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Ammonia movement by FACT Greens see red

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A capsized LPG carrier at Nadakkavu, near Kochi. There is a public outcry against carrying hazardous chemicals and gases through busy roads in the city.
A capsized LPG carrier at Nadakkavu, near Kochi. There is a public outcry against carrying hazardous chemicals and gases through busy roads in the city.

Sajeev Kumar V.

RESENTMENT IS building among environmental agencies over the transportation of liquefied ammonia gas (LAG) by the public sector Fertilisers and Chemicals Travancore Ltd (FACT) through Kochi's congested seaport-airport road.

Various environmental organisations are up in arms alleging that the company is flouting norms set by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests for moving such a cargo. According to them, the Ministry had given permission for moving LAG by road two years back on the condition that FACT would draw up a contingency plan within three months. The Ministry had directed the company to opt for a route that would avoid densely populated areas and also to draw up a transportation schedule such that the peak hour traffic was avoided.

The green groups allege that FACT has not complied with the conditions laid down by the Ministry in transporting hazardous cargo. According to them, with traffic on the airport-seaport road picking up significantlythere had been a rise in of accidents. , In such a situation FACT should take more precautions while transporting the cargo by road, they said.

Refuting these allegations, senior FACT officials said the company was complying with all the conditions laid down by the Ministry of Environmental and Forest while approving the transportation of LAG by road. The contingency plan the Ministry had wanted was submitted to the District Collector in March 2004. FACT had also agreed to carry out the modifications suggested by the Collector. Only a formal approval from the Collector was awaited, they said. The company had also conducted a drill in the presence the Additional District Magistrate, Ernakulam; and the officials of the Factories and Boilers Department, the Police and Road Transport Authority to tackle any situation arising out of an accident, the officials added.

It is pointed out that about 500 tonnes of ammonia is moved from the FACT plant at Udyogamandal Division to Ambalamedu in Cochin Division. As many as 13 tanker lorries, 11 with a capacity of 15 tonnes, and two of 10 tonnes and 12 tonnes, make about 35 trips daily.

It may be recalled that the company was moving LAG by barges on inland waterways till June 2004, but this was discontinued because of the high cost of this mode. The legal issue over the discontinuation of barge movement of ammonia is now pending with the Arbitrator.

FACT trade unions have come out with a statement justifying the transport by road of LAG. They pointed out that several private institutions are transporting ammonia for use in rubber plantations, ice-making plants and so on. According to the trade unions, FACT had also economic reasons for transportation of LAG by road. While it costs Rs 2,000 to move one tonne via waterways, it is a mere Rs 160 by road; this saves the company Rs 20 crore every year.

But the opposition to the movement by road is strong. Swasraya Mattanchery, a voluntary organisation, had submitted to the Chief Minister and the State Industries Minister a memorandum calling for stopping what it calls an unsafe method of transporting LAG. It wants FACT to adopt a safe transport mode and emergency procedures.

Mr K. V. A. Iyer, Vice-President, Cochin Port Labour Union, whose workers have been displaced following the change in the mode of transportation of ammonia, said that most tanks mounted on lorries were not designed to withstand the pressure of LAG in the event of a road accident. As ammonia promptly dissolves in water, he said barge transport was recommended subject to security measures and monitoring procedures and comprehensive coverage of risk in the event of a disaster. In developed countries, road transport of ammonia was not allowed. Where permission was given on a limited scale, it was subject to various stipulations, monitoring and official surveillance. According to Mr Iyer, the ideal option of waterways was being ignored.

At an open discussion organised by the Media Centre here last week, Dr V. N. Sivasankara Pillai, a former Director of the School of Environmental Studies, Cochin University of Science and Technology, said there was no documentation in India of any major accident while transporting ammonia. However, it is always safer to opt for the water transport system. He also suggested creating a separate corridor for transporting hazardous materials from the Kochi Port to various industrial areas of the State.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 1, 2005)
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