1.Unsafe boilers (The Hindu)

2.Linking superbugs to the Ganges (The Hindu)

1.Unsafe boilers (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of weak industrial safety regulations in India. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • At least 32 persons died and more than 97 were injured, many sustaining serious burns, after a boiler tube exploded at the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) unit in Unchahar in Rae Bareli district of Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday.
  • Workers and engineering staff were active at the 550 MW unit at the time of the accident, which left thick smoke billowing out of the plant.
  • The boiler explosion at NTPC’s Unchahar power plant in Rae Bareli underscores the importance of inspections and protocols for hazardous industrial operations. It has cost at least 32 lives and caused severe injuries to scores of personnel. High pressure boilers are hazardous pieces of equipment, which are strictly regulated with special laws.

Hazardous situation

  • The basic objective of the Indian Boilers Act, 1923 is to ensure the safety of life and protection of property by mandating uniform standards in the quality and upkeep of these units. That the Uttar Pradesh government failed miserably in meeting this objective is evident from the accident at the public sector facility.
  • Quite clearly, the accident was entirely preventable because boilers are designed to provide warnings as soon as dangerous pressure builds up and trigger automatic safety devices at a critical point.
  • They should undergo periodic inspections to ensure that all these features are working and intact.
  • At the Unchahar plant, the blocking of an outlet for waste gases by ash, unusual in a fairly new boiler, calls for an inquiry into the quality of the equipment and the fuel used. Ideally, these aspects should be investigated by an external agency and not the NTPC.

Industrial regulations impending ease of doing business

  • Industrial regulation has, unfortunately, come to be viewed as a barrier to ease of doing business in India. This is a result of inefficiency and corruption and the typical response of governments has been to relax crucial safety checks.
  • Self-certification and third-party certification of facilities has received support from policymakers even in the case of boilers. Soon after assuming office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi likened maintenance of boilers to that of a privately owned car, where owners should be trusted to do their best because they understand the need for safety in its operation. But the two are not comparable.
  • The Unchahar accident shows it is in everyone’s interest to have a transparent regulatory mechanism for hazardous industrial activity. The safety and welfare of workers and the public at large cannot be compromised.
  • A rigorous approach to accident reporting must become part of the process if the weak spots in regulation are to be addressed. National Crime Records Bureau data provide insights into casualties caused by industrial boiler and gas cylinder explosions there were 61 deaths in 2015 and the rise in the number of accidents over the previous year points to the need for strict enforcement of safety protocols.
  • The loss suffered by families of workers due to an accident that could have been averted cannot be compensated just financially.

Way ahead

  • It must be the Centre’s endeavour to see that measures taken to make it easy to do business do not translate into lack of regulation, and putting lives at risk. Administrative reform can eliminate the corruption of inspector raj and achieve transparent regulation, while keeping the workplace safe.

Question– Industrial safety goes in long way to ensure better ease of doing business. Comment.

 

2.Linking superbugs to the Ganges (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of connection between polluted rivers and anti-microbial resistance. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • The water quality of rivers is an issue of serious concern today. Rivers are heavily impacted due to their use for carrying off the industrial, municipal, agricultural and domestic effluents. Ganga is India’s largest river basin as it covers 26 per cent of the country’s landmass and supports about 43 per cent of its population.
  • The Ganga river quality is day by day deceased due to domestic and industrial influent. The Ganga River is a backbone of Indian biodiversity (aquatic flora and fauna). Pollution threatens not only humans, but also various amphibian species and the endangered Ganga river dolphin.

Rising pollution

  • Anthropogenic activities, including pollution from industrial effluents and waste from religious rituals, induce depletion in microbial communities at urban sites of river Ganga. This was revealed in the report of the first research project where citizens helped out in a microbiological analysis of Ganga river water.

Health implications

  • It is no secret that visitors to India and other countries in south Asia are frequent victims of stomach bugs jokingly described as ‘Delhi belly’. We also know that the immediate cause of the sometimes violent vomiting and diarrhoea that results is poor hygiene.
  • Half of India’s 1.3 billion people have no access to even primitive toilets, they defecate in the open, and infections often find their way into food and water; in fact little of the sewage generated by those who do have toilets is treated in any case; that waste, too, ends up in the Ganges and other waterways.
  • What few visitors or residents know, however, is that by travelling or living in India they are also liable to pick up a recently discovered bacterial gene that can make various diseases highly resistant to antibiotic drugs.
  • Tales of child deaths in developing countries are distressing enough. But it would be quite wrong to assume that sick people in wealthy, industrialised countries are being spared the trauma of antibiotic resistance or will be only mildly affected in the future.
  • Many will have heard of dreadful superbugs that spread among hospital patients, including MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which can cause death from septicaemia or blood poisoning.
  • What might a patient’s death from a superbug infection in a hospital in New York or London have to do with India, let alone the Ganges? The answer is that the NDM genes that make bacteria highly drug-resistant are being spread across the country in humans and other animals, and through sewers, streams and rivers, and are ultimately transported onwards in people’s guts to every part of the world.
  • NDM-I genes are found in the Yamuna River, a Ganges tributary that runs through Delhi, and in the main stream of the Ganges River. It also shows that high levels of the gene are associated with high levels of faecal coliform bacteria and therefore with the flow of human waste into rivers.
  • More significantly, the samples demonstrate that the (relatively) pristine reaches of the upper Ganges near Haridwar suffer surges of bacterial pollution and, in turn, blaNDM-I pollution during visits by thousands of urban Indians during the May-June pilgrimage season.
  • Devout Hindus, in other words, are unwittingly spreading diseases, and antibiotic resistance to diseases, in the very river to which they have come to pay homage.

Way ahead

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has become quite concerned about the rising levels of resistant bacteria in all areas of the world. To provide some global coordination, WHO issued its Global Strategy for Containment of Antimicrobial Resistance, a document aimed at policy-makers that urges governments to take action to help contain antibiotic resistance.
  • Developing nations need to focus on eliminating uncontrolled access to antibiotics and prevention measures such as improving sanitation, cleaning up water supplies and relieving overcrowding. These preventative measures, along with frequent hand washing, would ensure that people get sick less often, and would therefore pass on fewer resistant infections to others.

Question–  What should be the government’s strategy to fight the anti-microbial resistance?