ON JULY 22, villagers of Londa in
Karnataka's Belgaum district rejoiced
after they won the court case against the
Kundil Group's sponge iron plant. The
plant was poisoning their crops, waterbodies
and the air. But their joy was
short-lived. A month after the district
divisional commissioner closed it, the
state pollution control board (SPCB)
allowed the plant to start operation.
The villagers plan to file a contempt petition.
"We asked SPCB on what basis the plant was allowed to restart, but we were told to visit the board's head office in Bengaluru," said Pradeep Juwadi, a resident of Londa. "The plant has turned Londa and surrounding villages into a living hell," said Shashikant Sawant, another resident. Black soot from the plant settles on crops and waterbodies; paddy yield has fallen 80 per cent. Children constantly fall sick after ingesting water and food contaminated with the soot," he said.
Sawant, Juwadi and 11 other villagers filed the petition in the Karnataka High Court on July 5 seeking closure of the plant. They had produced evidence of pollution. "Realizing the severity, the court ordered the closure of the plant immediately and said it can't reopen unless it meets standards mandated by the Environment Protection Act, 1986," said Ravindra Kumar Gokakar, counsel for the villagers. "The plant is located next to the Phandari river and close to villages," he said. (Sponge iron units are in the list of industries that can't be located near a waterbody or human habitation.) SPCB should not have allowed the plant to reopen contravening the court order, said Gokakar. "We will not rest till it is shut," said Juwadi.
The plant was set up in 2005 without the necessary clearances. Then, SPCB had filed cases against the plant managers (see 'Shifting pain', Down To Earth, May 31, 2006). Kundil officials were unavailable for comments. So were officials of the SPCB.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.