An explosion at a government-owned power plant in Uttar Pradesh's Rae Bareli district claimed the lives of at least 20 and left over 100 injured on Wednesday afternoon.
The mishap occurred at NTPC's Unchahar plant, located on Lucknow-Allahabad highway, 115 kilometres from the state capital Lucknow.
Formerly known as National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd, the public-sector unit produces electricity through coal-based thermal power plants and was conferred the Maharatna status for exemplary performance.
The Uttar Pradesh government's information department issued a press release stating that the blast occurred around 3:30 pm.
Hot gases and steam began to leak at the plant's corner no. 2, affecting those working in the area.
Around 80 people were rushed to the NTPC hospital and most were discharged after receiving first-aid treatment.
Unofficial reports pegged the number of the injured at 150.
Early reports stated that eight people had died, but by 8 pm, the death toll reached 14, DK Singh, Chief Medical Officer, Rae Bareli, confirmed to Firstpost.
Around 16 people suffered severe injuries and were referred to nearby hospitals for treatment.
However, in view of rush on the Lucknow- Rae Bareli road, the injured were then taken to hospitals in Allahabad, which is 85 kilometres from Unchahar.
An injured employee undergoing treatment at a hospital said that a sudden gush of hot gas with contents of ash-like material engulfed him at the NTPC plant. The man said he was unable to understand what had happened and found himself on a hospital bed with his body scalded all over, when he regained consciousness.
Two teams of doctors (burn injury and emergency service experts), police and a 32-member team of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) reached the power plant. By night, the plant was blanketed in heavy security.
The district magistrate, city magistrate, superintendent of police and senior officers of the NTPC also reached the spot.
District Magistrate Sanjay Kumar Khatri said 40 ambulances were immediately pressed into service.
The anger among the residents of villages near the plant was palpable.
Union Power minister RK Singh, through social media posts, expressed deep anguish at the loss of lives and said that he had directed the NTPC Chairman and Managing Director Gurdeep Singh to rush to the site.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the Member of Parliament from Rae Bareli, offered condolences for the victims and their families.
Her officer on special duty, Dheeraj Srivastava, reached the spot and spoke with the district magistrate to ensure that the injured received medical attention.
Principal secretary of Uttar Pradesh's health department directed all government hospitals in and around Rae Bareli to put doctors on emergency duty.
The NTPC management has launched an investigation to determine the cause of the incident.
Former Samajwadi Party MLA Manoj Pandey alleged NTPC management discriminated between higher officials and labourers in providing medical assistance.
Labour union leader Ram Dev Singh alleged that safety measures were overlooked and the management was apathetic towards the plight of workers.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted:
Deeply pained by the accident at the NTPC plant in Raebareli. My thoughts are with the bereaved families. May the injured recover quickly. The situation is being closely monitored & officials are ensuring normalcy is restored: PM @narendramodi
— PMO India (@PMOIndia) November 1, 2017
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, on an official visit to Mauritius, expressed grief and said that no stone would be left unturned with regard to rescue and relief efforts.
The Uttar Pradesh government announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh for the families of the deceased.
The grievously injured will receive Rs 50,000 and others who sustained injuries will receive Rs 25,000 as compensation.
NTPC's Unchahar plant is a coal-based power station that provides power to Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Delhi, Uttranchal.
The power's first unit was commissioned in 1998 and the last and sixth unit was commissioned in 2006.
The plant has a capacity of 840 MW (2 x 210 + 2 x 210 MW) in Stage I & II and 210 MW (1 x 210 MW) in Stage III.
The plant derives its power from coal source in North Karanpura and water from Sarda Sahayak Canal.
Madhav Singh is a Rae Bareli-based freelance reporter. He is a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
With inputs from Saurabh Sharma, a Lucknow-based reporter and PTI
Updated Date: Nov 02, 2017 06:55 AM