EDITORIAL: Don’t drag feet

KATHMANDU (The Kathmandu Post/ANN)- Action must be taken against gas bottling plants that undermine public safety

Nepalis indeed have a short memory. Barely six months have passed since a massive fire broke out at the Birgunj-based Super Gas, a cooking gas bottling plant, killing three, injuring one and posing a severe threat to people living in the area. But plans to minimise the number of such accidents are in limbo, as the government has not been able to implement its own directives on upgrading safety measures at gas bottling plants.

Right after the incident in Birgunj in December, the Nepal Bureau of Standards and Metrology (NBSM) directed all gas bottling plants to obtain the Nepal Standard (NS) certificate. In order to obtain the certificate, gas bottling plants must install gas leakage detectors and build facilities that can store 600,000 litres of water that can be used during emergencies. They must also install advanced equipment to conduct compact valve tests and hydraulic tests, and hire adequate technical human resources to mitigate and handle emergency situations.

But as of last week, only eight of the 55 gas bottling plants operating in the country had obtained NS certificates. Others have been delaying upgrading safety measures citing the lack of necessary equipment. This kind of excuse is unacceptable and the government must take appropriate action against gas bottling plants that undermine public safety.

Last month, the NBSM issued a warning that bottling plants that fail to obtain NS certificates would be shut down. The official deadline to obtain the certificates expired in February, yet the NBSM has done nothing. Government authorities like the NBSM should not only issue warnings. They should also take action to demonstrate that those who fail to abide by instructions will eventually face the music.

It is well known that cooking gas bottling facilities pose fire and explosion risks as they store volatile hydrocarbons. The deadly fire at the Birgunj-based gas bottling plant also highlighted that it is the people who suffer the most during incidents like these. The people of Maniyari, for example, lived in fear for days even after the fire was doused. They lived in the fields, survived on dry food like instant noodles, and sent their children to live with their relatives in areas far away from the fire.

The government’s major responsibility is to protect the interests of the people. But government officials themselves acknowledge that around 90 percent of gas bottling plants operating in the country have not met safety standards. The government, no doubt, should create a favourable working environment for gas bottling plants. But that should not mean compromising on public safety.

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