Ash pond breach in Odisha’s Jharsuguda destroys cropland; causes pollution in Hirakud Dam

Farmers not hopeful of receiving compensation as their counterparts are yet to receive it for the collapse of an ash pond belonging to the Vedanta Group in the same district in 2017

By Priya Ranjan Sahu
Published: Monday 11 December 2023
The scene in the affected area. Photo: By special arrangement

The collapse of an ash pond in a thermal power plant run by the state-owned Odisha Power Generation Corporation (OPGC) in the state’s Jharsuguda district has destroyed crops and polluted the Hirakud Dam reservoir.  

A breach in the pond’s dyke at Banharpali village in the district caused its dam to collapse on the morning of December 9, 2023. Slurry from the pond flowed into paddy fields spread across 150 acres of land, villagers of Sardhapali and Kantatikira said.

“Most of the croplands had standing paddy crops while in some of the land, the freshly harvested crops had been piled up. Now, all are completely destroyed,” said Shankar Khamari, a farmer. He added that the slurry has damaged the soil for future cultivation.

Kanduru Dhurua, a farmer of Sardhapali said: “We lost everything in this OPGC ash pond breach and have no other alternative to survive.”

The OPGC authorities began repairing work and asked the people not to get panicky and stay at home as the slurry had not entered the villages. They said a 20-foot breach occurred in the OPGC-C ash pond due to incessant rain for around three days, causing slurry to enter the farmland.

“Repair works are going on. Farmers will be compensated for the damage of their crops after the OPGC receives the assessment report from the revenue department,” said Himansu Behera, spokesperson of OPGC.

Bargarh Lok Sabha MP Suresh Pujari has demanded a judicial inquiry into the collapse of the ash pond.

Jharsuguda collector Aboli Sunil Naravane visited the spot on December 11 and reviewed the repairing work. She has also assured appropriate compensation to farmers for the loss of their crops.

Farmers are however apprehensive of getting proper compensation anytime soon, considering the fact that their counterparts affected by the collapse of an ash pond belonging to the Vedanta Group at Katikela in the district in 2017 have yet to get any compensation.

Jharsuguda-based environmentalist and president of Anchalik Paribesh Surakshya Sangha Satyanarayan Rao alleged that the collapse of OPGC’s ash pond was human-made. “The ash pond was overstocked and the breach was caused to make way for slurry clearance as well as further expansion of the ash pond,” Rao said.  

Rao said that crops over 200 acres of land were damaged due to the collapse of Vedanta’s ash pond at Katikela. However, the Jharsuguda district administration has not been able to make the private company pay compensation to the farmers even after six years, he added.

Rao demanded that the farmers affected by the ash pond collapse should be compensated on the basis of the “polluters pay principle” because the soil destroyed by the slurry will be unsuitable for growing crops for the next several years.

Besides damage to the farmers’ crops and land, the slurry from ash ponds caused heavy pollution in the reservoir of the Hirakud Dam. According to the guidelines of Central Pollution Control Board as well as State Pollution Control Board, no ash pond should be built within a radius of 10 kilometres of a water body.

However, officially, there are around 15 ash ponds of different industries in Jharsuguda district. Besides, there are also over 100 illegal ash ponds in the name of ‘low land fillings’.

Breaches keep occurring in these ash ponds beyond the public glare and constantly pollute the rivers that merge with the Hirakud Dam reservoir. No penalty is paid for these.

On December 7, 2023, the tehsildar (revenue official) of Jharsuguda has sent a reminder to the Vedanta authorities, directing them to deposit dues amounting Rs 20.11 lakh for the loss of government revenue due to deposit of slurry over a riverbed because of the collapse of its Katikela ash pond in 2017.

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