Pollution

Industrial pollution in rural Raigarh: NGT appoints new head to oversight committee

New committee head will implement measures to check pollution and assess compensation payable by offenders

 
By Soundaram Ramanathan
Published: Wednesday 30 June 2021
NGT appoints new head to oversight committee to check pollution in rural Raigarh, Chhattisgarh. Representative photo: Pixabay

A five-member principal bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) — which was hearing the case of industrial pollution in Tamnar and Ghargoda block of Chhattisgarh’s Raigarh — appointed a new head to its oversight committee implementing pollution control regulations in the area June 24,2021.

The former judge of the High Court of Chhattisgarh, VK Shrivastava, will be the new head of the committee for the next six months, the order stated.

The order was passed after a written submission by the villagers highlighting continued pollution as well as inadequacy in action plan framed and measures taken by the company to restore the area.

Unchecked pollution

Nearly 52 villages in the Tamnar and Ghargoda block of Raigarh are affected by industrial pollution in the area. The villagers had approached the NGT in 2018 seeking remedy.

Affected villages include Kosampalli, Dongamahua, Kodkel, Kunjemura and Regaon Nagmuda, Milupara and Sakta, under Tamnar Block; and Bhengari, Charmar, Khokroama and Tendanavapara, Chal, etc, under Ghargoda block.

Among the key demands of the residents are remediation of polluted air, water, soil in the area. This area has about 13 coal mines and 12 power plants with a generation capacity 4,000 megawatt.

Key industries — including Jindal Power Ltd, Jindal Power and Steel Ltd, TRN Energy Pvt Ltd, Mahavir Energy and Coal Benefaction Ltd, Hindalco lndustries Ltd and Monet Energy Ltd, South Eastern Coalfields Ltd (SECL) — operate here.

With the recent privatisation policy of the state government, more coal mines are scheduled to open up.

Monsoon push to seek remedy

The villagers June 21, 2021 submitted a written petition to the NGT requesting a ban on transport of coal by road and fly ash disposal in low-lying areas. 

They urged the court to pass immediate directions, saying monsoon rains will soon start and legacy ash dump sites will pollute the river as well as agricultural land. The residents in the area suffer from various illnesses due to pollution, they added.

A health assessment of villagers of Tamnar block by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Research in Tribal health (NIRTH) Jabalpur in 2019 had said:

“Nearby mining activities put the tribal population of Raigarh at increased risk of diseases such as acute respiratory infection (ARI), tuberculosis, road traffic accident (RTA), etc. Apart from environmental health hazards, under nutrition prevalence in the area increases the risk further for various diseases. Kelo river in Tamnar is polluted due to waste disposal from mining activities”.

Despite their grievances at the court since 2018, not much has changed, the villagers claimed. The villagers flagged lack of action to numerous errors in the action plan (see table below), prepared by the committee appointed by the NGT in 2019.

ACTION PLAN CLAUSES / COMPLIANCE STATEMENTS

ERROR POINTED BY RESIDENTS

Let fly ash be dumped in coal mines

All coal mines in Raigarh district are required to accept fly ash for disposal through OB dump and back-filling.

By when, ask residents?

Fails to provide a timeline when the action will be achieved

Companies sends letter and no responses from coal mines

Letters were issued to SECL Chaal OC, Monnet Ispat, HINDALCO Ltd and Ambuja Cement Ltd.  HINDALCO mines informed about no OB dump because of continuous back filling of mined area with OB, according to approved mining plan. Monnet Ispat Mines has been taken over by SECL. No response received from Ambuja Cement Ltd.

If no one responds should pollution continue, ask residents?

The above compliance response shows there was no response from SECL Chaal OC, Monnet Ispat and Ambuja Cement Ltd on this issue. No action has been recommended against those companies who have not responded on this issue.

Dumping of fly ash in low-lying areas condemned by the committee, controlling activity passed to pollution control board

MoEF&CC vide its notification dated August 28, 2019 has modified the conditions stipulated in the EC of TPP and coal mines in line with the fly ash notification and subsequent amendment.

It has been mentioned in point no 7 that ministry has stipulated the conditions which prohibited the use of fly ash in abandoned mines / low lying area / soil conditioner in agriculture following the guide lines prepared by CPCB.

Accordingly, CECB shall amend the consent conditions of all TPP and Coal Mine.

The committee has suggested to Chairman, Chhattisgarh Environment Conservation Board for constitution of state-level committee to decide the mode and quantity of fly ash to be disposed of in working / abandoned mines / quarries in the state.

The same committee may also look after the fly ash disposal issues in Raigarh also on priority.

Copy of the letter issued to Chairman, CECB, Raipur, is placed.

But the pollution control board so far has taken no action and issue remains intact  

It is stated that No action has been taken by CECB as no document has been filed by committee showing that CECB has amended the consent conditions of all TPP and Coal Mine as per MoEF&CC’s notification dated August 28, 2019, whereby the conditions stipulated in the EC of TPP and coal mines and it has been mentioned in point no. 7 that ministry has stipulated the conditions which prohibited the use of fly ash in abandoned mines / low-lying area/ soil conditioner in agriculture following the guide lines prepared by CPCB.

Monitor water quality, said committee

Establishment of monitoring cell by PHED to monitor water quality being used by the residents of villages.

Onus of getting it done is shifting, work undone, complain residents

The committee seems to have shifted the onus on PHED and Hindalco but has failed to carry out its mandate.

Adress pollution concerns, monitoring committee said

Installation of adequate number of CCTV and CAAQM stations in coal mining area.

Nothing done on ground, complain residents

installation of the CAAQMS is unsatisfactory The committee had to ensure that it is implemented in a time-bound manner. Instead of doing that, the committee has duplicated the Hon’ble NGT’s order by again giving instructions to the state.

Failed action plan

A five-member team was appointed in 2019 to investigate the matter. The team, after site inspection, highlighted negligence by the existing power plants and mines there and that caused pollution.

It framed an action plan with measures to be taken up in short-, medium- and long-term. However, three years now the plan has not been effective, and the villagers pointed to the flaws particularly in the matter of groundwater recharge, dumping of fly ash, coal transport by road and others.

“Framing an action plan is the first move. But if industries do not cooperate or neglect to comply, then would be two options: the court can direct the statutory authority to close the industry or the court can empower the committee to assess, levy and order the district magistrate or statutory authority to collect fine and disburse it to the victims,” said Debadutta Basu, retired scientist, Central Pollution Control Board.

He added that forming committees or action plans alone may not help improve the situation.

The NGT during the June 24 hearing took cognizance of the issues pointed by the petitioners and their grief appointed the new over sight committee and listed the matter for hearing January 2022.

“Fixing accountability on both the pollution control board and other officials involved in the implementation of the norms is crucial. Courts should collect affidavits from the officials implementing the norms regarding the on-ground progress. Industries that do not comply should be heavily penalised,” said Nivit Kumar Yadav, programme director, Industry Unit, Centre for Science and Environment.

He added that the court should understand that non-compliance to industries has become cheaper today, which is driving environmental degradation.

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