Contamination of water by NMDC iron ore mine’s refuse has affected livelihoods

Budhram, a farmer of Kadampal village in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district, owns five acres of agricultural land and has been monocropping paddy for the past three years. But falling yields have given him cause to worry about the future of his four children.

Paddy production at his farm has fallen by over 50 per cent and Budhram blames this on the contaminated “red water” released from the National Mineral Development Corporation’s (NMDC) Bailadila iron ore mine in Kirandul.

“My farm is situated on the banks of the Nala [water stream] and every year during the rains this red water enters my farm and contaminates the fields. Earlier, we used to sow crops twice a year and yet would get good yield. But now even a single-time cultivation is yielding far less than the expected quantity,” laments Budhram.

Kadampal is not the only village in Dantewada district affected by the “iron-ore condensed” red water. “Over 55 villages in the district are affected by the iron-ore-particles-mixed water released from the NMDC in Kirandul. Our agriculture land is polluted, our cattle are dying and even drinking water has been affected badly,” claimed Raju Karupi of Kadampal.

The affected villagers have formed the Bailadilla Khadan Prabhavit Jan Sangharsh Samiti (BKPJSS) to protest and press for compensation from the NMDC for the damage caused by its pollution.

On May 18, the BKPJSS organised a rally where thousands of affected villagers staged a protest in Kirandul against the NMDC. The BKPJSS has also submitted a 33-point charter of demands to the NMDC and district administration which includes the demand for proper compensation to the farmers affected by red water and the establishment of a water filter plant to curb the release of iron ore particles into the water.

“The NMDC claims to have been doing a lot for the people of Dantewada through its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), but it is not even carrying out the basic duties towards the villages it adopted,” pointed out Mr. Ramesh Tamu, the secretary of the BKPJSS.

Last year too, villagers submitted complaints and demands, according to Dantewada Collector K.C. Devsenapati.

“A joint team of the district administration, the NMDC and local people conducted a survey of damaged agricultural land and other damages. The NMDC then gave some compensation,” the Collector told The Hindu.

Mr. Tamu , however, maintains that the compensation was inadequate. “They gave compensation only for the damage done between 2008 and 2012. But people here have been suffering for many years before that. Also, the compensation for the death of cattle was very little,” said Mr. Tamu.

Bhima Mandavi, a former BJP MLA from the area, also blamed the NMDC for the red water problem. “The Maoists exploited the water pollution issue in the area. Had the NMDC kept its promises and taken care of the affected villages, Maoists would not have been able to penetrate this area,” Mr. Mandavi told The Hindu. He had been involved in mobilising villagers against NMDC.

NMDC’s Kirandul unit Assistant General Manager Pradeep Saxena refused to comment, saying he was not “authorised” to speak on the issue.