames. He died of burn injuries the next day and the flat was extensively damaged.

"In both cases, there was no question of PNG being the cause as installation work was underway and the gas connection had not been given. LPG was in use in the flats, and that must have leaked. In the Ghatkopar case, the fire brigade and the police reports indicate that the fire was not caused by PNG. In addition, in the Ghatkopar premises, there was a similar blast three months earlier due to chemicals stored by the owner who was a transporter," said a MGL spokesperson. The Voras, however, denied it: "We never had any kind of accident before. My husband is a transporter but he deals only in food items and steel sheets," said Daksha, who also claimed to possess a fire brigade report in their favour. But neither MGL nor the Voras produced a copy of any such document. The LPG distributor's representative on the other hand attribute the blasts to PNG: "In both cases, the LPG cylinders were found intact. And the nature of damage, most of which were in the upper areas, prove that PNG was responsible. As gas is lighter than air, it moves up and settles at the ceiling level. MGL claims that it was an unplugged connection. But there must have been some leak," countered Azad Popatia, president, All India LPG Distributor's Federation, Mumbai.

Fire brigade officials, who did not wish to be named, expressed a similar view: "The nature and location of damages, which were mostly at the ceiling level, the black spots revealing the origin of leak and the kind of smell indicate that the fire was caused by PNG." According to a MGL spokesperson, the pipeline bursts on the roads were caused by work undertaken by other utility organisations. "The roads are dug up for laying or repairing electric cables and water pipes. In the process, sometimes our pipes get damaged, causing a leak. And even a lit cigarette butt can then cause a fire. These organisations often do not inform us before undertaking such work despite our request," she complained.

Lack of coordination among various government agencies was not new. But was MGL adhering to the required safety regulations with regard to the construction and maintenance of their distribution system? After all, the work was carried out by contractors who could be flouting rules. "The design construction and maintenance of MGL's distribution network are in accordance with international standards. We follow the specifications laid down by British Gas (MGL is a joint venture of British Gas, Gas Authority of India Limited and the Maharashtra government). Though the work is contracted out, our officials inspect each and every installation. All these rumours are spread by vested interests, particularly the LPG distributors whose business is affected," alleged the MGL spokesperson. LPG distributors, however, refuted the charges.

Yet another cause for concern was the complaint made by PNG users. Many said they did not get any smell when the gas leaked despite MGL's claim of adding the chemical Mercaptin to aid detection. Perhaps the quantity was not sufficient. Early detection of leaks was essential to prevent disaster.

Source: The India Times,

-- Lee Maloney (, March 16, 2000

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