EIA for Jindal coal mine in Chhattisgarh ignores threats

Friday 15 February 2008

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Demanding to be heard Following violence and lathicharge, the venue of public hearing was deserted, but the hearing was not cancelled. (Below) People blocked roads in protest after their objections were not heard at the meeting
Violence during the public hearing for Jindal group's coal mine in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh and ensuing protests by tribal people are an indication of the threat the project poses to the people and the environment. And it is not just perceptional; the project's environment impact assessment (eia) report lays the foundation of doubts.

The 4 million tonnes per annum opencast mine project called Gare IV/6 is sited in Tamnar block in highly industrialized Raigarh. During public hearing on January 5, about a hundred tribal people were injured in police lathicharge.People allege that Jindal supporters provoked violence when they raised objections to the eia report and the hearing that was organized later than the stipulated time and without informing the panchayats, even though Tamnar falls under the Panchayat Extension to the Schedule Areas Act, 1996. People are angry that the hearing continued despite the fact that most of the people gathered for discussion had left after the lathicharge. The same day an fir was filed in Tamnar police station against unknown people for damaging property at the hearing venue. Interestingly, the complainant was not the state pollution control board, which organized the public hearing, but the company. People have since resorted to road blockades and sit-in protests, demanding that the hearing be quashed. But the board's regional officer, R R Singh, said the public hearing was over and the decision to clear the project rested with the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Five villages, Lamdarha, Saraitola, Gare, Khamharia and Karwahi, will be the most affected. "The project will directly affect more than 8,000 people, but the eia report claims that only five households will be displaced. It is not giving the true picture," says Ram Kumar Agrawal, former mla of Raigarh. There are other important issues on which the report is either silent or misleading. The report studies the core zone, which is the area leased for mining, and the buffer zone, which includes the area around the core extending up to 10 km. Of the 381.42 hectare (ha) core, 93.64 ha is forestland, which will be destroyed completely. In the buffer zone, around 30 per cent is forestland, which will be indirectly affected. Given that these forests are home to threatened Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 animals such as bear, leopard, fox and pea fowl, an assessment of impact on biodiversity is crucial. But the eia report, a copy of which is with Down To Earth , states that the Schedule I animals are present in the buffer zone and not in the core area. This amounts to saying that these animals avoid the core area while roaming all over the surrounding jungles.

The biggest weakness of the eia is that it does not study the cumulative impact of the various industries present in the region. Impact on biodiversity cannot be studied in isolation. The project's buffer zone is ecologically sensitive and industrialized. In addition to Jindal's 1,000 mw thermal power plant that is in operation and a proposed 300 mw power plant, there are a number of coal mines in operation in the area and many others are in the pipeline.

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The eia report fails to quantify the combined impact of industries on air quality, forest, groundwater and siltation of rivers.

The project also proposes to install a coal washery of 4 million tonnes per annum in the core area. According to the eia notification 2006, "If coal washeries are located within the mining area the proposal shall be appraised together with the mining proposal." But the eia report does not quantify the impacts of the washery. It does not even answer how much water will be required for washing coal, from where the water will be sourced and how the wastewater will be disposed of.

Impact on Kelo river
Mining requires removal of the topsoil in the core area, but the information on topsoil given in the report is contradictory. In the section "Overburden removal truck and shovel", its thickness is given as 1 metre and the total quantity of topsoil to be removed 2.1 million cubic metres. In "Topsoil management", the given thickness is 0.5 m and the total quantity, 1.8 million cu m. According to Centre for Science Environment estimates, 0.5 m thickness of topsoil will generate around 1.91 million cu m of soil and 1 m thickness will generate 3.8 million cu m. Moreover, the topsoil storage site is a flood plain on the bank of the Kelo river and the area receives heavy rainfall. Therefore, the risk of soil run-off and river siltation is high. Besides, mining operations will begin in an area that slopes towards the river, further adding to the risk of siltation. The eia report is silent on river siltation and its impact on dams. The Kelo drains into the Mahanadi, which is dammed at Hirakud, around 50 km from the project.

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There is another threat to the river. The core zone lies in the catchment area of the Kelo, therefore, reduction in the catchment area by mining will also affect river flow. According to the report, mining will also involve breaching the groundwater table--the final quarry depth during open cast mining is around 95 m. A hydrological study done for another mining project indicated that groundwater flow in the area is towards the Kelo, so mining will decrease the flow in the river. The report does not mention this.

Groundwater
The eia estimates the total groundwater seeping into the mine at 13,945 cu m per day, which is equivalent to the requirement of 20 per cent of Raigarh's population. But it does not consider groundwater loss due to seepage in other mines in the region. The combined impact of all mines can alter the regional water balance and river flow, which in turn may affect agriculture and forests. While assessing the impact on groundwater, the report does not take into account water consumption by various industrial sources such as the coal washery and the proposed power plant, nor does it take into consideration water utilization by cattle, humans and forest. A detailed analysis is a must in a highly industrialized area like Raigarh.

Fugitive emissions
According to the report, about 7 million cu m of soil, including topsoil, will be dug up and stored in the open for two years before filling up of the excavated area begins. This will not just aggravate river siltation but also be source of fugitive emissions. eia also states that when the mine is fully developed, annual material handling will be around 4 million tonnes of coal and 9.4 million cu m of excavated matter. Mined coal will be first washed in the washery and then transported 40-50 km by road to a Jindal Steel Power plant and a Nalwa Sponge Iron unit in Raigarh. Moreover, the report states that flyash will be used for filling the excavated area, adding to traffic load. eia makes no attempt to quantify the impact of increased traffic and associated pollution, which will be high once the entire mine starts operation.

The Raigarh Jila Bachao Sangarsh Samiti and the Ekta Parishad, a network of social organizations, have submitted to the National Appellate Authority, which is reviewing the environmental clearance given to the second stage of the Jindal steel plant, that the yield of the mahua crop in areas surrounding the steel plant has reduced since it started functioning. The region surrounding the proposed mine is also rich in plantations of mahua, which is of high economic value to the people.

The eia, however, claims that "no negative impact on forest, flora and fauna is anticipated in the buffer zone". Just how it arrived at the conclusion is by now very clear.

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