Rotting beef: More deaths waiting to happen at Nhava Sheva?

A day after mid-day reported how a 41-year-old died after inhaling fumes emanating from meat rotting in a container which had been lying untouched for four years, it has emerged that 300 such locked, disputed containers some containing perishable food items are lying in just one portion of the container yard, posing potential health hazards

The shocking death of a 41-year-old worker from allegedly inhaling fumes emanating from a container full of beef that had been lying untouched for nearly four years has opened a rather toxic can of worms.

Also read: Stench from rotting beef in container killed three?

 

Madan Patil
Madan Patil

mid-day’s conversations with officials from the logistics firm which was handling the section of the Nhava Sheva container terminal in Uran have revealed that the one firm alone has nearly 300 such disputed containers, some of them containing food, which have been lying untouched for anywhere between 75 days and a year.

Two containers full of rotting meat have been sent to Taloja for disposal
Two containers full of rotting meat have been sent to Taloja for disposal

What makes these containers potential hazards is the fact that the logistics firm cannot dispose of them or even open them to find out what’s inside without Customs clearance for the purpose, which, if officials are to be believed, remains pending for years.

The stench emanating from the liquid seeping out of the container allegedly made the 41-year-old electrician fall unconscious. He was rushed to a hospital, where he died three days later
The stench emanating from the liquid seeping out of the container allegedly made the 41-year-old electrician fall unconscious. He was rushed to a hospital, where he died three days later

And, if you think this reeks of danger, the stench gets even worse when you factor in the fact that the firm in question services only two out of the terminal’s 19 such sections and there could be scores of such potentially hazardous containers.

Death
On July 27, 41-year-old Madan Patil, who has been working at the container terminal as an electrician for 10 years, was called in at the section handled by AllCargo Logistics, to restore power supply to two refrigerated containers.

The containers, which contained buffalo meat, had been lying at the terminal since 2011. However, on that day a liquid, from which an unbearable stench was emanating, started leaking from the container. The smell was so foul that Patil fell unconscious on the spot.

“We came to know that the stench was unbearable on that particular day and it made my brother unconscious. He fell sick and we had to rush him to the Navi Mumbai Municipal Hospital (NMMC) in Vashi,” said Bhanudas Patil, Madan’s elder brother.

Family members revealed that after he was admitted, Madan was shifted to an isolation ward meant for patients with airborne diseases. “His condition worsened and Madan breathed his last around 3.30 am on July 30,” Bhanudas added.

Family members revealed that no post-mortem was conducted. “The doctors at the hospital did not insist on doing a post-mortem and hence we took Madan’s body and conducted his last rites on the day of his death,” said Omkar Patil, a relative.

‘Respiratory failure’
The death certificate from the NMMC hospital stated the reason of the death as Type 1 respiratory failure and pneumonitis with acute respiratory distress syndrome.

When mid-day visited the hospital in Vashi on Wednesday, the Medical Superintendent, Prashant Jawade, was not available and couldn't be reached despite repeated attempts.

Madan is survived by his wife and three brothers, who stay together as a joint family in Kanthavli village near Uran.

‘Firm at fault’
Sachin Sankpal, Taluka health officer at Uran, said, “Soon after the incident, we examined the spot and the company officials said that the containers contained buffalo meat.

We have now sent a notice to the company asking for a clarification for the delay in clearing the containers. The officials of the company are at fault as they knew about the product inside the container.

They should not have waited for so long and should have obtained permission from the Customs department and State Pollution Control Board to dispose of the product.” He added that tests were conducted on other employees working at the terminal as a precautionary measure.

Disposal
On Tuesday night, five days after Madan’s death, the two containers were shifted from the terminal to Taloja for disposal. Nitin Chavan, Tehsildar, Uran, said, “After examining the spot, we directed the authorities to dispose of the goods as they could cause further harm to people working in the terminal.

The containers have been shifted to Taloja for disposal." Sources said the containers were reimported (exported goods which are returned or rejected) from the Gulf countries. However, it is still not clear how much meat was present in these containers.

Customs Speak
“AllCargo is run by private people. And hence the logistics firm is the custodian of the cargo once it arrives at their terminal. The cargo in that terminal is not managed by Customs.

Once the cargo is imported from the vessel, it goes to the yard and then to the concerned firm. Every firm has its own Customs liaisons, who are responsible for checks and for cargo clearances. It is not our lookout,” said a senior Customs Official. “In this case, the importer may not have requisite permissions.

However, we have learnt that the firm had disconnected the power to the refrigeration unit connected to this container a week ago due to which the meat started rotting. This may have been done since nobody was claiming the container and the cost of electricity has to be borne by the yard.

This container was lying for more than three years, it is not possible to hold back any permission for that long. However, since the custodian has not even bothered to bring the incident (death) to our notice it is difficult to comment on the case.

Something is being concealed from us. The matter is being investigated,” he added. Officials from M K Overseas could not be reached for comment.

Company speak
A senior official from AllCargo Logistics said, “Our records have shown that the said containers belonged to M/s M K Overseas, a Delhi-based company and were lying at our refrigerated container yard since 2011.

The two 40-foot containers with buffalo meat were brought to us through the shipping line and as per the protocol we have been writing to the customer intimating about the cargo that has come, but since there was no response from the company, we started the communication with the Customs department, seeking permission for opening and disposal of the same.

As per the procedure we approached the customs and pollution control board, and upon receiving their consent, we have disposed the containers at the incinerator, Taloja, on August 4, 2015. The cost for the disposal was borne by us.”

The officer claimed that even though the said containers were under dispute, they had continued refrigerating the container and were bearing the power expenses and handling charges for the same. He added that they currently have over 1,000 containers of which very few were in the refrigeration section.

“We have approximately 300 containers which are disputed and are long stay containers, which may vary from 75 days to over a year, and we are following due process for disposal,” the official said. When he was asked if the logistics firm can check the contents of the disputed containers, he replied in the negative, stating that they cannot open the container without Customs approval.

Asked if there was a possibility of containers having contents different from what is mentioned in the import documents, the officer replied in affirmative.

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