There are graphite flakes in the air, says V D Naik, resident of Khandola-Betki village in South Goa as he points to the silvery powder on a plant near his house. It is from a pig iron plant, two kilometres away, says Mahesh Gaonkar of people’s organisation Man¬davi Paryavaran Premi Pathak (MPPP). The plant owned by private company Sesa Goa Ltd is situated in Amona village, which is separated from Khandola-Betki by the Mandavi river.
Gaonkar claims that deposition of graphite over a long period has affected agricultural produce. “The size of coco¬nuts has reduced drastically, and cashew produce has declined by half,” he says. Sesa Goa acknowledges that graphite is a problem, attributing it to a design constraint of the blast furnace (see 'The design constraint') . “Despite having appropriate air pollution control equipment like a movable hood suction system and a bag filter, the problem of graphite remains,” says N L Vhatte, vice-president of the pig iron division of Sesa Goa. Gaonkar claims that people have been protesting for a long time but nothing has been done, and with the upcoming expansion plan of the plant, the residents will feel more threatened.
| The design constraint
Sesa Goa commenced its first mini blast furnace in India in 1992 with Tata-Korf design of 173 cubic metre size. The existing furnace design has some limitations such as:
Due to these limitations, the furnace wind is always centering towards the tap hole, resulting in very high metal temperature. High metal temperature leads to increase in carbon element in the hot metal, which promotes graphite formation. For improvement, the company has planned a de-bottlenecking project, which will overcome these limitations and create additional headroom for implementing full-fledged and efficient de-dusting system which was not there in the original design.
- Low hearth volume
- Less distance from tap hole to tuyere centre
- Low bog depth
- Less headroom for de-dusting hood
"The best available technology is that of MECON and they have recommended increasing the working volume from 173 to 250 cubic metre to eliminate the above mentioned limitations, which will also result in increased production," adds Vhatte.
The expansion plan Gaonkar is referring to is actually technological upgradation of the furnace. “The idea is to remove snags and streamline the production process,” clarifies Vhatte. This will reduce graphite flakes by 99 per cent and the rest can be handled by the air pollution equipment. “To execute this, the capacity of the plant will have to be enhanced, which the people have misunderstood,” adds Vhatte.
The public hearing for the expansion has been cancelled thrice. The Goa State Pollution Control Board had given the reasons for cancellation while replying to Right to Information queries of MPPP. The first public hearing, supposed to be held in February 8, 2011, was cancelled on the request of Sesa Goa. The company had informed that the officers concerned were not available. The hearing was rescheduled for February 28; this the additional collector of North Goa district adjourned due to “law and order problem during the process of public hearing”. The next scheduled hearing on June 14 was cancelled “on grounds of administrative reasons”.
The residents allege the so-called expansion is actually construction of a new plant. “The old plant is in Amona while the new one, which the company has termed as expansion, is in the Naveli panchayat,” says Naik. Vhatte clarifies that it is essentially the same piece of land, but separated by road. The land on which the plant is built and the one where expansion is being planned has been leased from the comunidade of Amona in 1996 against a payment of Rs 76,860 per year.
A comunidade is an old collective land-ownership pattern prevalent in Goa. Vhatte explains that the company signed a final possession for the 19-hectare with the comunidade. But the residents give a different version. “Sesa Goa’s agreement with the comunidade expi¬red in February last year. So now a fresh agreement needs to be signed,” they say. The lease document says the land is granted to the company on “aforamento” basis, which implies the company cannot claim ownership of the land nor sell it. The company officials, however, say the land belongs to them. “We are planning to raise the annual payment to Rs 14 lakh per annum,” says Vhatte. Most of the members of the comunidade are employees at the plant, he adds.
The other concern of the residents is the deteriorating quality of the Mandavi due to the loading and unloading along its banks. “There are four docks, which result in accumulation of dust in the river,” says Gaonkar. Sesa Goa says it had a plan to overcome the problem, but that the plan has hit a roadblock. It has put covered conveyors till the loading point from where a pneumatic pipe (used to transport solids using compressed air) would have transferred the material on to the barrages. “This will mean a closed transportation system which will minimise dust pollution because the movement in the pipe is level by level as opposed to free fall loading at present,” adds Vhatte. But the equipment lies unused as it has been challenged in the High Court of Bombay at Goa.
Naik says the residents never approached the company to discuss the problem because they feel it would have been of no help. But Vhatte assures: “We are open to interaction.”