Sponge the poison

Orissa government's no to new sponge-iron units

Published: Wednesday 15 June 2005

pressured by mounting people's protest against the pollution caused by sponge iron units (sius), the Orissa government has decided to close its doors to new sponge iron ventures. The decision has been taken by a government committee comprising top bureaucrats. It will also cover applications pending with Orissa State Pollution Control Board (ospcb) for no-objection certificates (nocs ) and capacity extension proposals.

sius that are already operating will face more stringent rules. For checking air pollution, they will have to install separate energy meters, which will be jointly sealed by ospcb representatives and power distribution companies. "In spite of the best efforts of ospcb for the operation of air pollution control device, there are reports of industry bypassing the requirement to save energy, particularly at night," says ospcb chairperson L N Patnaik. For effective monitoring, ospcb will take the help of the technical staff of district industry offices and engineering colleges. Its regional offices will also be assisted by two sections of armed police.

But the move comes after this industry has already flourished in the state for five years. ospcb statistics say 64 sius are operating in the state while 18 others have received nocs. Less than two months ago, the state government was actively considering proposals for 32 new sius. An siu of the capacity of 100 tonnes per day can daily release 24 tonnes of particulate matter into the atmosphere. Even with the most efficient pollution control measures, it would emit 200 kilogrammes daily.

The committee's decision reveals that ospcb knew all along how harmful siu s were. Still it furnished nocs to 50 sius in three years after 2000. Patnaik argues: "Since so many departments are involved in putting up an industry, we cannot become a stumbling block." Even now, the committee hasn't jeopardised big ventures; sius that are part of integrated steel plant projects have been allowed capacity extension.

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