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In the times of short attention spans and fast shifting trends, it has become difficult yet essential to go beyond just the ‘Breaking News’ and bring closure to the events that we encounter.

The unfortunate explosion that took place in the Aerospace Department wherein an aerostat exploded while it was being filled up and injured 3 students (dated 29/03/19) made us aware of the vulnerability in our safety protocols and the disastrous repercussions of the same. Hence, it is equally important to not just dig out the causes of the incident but also to closely monitor the subsequent responses from relevant authorities.

First and foremost, it is heartwarming to see that all the victims have been discharged from the hospital and are doing well.

Prof. Avijit Chatterjee, the HoD of the Aerospace Department, provided his opinion about the incident. He stated that proper protocols were not followed during the experiment in question, including the fact that they had not taken permission to use the foyer. The department was also in the dark about the use of the premises for the testing purposes. Regarding major changes, he said that there were no new major steps taken by the department in regards to the incident, however, they have increased their vigilance and are giving subsequent reminders to students and faculties to follow the necessary guideline.

What makes the Aerospace Department unique is that it hosts numerous Student Tech Teams and various labs which require proper safety protocols and supervision. Following the incident, the HoD’s office issued a mail to all teams in the department instructing them to submit a safety audit report.  Faculty Advisors who have always played an integral role in overseeing the functioning of their respective teams increased their oversight as a whole.

On 16th April 2019, in collaboration with the Security Office of IIT Bombay, the department also arranged a mock fire drill that saw the involvement of staff as well as students working in the department. An advisory was also issued stating the importance of prior permission from the office to perform any kind of activity in the Aerospace Foyer. This was followed by a strict instruction to student projects not to allow the presence of non-members in their space whatever be the reason.

We also approached Prof. P.V. Balaji, Dean of Research & Development, in his opinion on the matter. He acknowledged that it was irresponsible on the students’ part to have disregarded their safety for reducing costs. Talking about the safety measures that the institute was implementing, he informed us about the detailed guidelines for safety that are published on the institute website.
Check here to find extensive safety guidelines along with videos on safety procedures:
(http://www.iitb.ac.in/safety/).
He further added that the institute could not introduce more guidelines because it has to provide a stepping stone to the budding entrepreneurs, and any more changes would be detrimental to their innovating abilities. On whether there would be any penalty or punishment for those involved, he stressed that rather than punishing them, the institute was planning to counsel and help them. He added that this was a stray incident, and no matter what guidelines are in place and are followed, such incidents can happen.

Since the Start-Up had been funded by SINE, it is also valid to ponder over the responsibility that befalls them. SINE CEO, Poyni Bhatt, categorically stated that apart from funding, the start-up was not associated with or under supervision of SINE, a statement which was also backed by Prof. Milind Atrey, Ex Professor-in-Charge of SINE. However, Prof. Atrey also expressed the need for a safety committee for each area that deals with sensitive high-pressure equipment, especially in chemical engineering and mechanical engineering departments.

In conclusion, while the incident was one-off, there is a large number of safety measures in place in order to prevent a large-scale mishap. Although no action was taken, the incident should serve as a reminder to always follow the safety protocols, even when the cost of safety is high because the cost of a disaster will always be higher.

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Chief Editors: Saman Siddiqui and Varun Sule
Mail to: insight@iitb.ac.in