Amaravati: Amid the pressures of policing Andhra Pradesh during the Covid-19 lockdown, Thursday morning sprang a nasty surprise on the state police when a gas leak in a chemical unit led to 11 deaths and hundreds being hospitalised. In an exclusive interview to IANS, state Director General of Police, Gautam Sawang, discusses the takeaways of handling crises situations during challenging times of national lockdown.
Question: A potentially larger tragedy was possibly averted in Andhra Pradesh on Thursday. What factors went in favour of the state?
Answer: First of all, this gas is not so lethal as it could be. Only if it is inhaled in large doses, it becomes lethal. Secondly, there had been a very prompt response, particularly, the police and all other machinery very very quickly because at 3.30 a.m., the first call came to the police control room. Soon after that everybody responded to it and within 10 minutes, our Rakshak mobile patrols landed there so they were able to alert everybody. And this vehicle had some loudspeakers built in for making Covid-related announcements. They were able to alert everyone. So when all the teams rushed there, they went about knocking on doors and even breaking doors and evacuating people from the place.
Q: With the gas leak coming during Covid lockdown, what are the takeaways from this for police forces in the country?
A: Basically be prepared because you may be caught unawares. Not to be caught unawares. The fact that police was prepared and alert mainly because of Covid, we had our teams on 24/7 alertness. That quick response, for example, we had Quick Response Teams (QRTs). There were two teams available 24/7, particularly during night time also. They were able to respond quickly. So therefore, we need to have that levels of preparedness to respond to any emergency situation which may arise during this time. I mean this is very necessary. Even normally it is so, but particularly so because of Covid times.
No. 2, having this kind of face masks did help us because of the Covid facemask... People had some irritation when they first went in. For example, three of our personnel - one inspector, sub inspector, one head constable, they are also in hospital now. They were the ones who responded first and rescued a lot of people. So that preparedness is basically alertness and responding to situations.
Q: Would you consider this a flawless rescue operation considering it was taken up at such short notice at an unearthly hour?
A: I would say that. One thing is that it could have been better. I wouldn't say that this is the best. It has been done very well. While we say so, we could have done even better. But then in the given circumstances, keeping the level of resources, kind of resources that we have at our disposal, I would say that this was really good. We're really appreciative of our officers on the ground for having responded. Our honourable CM also has acknowledged that. And then right up to the top, they were constantly monitoring the situation.
Q: Resumption of factory activities after lockdown has been cited as one of the reasons for the gas leakage, so what kind of precautions are to be expected, going forward?
A: We can't say that. We can't be attributing this incident to resumption of this factory after lockdown. Can't say that. For any situation, anywhere there are certain set protocols and I'm sure they would have resorted to their protocols with regards to which are the critical areas which may need attention. Like when you start an aircraft, there is an SOPwhen to start it, they go through certain processes and then only they start moving. Likewise it would be naive to say that because of restarting this happened. But it's an accident, It's certainly an accident but we'll investigate that. Government has ordered an investigation.
Q: Any moves on part of the police to put in place any precautions because of this mishap?
A: Definitely this is an eye-opener. Casualness. Otherwise would have been taken in a routine manner. People will really double check before they start something critical or dangerous processes.... inflammables, explosives, toxic chemicals, a sense of caution will be there.
Q: Do you expect Covid numbers status in Visakhapatnam to rise as physical distancing precautions were not observed during rescue operations on Thursday?
A: First of all when there's a crisis situation on the ground it's a natural instinct or reaction of people to come together to reach out to help. Unless we physically put barriers and see that people don't come together forgetting physical distancing practice, it may be difficult in a situation where so much public emotions are involved. Secondly that area is not a red zone nor containment zone or hotspot, so therefore we don't have any cases of Covid-19 cases in that area.