11 dead in Ludhiana gas leak tragedy, 4 fall ill; area sealed

Eleven people, including three children, died after a gas leak in a thickly populated area in Punjab’s Ludhiana on Sunday, with many of the victims falling unconscious near a groceries store where they had gone to buy milk early in the morning.

Four other people, who are reported to be in a critical condition, are undergoing treatment at two city hospitals, officials said, adding that the area has been sealed and all residents have been evacuated.

A National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) team, which was rushed from Bathinda soon after the incident, detected high levels of hydrogen sulphide in the area, Ludhiana deputy commissioner Surabhi Malik said.

While an exact cause was yet to be determined, officials aware of preliminary investigations said they believe sudden dumping of some chemical from one of the industrial units in the area into the civic sewage line set off a reaction, creating large amount of hydrogen sulphide that appeared to have had leaked from a particular manhole at the spot.


Inhaling high concentrations of hydrogen sulphide, or H2S, which smells of rotten eggs, gas can lead to rapid unconsciousness and death. The first call about people lying unconscious near a grocery store was made to the police at around 7.15am, said Ludhiana Police Commissioner Mandeep Singh Sidhu.

Upon reaching the spot, 15 people were rushed to the hospital. While four were declared dead on arrival, seven others died soon after at the hospital, said Sidhu.

A factory worker, Laddu Tiwari, was one of the first people at the spot and helped rush some of the victims to a hospital. “A strong stench had engulfed the whole area and we were struggling to breathe. There were people lying on road, withering in pain, their faces having turned totally pale,” said Tiwari.

A case under section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) has been registered against unidentified persons, said Sidhu. Deputy commissioner Malik said a magisterial inquiry has been ordered into the incident. Among the dead were all five members of a family and three members of the family that owned the store.

The deceased were identified as Sourav Goyal (35), his wife Preety Goyal (31), and his mother Kamlesh Goyal (60); Kavilash Yadav (40), his wife Varsha (35), and their three minor children — Kalpana (16), Abhay (13) and Aryan (10); Navneet Kumar (39), his wife Neetu Devi (37), and Amit Gupta (25).

Doctors conducted a post-mortem examination of 10 of the deceased at the Ludhiana civil hospital and found symptoms of asphyxia due to sulphide poisoning, Malik said. “In the air quality sensors used by NDRF team, high level of H2S has been detected and it is ascertained that this gas might have led to the tragic incident,” said Malik. “We are leaving nothing to chance. The sewerage has been flushed and decontamination of chemicals is being done,” she said.

Some amounts of H2S is commonly found in wastewater and is produced as a result of the decomposition of organic matter by bacteria. But its concentration can rise due to a number of factors, including the presence of industrial units nearby. Factories that produce or use chemicals that contain sulphur can contribute to high levels of H2S in sewage.

The police have evacuated the houses and establishments in 500-metre radius of the leak, and the area has been cordoned off for the next 24 hours, Malik said. Samples are being collected from manholes in the area, she said, adding that the distance for the spread of the chemical will also be investigated.

“NDRF has extracted samples from manholes which will be sent for chemical analysis. The gas has been diluted but teams of the Ludhiana Municipal Corporation, Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) are working to check if any more such chemical reactions are there in the vicinity,” she said.

Viscera samples have been preserved and will be sent for chemical analysis at State Chemical Laboratory Kharar to ascertain the chemical, Malik said. A charred manhole cover was found near the spot where the people were found unconscious, police commissioner Mandeep Singh Sidhu said. “It is suspected that the gas leaked from that manhole,” he said.

Punjab Pollution Control Board’s chief environmental engineer of Ludhiana, Sandeep Behl, who visited the area, also said that the gas likely leaked from the open manhole as all deaths were reported near it. Punjab health minister Balbir Sidhu visited the spot and ordered an audit of the area and a detailed report on sewage in Giaspura.

Chief minister Bhagwant Mann has announced an ex gratia of ₹2 lakh for the families of the deceased and ₹50,000 for the injured. “The incident of gas leak is very sad. Police, administration and NDRF teams are present at the spot and all possible help is being provided,” Mann tweeted.

President Droupadi Murmu also expressed grief at the incident. “I am deeply saddened by the news of the death of many people, including children and women, in the accident in Ludhiana. I express my deepest condolences to all the bereaved families and wish a speedy recovery to all those affected,” Murmu said in a tweet in Hindi.