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Relatives look for a missing worker at the pesticide plant owned by Tianjiayi Chemical following an explosion, in Xiangshui county, Yancheng, Jiangsu province, China, March 23, 2019. VOA

China has launched a month-long nationwide probe into hazardous chemicals, mines, transportation, and fire safety one week after a chemical plant explosion in eastern Jiangsu province killed 78 people.

Observers say that will put the world’s largest chemical industry under tighter scrutiny and regulation of the management of hazardous chemicals to prevent similar man-made disasters from happening again.

Some argue the sector’s malpractice and corruption is so deeply-rooted, however, that any quick-fix measures are unlikely to change the “blood-stained” growth pattern of the industry.

Relatives look for a missing worker at the pesticide plant owned by Tianjiayi Chemical following an explosion, in Xiangshui county, Yancheng, Jiangsu province, China, March 23, 2019. VOA

Ongoing probe

Authorities continue investigating the cause of last Friday’s blast in Chenjiagan Industrial Park in Xiangshui county, which injured another 600 people.

State media reported that a manufacturing facility belonging to Tianjiayi Chemical Co that contained benzene, a highly flammable chemical, has been linked to the blast.

Tianjiayi Chemical is a pesticide maker and producer of more than 30 chemical compounds. In February, the State Administration of Work Safety found 13 types of safety risks at the factory, including the mishandling of toxic benzene tanks.

According to local environmental protection bureaus, the producer has rolled up more than $262,000 in fines since 2016 for breaches of environmental regulations.

Paramilitary police officers in protective suits make their way to the site following explosion at the pesticide plant owned by Tianjiayi Chemical, in Xiangshui county, Yancheng, Jiangsu province, China, March 22, 2019. VOA

“The explosion in Xiangshui has uncovered much negligence in law enforcement. For example, the staff’s [lack of] qualifications [in managing hazardous chemicals],” said Cao Mingde, professor of law, environment legislation at the China University of Political Science and Law.

“Also,” he added, “two top executives of Tianjiayi Chemical who have been convicted of violations of environment pollution and illegal management of hazardous chemicals, should have been banned from undertaking similar business ventures” for a minimum period of two years.

Lessons not learned

Mingde said a sweeping overhaul of China’s chemical sector is much needed, with an urgency to facilitate legislation governing the management of hazardous chemicals and tighten regulations to ensure strict enforcement.

Similar calls, though, were heard in the wake of the 2015 blast in Tianjin that took 173 lives.

But few lessons appear to have been learned as statistics show that 620 chemical accidents have occurred over the past three years, claiming a total of 728 lives.

Worker Hu is seen bandaged at a hospital after he was injured following an explosion at a pesticide plant owned by Tianjiayi Chemical in Yancheng, Jiangsu province, China, March 24, 2019. VOA

“There is an urgent need to enact the Dangerous Chemical Safety Law and bring systemic change to chemical management,” said Greenpeace East Asia toxics campaigner Deng Tingting in an email to VOA.

She noted that a national law, which was proposed after the Tianjin explosion, is still being drafted. The law has been slowed because of government restructuring and resistance from industries.

After the Tianjin blast, the investigative body proposed using market mechanisms to encourage better management, increasing transparency, and improving the legal system. But she said few of those suggestions have been implemented.

Illicit industries

Citing the matter’s sensitivity, a representative at Jiangsu Chemical Industry Association and a chemistry engineering professor, contacted by VOA, refused to comment.

An industry insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, blamed illicit businesses, saying the government can’t possibly monitor the country’s 26,000-strong chemical producers 24/7 like a babysitter.

He also argued that the minimum distance between a chemical plant and a residential area, currently at 500 meters by law, should be flexible in accordance with the risk level a chemical plant poses.

Both Cao and Deng urged increasing the minimum distance as it seems insufficient to prevent risks after several schools and kindergartens, located two kilometers away from the Jiangsu blast site, were found to have been affected. Estimates show that one-third of the country’s chemical producers are set up in densely-populated areas.

FILE – Rescue workers try to put out a fire after an explosion at a chemical plant inside an industrial park in Yibin, Sichuan province, China July 12, 2018. VOA

Wu Lihong, a long-time environmental activist in Jiangsu, is pessimistic about pledges to overhaul the sector. He claimed local officials not only cut corners, but also take bribes and collude with businesses to maximize the province’s or their own personal gains.

The province has the highest number of chemical producers with approximately 4,500.

“Over the past decade, Jiangsu has made one of the largest financial contributions to the central government,” said Wu. “It serves as a cash cow for the central government. So, businesses go to authorities, who will cut corners for them by lowering environmental standards or making their trouble go away, even if an explosion is involved.”

Making things worse, the sector’s financially-disadvantaged workers often side with their business owners in fending off environmentalists or reporters, who try to bring their malpractice or pollution to light.

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“Workers at chemical plants [are fully aware that] their own health is at risk, but they are given a salary level, which is 35 to 50 percent higher than that of their peers in the shoemaking and metal hardware industries,” Wu said. “So, many take up the chores, putting incomes before their health. People in the poor county of Xiangshui [are short-sighted and] would prefer to be poisoned to death than starved to death,”

Any whistleblowers there will be violently suppressed or even imprisoned, he said. This is something he knows from personal experience; Wu previously served a three-year jail term when a local court enacted retribution for his 10-year crusade against pollution in the Jiangsu’s Lake Tai. (VOA)


Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Char Dham Yatra resumed on Friday with more than 16,000 devotees resuming the pilgrimage from the Rishikesh camp.

As weather cleared up in Uttarakhand, Char Dham Yatra restored on Friday with more than 16,000 devotees resuming the pilgrimage from the Rishikesh camp.

According to sources, road leading to Badrinath has been repaired and helicopter service has also resumed.

Meanwhile, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami visited Dungi village and met families of people who were missing after the landslip incident, and consoled them.

Dhami assured them of all possible assistance. Two people from the village are still reported to be missing.

Pilgrims were seen leaving from Rishikesh Char Dham Bus terminal and Haridwar bus station for the pilgrimage since morning.

As per the state government, various departments -- Devasthanam Board, police are assisting the pilgrims.

Police Chowki Yatra Bus Terminal, Rishikesh, was announcing passenger-information via loudspeaker.

Free RT-PCR tests of pilgrims were being conducted at Rishikesh bus terminal.

Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board's media in-charge Dr Harish Gaur said pilgrimage was on in Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, while for Kedarnath, helicopter service was also available.

Though the weather was cold in all dhams, thankfully there was no rain, he added.

Portals of the temple in Badrinath will close on November 20, Gangotri on November 5, while that of Kedarnath and Yamunotri on November 6.

Uttarakhand floods, triggered by a major downpour from October 17 to 19, have claimed 65 lives so far, 3,500 people have been rescued while 16,000 evacuated to safety.

Seventeen teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), seven teams of State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), 15 companies of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and 5,000 police personnel have been engaged in rescue and relief operations.

The state has already been provided with Rs 250 crore Disaster Fund which is being used for relief works.

To prevent spread of the diseases, the Central and state governments have decided to send medical teams to the affected areas.

Snapped power lines will be restored at the earliest, the government assured.

The state government said that as soon as alert for heavy rainfall was issued, the Incident Response System was activated at state and district levels, and pilgrims were halted at safer places. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: Uttarakhand, India, Char Dham Yatra, PushkarDhami, Rishikesh.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Naga leaders are adamant in their main demands for a separate Constitution and flag.

The Centre has continued the Naga peace talks with the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) leaders, but negotiations face roadblocks as the Naga leaders are adamant in their main demands for a separate Constitution and flag.

The sources aware of these developments said that the Centre was hopeful that a successful solution of the six decades-long peace talks would arrive at a logical conclusion, but in the recent statements, Naga leaders have accused the Centre of offering post-solution options.

Sources quoting the stand of Naga leaders said that NSCN's stand was loud and clear that it would not follow the forbidden route to the Naga solution that was linked to foregoing the Naga national flag and Constitution, which is the face of the Naga political struggle and identity.

The Naga leaders have also said that the Centre has been using divisive policy and flattery in the name of finding the Naga political solution when the matters heated up.

When the Centre resumed the peace process in September this year and sent the former special director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) A.K. Mishra as the Ministry of Home Affairs' emissary to the rebel outfit's chief negotiator and general secretary T. Muivah, he assured him (Muivah) that the peace talks would be initiated under the original framework signed in 2015, a source in the Naga rebel group said.

"Here we are talking about the Naga national flag and Yehzabo (Constitution), the two issues that are holding up the Naga solution under the ongoing Indo-Naga political talks in Delhi.

"The chequered history of the Indo-Naga political issue is clear enough before us, with accords and agreements that were never meant to be implemented in letter and spirit", an important office-bearer of the rebel outfit said while criticizing the governments' stand.

Accusing the Centre, he further accused the Centre of persuading the Naga people again to accept whatever is being offered to hurry up the Naga talks.

On the invitation of the Centre, the senior leaders of the NSCN-IM including T. Muivah arrived in the national capital on October 6 this year to hold another round of talks with the Centre.

Both, the Centre and the Naga leaders had indicated their keenness on resolving this long pending issue by the end of this year in an amicable manner.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma, who is also chairman of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), and Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio had been actively involved in the resumption of the peace talks and taking it forward to a logical conclusion.

Soon after the transfer of Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi, who was appointed as the Centre's interlocutor for the Naga peace talks on August 29, 2014, to Tamil Nadu, the peace talks resumed on September 20 in Kohima when the Centre representative met the Naga leaders and invited them to visit Delhi for further rounds of peace talks.

The NSCN-IM and the other outfits entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Government of India in 1997 and over 80 rounds of negotiations with the Centre have been held in the past in successive governments. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: Nagaland, India, Constitution, Politics, Flag.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

India-England test series will now be played next year from July 1 at Edgbaston Stadium

The series decider for the Test series between England and India will now be played at Edgbaston from July 1 next year, said the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday. India is currently leading the series 2-1 before the fifth Test at Old Trafford was cancelled hours before the start due to concerns over COVID-19 outbreak in the tourists' camp.

"The fifth match of the LV= Insurance Test Series between England Men and India Men has been rescheduled and will now take place in July 2022. The match, which was due to take place last month at Emirates Old Trafford, was called off when India were unable to field a team due to fears of a further increase in the number of Covid-19 cases inside the camp," said an ECB statement.

"With India leading the series 2-1, the concluding fifth match will now take place from July 1, 2022, at Edgbaston, following an agreement between the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)," added the statement.

ECB also said that due to the rescheduled Test, the white-ball series between England and India will now start six days later than originally planned. The T20I series will begin on July 7 at Ageas Bowl with Edgbaston and Trent Bridge hosting the second and third matches respectively on July 9 and 10. It will be followed by the ODI series starting on July 12 at The Oval followed by Lord's and Old Trafford hosting the second and third ODI on July 14 and 17 respectively.

"Ticket holders do not have to take any action as all tickets will remain valid for the equivalent rearranged matchday at their host venue. Host venues will communicate the new fixture details to ticket purchasers and the options available to them, including the timeframe for requesting a refund if they are not able to attend the new match day," further said the statement.

"We are very pleased that we have reached an agreement with BCCI to creating a fitting end to what has been a brilliant series so far. I'm very grateful to all the venues involved for the cooperation they've shown in allowing us to reschedule this match. I'd also like to thank Cricket South Africa for their support and understanding to allow these changes to be possible," said Tom Harrison, the CEO of the ECB.

"We would like to apologise again to fans for the disruption and disappointment of September events. We know it was a day that so many had planned long in advance. We recognise that accommodating this extra match means a tighter schedule for the white ball series. We will continue to manage our players' welfare and workloads through next year while we also continue to seek the optimum schedule for fans, players and our partners across the game."

"I am delighted that the England-India Test series will now have its rightful conclusion. The four Test matches were riveting, and we needed a fitting finale. The BCCI recognizes and respects the traditional form of the game and is also mindful of its role and obligations towards fellow Board Members. In the last two months, both BCCI and the ECB have been engaged in discussions and our efforts were aimed at finding a suitable window. I thank the ECB for their understanding and patience in finding an amicable solution," said BCCI Secretary Jay Shah. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: India, Britain, BCCI, Test Match, Cricket.