What does it all add up to?

Cumulative environmental impact of 745 projects

Published: Wednesday 15 September 2010

What does it all add up to?

bad airOn an industrial roller-coaster, Chhattisgarh has not once stopped to take stock of the cumulative environmental impact of the many projects. On a spree to usher more and more, the government does not consider important an analysis of a project's incremental impact combined with the effects of other projects. The environment impact assessment (EIA) proponents submit are more often just a cursory review of the project's standalone environmental effects.

For Chhattisgarh, a study of its carrying capacity is imperative, said the professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, who has helped the Central ministry compile a Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI); he does not want to be named.

Take the case of Dabhra block in Janjgir-Champa, set to get nine thermal power plants within a radius of 10 km with capacity close to 9,000 MW. A thermal power plant on an average generates about 300 kg of flyash and 3 kg of Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) per mega Watt hour of generation. This means these nine plants together would generate about 21 million tonnes of flyash every year. Also, there will be 0.2 million tonnes of SPM generated. At the time of granting clearance, therefore, the government needs to consider the combined impact of the existing projects in addition with the new one.

The impact is not limited to just pollution; resource allocation and utilisation also get affected. For example, a thermal power plant upstream of the Mahanadi, after withdrawing its requirement, will leave less water for another project further down. If 10 thermal power plants will withdraw water from the same river then the competitive users will have to bear the brunt. The result is a scramble for the natural resources available.

The state has to figure the impact of its pace and volume of industrialisation. "Carrying capacity studies are essential. CEPI was a mere screening tool for identifying areas that require detailed investigation," the professor said.

But who will initiate all this? "The state pollution control board is understaffed and weak. Its capacity is very poor; so officials handle too many things at the same time, which leads to negligence," Patel asserted. About 32 per cent of the sanctioned posts at CECB lie vacant. The fallout of all this is a number of instances that have come to light—of plants expanding a facility without clearance and poor inspection. Narasinga Rao, member secretary CECB agreed there is shortage of skilled manpower at the board and that a request to increase posts has been forwarded to the authorities concerned.

With many projects coming to the state, the government holds up a rosy future before the people of Chhattisgarh. Yet it has not been able to convince its 80 per cent rural population they will be a part of this future.

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