Mining

Odisha stir against coal trucks emitting smoke: Nearly 170, including children, detained

The movement of coal trucks sparks pollution concerns; police claim no forceful detention of children

 
By Amjad Badshah
Published: Thursday 18 March 2021
More than 3,000 villagers — including school children — from nine Gram Panchayats in Odisha’s Sundargarh district have been protesting against the movement of coal-loaded trucks through the village roads. Photo: Amjad Badshah

Odisha Police detained nearly 150 people, including 17 children, in Sundargarh district earlier this week after more than 3,000 villagers of nine Gram Panchayats came out in protest against coal-laden trucks passing through their villages.

A police official claimed that the “children were adamant to come to the station with their parents”. 

Ramakanta Sai, inspector, Himgir police station, said: “The children were not forcibly detained. Some people had gheraoed the police station at night, but there was no lathi-charge on them.”

He added all 17 children, along with 55 women, were released on March 16 upon the intervention of child protection officer, Sundargarh. At least 24 women and 25 men were formally arrested later, Sai added.

These trucks, emitting smoke and dust, travel through Bankibahal-Taparia road in Hemgir block from the Kulda and Basudhara Open Cast Mines to Jindal Steel and Power Ltd and other plants in Chhattisgarh’s Raigarh. 

The villagers also started a road blockade to stop the movement of trucks on March 15, following which police picked 150 locals. 

The collector, Sundargarh, and regional officer of the State Pollution Control Board declined to speak on the issue.

The Odisha Human Rights Commission (OHRC) February 10, 2021 had issued a recommendation barring movement of trucks on the village roads for up to six weeks.

The court, however, stayed the recommendation March 9 after the state petitioned through Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL), the owner of the mines.
 

As the movement of trucks resumed, the villagers started protesting, said environmentalist Rajendra Naik. 

The collector, Sundargarh March 11 wrote:

“In exercise of power conferred U/s 115 of Motor Vehicle Act, 1998, I, Nikhil Pavan Kalyan, IAS District Magistrate & Collector, Sundargargarh-cum-Chairman, RTA, Sundargarh do hereby allow the plying of heavy commercial vehicles, multi-axle vehicle both empty and loaded, which are engaged in carrying coal, iron ore and other materials in Bankibahal-Taparia road with conditions and restrictions”.

Kusum Tete, member of legislative assembly (MLA) from Bharatiya Jananta Party, said: “The concerns of protesting locals are genuine. I will raise the issue in the Assembly.”

Former MLA of Sundargarh, Jogesh Singh, declined to comment since the matter was “sub judice and pending in the high court”.

Naik added that the expert appraisal committee of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests had also recommended that environmental clearance for expansion of the capacity of Kulda Open Cast Coal Mine by 20 per cent would have an impact on the health, agriculture and water bodies of the region.

According to Naik:

“The expansion of Kulda Open Cast Mine would increase its capacity to 19.60 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) from 14 MTPA. Moreover, the clearance was recommended on the condition that MCL will plant 100,000 trees in the villages as well as 50,000 avenue trees along the transportation routes in two years.”

Naik alleged the MCL lied in its compliance report, saying the trucks did not on any route through the villages.

Moreover, the coal corridor project of Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd between Bankibahal and Bhedabahal in Sundargarh is yet to be realised.

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