New Delhi: 18 people were killed and up to 100 injured in an boiler blast in state-run NTPC Ltd’s Unchahar power plant in Raebareli, Uttar Pradesh.

The blast occurred in the boiler area of a 500-megawatt (MW) recently commissioned unit in Raebareli district. The 1,550 MW coal-fuelled plant supplies electricity to Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Delhi and Uttarakhand. The Unchahar plant is currently generating around 640 MW.

“There was an explosion in the boiler. After the coal burns it gets deposited and has to be cleared. The people who died were engaged in that cleaning," said a senior NTPC executive requesting anonymity.

“In NTPC Unchahar Unit No. 6, at around 1530 hrs on 01.11.2017 there was sudden abnormal sound at 20 mt. elevation and there was opening in corner no. 2 from which hot flue gases and steam escaped affecting the people working around the area," NTPC said in a statement. “Around 80 people were rushed to NTPC hospital. Most of them were discharged after getting first-aid. In the mishap, 8 people succumbed to injuries. About 10 persons with serious injuries have been referred to nearby hospitals and to Lucknow for immediate treatment."

“CMD NTPC has been directed to proceed to the site immediately and ensure immediate relief to all affected," power and new and renewable energy minister Raj Kumar Singh said in a tweet.

NTPC has set up an enquiry to investigate the reasons for the accident. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath announced Rs2 lakh compensation for the families of those killed and Rs50,000 for the grievously injured, NTPC officials said.

“The chief minister expressed his condolences over the deaths of workers in the Unchahar NTPC unit and announced 2 lakh compensation for the family of those killed and 50,000 for the grievously injured besides 25,000 for other injured workers," state principal secretary (information) Awanish Awasthi said. Adityanath is currently on a three-day visit to Mauritius.

NTPC’s Unchahar plant in Raebareli district is around 110km from the state capital. Uttar Pradesh ADG (Law and Order) Anand Kumar said that all available ambulances were pressed into action and the additional district magistrate and the additional superintendent of police were on the spot to supervise relief and rescue operations. A National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) team was also despatched to the explosion site from Lucknow for relief and rescue operations, an official said.

Recounting the boiler blast, 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 Unchahar plant. He fainted only to regain consciousness on the hospital bed with his body scalded all over.

Meanwhile, Congress president Sonia Gandhi expressed shock and horror at the “terrible tragedy" in her Lok Sabha constituency Raebareli. Conveying her deepest condolences to the families of the bereaved, Gandhi urged upon the authorities to provide immediate medical assistance to the injured. District Magistrate Sanjay Kumar Khatri said that 40 ambulances were immediately pressed into service. Chief Medical Officer (Raebareli) D.K. Singh along with a team of 10 doctors have been deployed to carry out immediate treatment to the injured, he said. The serious cases are being referred to KGMU hospital and the civil hospital in Lucknow. Some of the injured were being sent to Raebareli, Khatri said.

Experts sounded a note of caution on the industrial accident.

“An incident involving a high pressure and high temperature area can have serious repercussions. This appears to be a very unusual incident because NTPC has a high record of safety. Let us wait for the investigation report," said Anil Razdan, India’s former power secretary.

Of India’s installed power generation capacity of 329,298.27 MW, NTPC projects account for 16% or 51,635 MW. NTPC’s portfolio comprises coal, gas, hydro, wind and solar projects. It also mines coal.

Mint’s Neetu Chandra Sharma in Delhi and PTI in Lucknow contributed to this story.

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