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Mines, power plants causing pollution in Chhattisgarh's Tamnar-Gharghoda region: NGT team

Fly ash from power plants spilling into agricultural fields in Raigarh.

Fly ash from power plants spilling into agricultural fields in Raigarh.  

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With 25 projects in just two blocks, Raigarh area in Chhattisgarh is close to exceeding environmental carrying capacity

An inquiry team sent by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to Tamnar-Gharghoda region of Raigarh district in Chhattisgarh, where operations in another two coal mines will begin soon, has found that the area is close to exceeding its environmental carrying capacity. The team also highlighted the negligence by the existing power plants and mines there causing pollution.

The five-member team has found green belts developed by projects offering only token protection against pollution, trucks carrying coal causing large-scale air pollution, and at least 27% of the fly ash from power plants being dumped in low-lying areas in a highly unscientific manner, destroying agricultural fields.

The team, which recently submitted its report to the NGT, was set up in May after two cases were filed by residents of 52 project-affected hamlets in Tamnar block, flagging mining’s impact on groundwater and air quality, fires in coal mines and stockpiles, and blasting that results in damage to houses.

Tamnar and Gharghoda blocks have 13 coal mines, and 12 power plants with a generation capacity of 4,669 MW. Operations are yet to begin in sector 1 mine, allotted to Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation, and sector 2, allotted to Maharashtra State Power Generation Company.

“In Tamnar, three-fourth of the total area is affected by the projects. Even a year after the NGT ordered the protection of environment in one of the cases, industries cause damage with impunity,” Rinchin, who is fighting for the villagers’ rights, said.

In September, when a public hearing was held for 14 affected villages under sector 2, several villagers held a protest claiming their consent for the project was falsified in the first place. The police registered a case against nine individuals and 45 unidentified ones. Three of them were released on bail on Thursday.

Noting that at least 33% of the project area was to be developed as a green belt, the report said, the existing belts provided only a token protection against noise or dust pollution to neighbouring villages as they were narrow (7.5 metre) and always planted after mining was started. “Further, instead of forming a buffer between the mine and the settlement, they are planted at locations away from settlements.”

Moreover, none of the thermal or captive power plants has mandatory pollution control devices to reduce sulphur dioxide emission. “The major contributors of dust are trucks carrying coal on damaged and narrow roads, instead of conveyor belts or trains used for the purpose. However, e-auctioning system had meant different mines supply coal to different plants, thereby making investment in conveyor belts and rail heads somewhat pointless,” it said, adding trucks must be covered with tarpaulins.

As for water pollution, the report said the projects had dug garland drains, meant to prevent discharge of silt in surface water, only in temporary forms, and settling tanks were often not built. By not disposing of fly ash generated by the power plants through overburden dumps and back-filling, at least 27% of it was being dumped in low-lying areas, the report said.

According to a report of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, the team said, high level of arsenic was found in drinking water in villages. “The source of this arsenic is clearly geogenic; the process by which it is now being mobilised is unclear,” the team said.

The team members have recommended usage of closed conveyor belts for transporting coal to prevent air pollution, proper and free health care facilities with multi-speciality treatment system in coal-mine adjacent villages, strict vigilance by the Centre over the green belt development, and disposal of fly ash through overburden dumps and back-filling.

The team has also recommended no further conversion of underground mines to open cast ones in the blocks, given environmental costs of forest loss, social cost (rehabilitation), and pollution. Recently, two miners had sought the conversion.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 6:52:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/mines-power-plants-causing-pollution-in-tamnar-gharghoda-region-ngt-team/article30308398.ece

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