Tribals take on polluters

Sponge iron unit poisons their drinking water¤ farms

By Alok Kumar Gupta
Published: Sunday 31 January 2010

On december 31¤ tribals of Jaspur and Dugdha villages in Jharkhand gathered in front of the local sponge iron factory and shouted slogans. They were angry because waste from the factory had turned their drinking water source black and had reduced their paddy yield by half.

“An official from the local office of the state pollution control board (spcb) who visited the area on our complaint told us that the carbon from the factory chimney had mixed with the soil and reduced the crop yield¤” said Ajit Mandal¤ a resident of Dugdha village.

Zoom Bhallav Steel is 700 metres from the pond in Dugdha that is the main source of drinking water for 2¤000 families in the two villages. The factory was opened eight years ago but was closed for the past four years due to dispute over ownership. It was reopened on August 8¤ 2009.

Mandal said a company official had visited the village in January. “The official told us the filter in the factory chimney was dysfunctional and it would be fixed but the problem persists¤” he said.

Officials of the local unit of the spcb confirmed the pollution was from the factory. But scientific studies will be needed to conclude if the pollution is affecting crop yield¤ they added.

Inquiries revealed the factory was operating on the basis of a certificate issued eight years ago. spcb officials said they are verifying if certification was issued by their head office in Ranchi.

Villagers¤ meanwhile¤ complained they could not cook their food outdoors as soot settled on it within half an hour. Nor can they bathe in the village pond now as it causes itching.

The factory spokesperson¤ Mritunjay Burman¤ said villagers were exaggerating the problem. “Some of the filters malfunctioned. It was a mild aberration that led to a bit of pollution¤” he said.

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