Posts filed under ‘Industries and Environmental Issues’

Mining row and polls in Niyamgiri

Following is a report from the live-mint:

Kalahandi & Angul: In the thick forests of western Odisha’s Niyamgiri, the question of whether the mountain should be mined is a more straightforward—and relevant—one for locals than who should rule India come May.
Last year, over the monsoon days of July and August, hardscrabble forest dwellers of the Gouda and Kondh communities in 12 Supreme Court-mandated gram sabhas, or village councils, unanimously rejected a plan to dig up the flat-topped mountain range for a bauxite mine.

The 7sq. km-mine was to feed 72 million tonnes (mt) of ore to an aluminium refinery in the town of Lanjigarh. The refinery was commissioned in 2007 by Vedanta Aluminium Ltd, which had plans to expand production from 1 mt to 6 mt aluminium per year by mining Niyamgiri and then moving on to other bauxite-rich mountain tops within a 60km radius.

On a recent morning in Ijurupa, one of the 12 hamlets where the gram sabhas were held, there was no sign that a national election was just days away. No candidate’s posters were slapped on the walls of the clutch of reddish-brown mud homes. No prime time television shouting matches ran each night in this habitation, without electricity or drinking water provisions. Ijurupa resident Parvati Gouda took a break from harvesting the sickly-sweet smelling, pale yellow mahua fruit carpeting the ground, to say she was unaware of the 15 candidates contesting for her parliamentary constituency—a vast rural terrain of mountains, forests and over 4,000 villages and hamlets spread across the districts of Kalahandi and adjoining Nuaparha, on the border with Chhattisgarh.
“What I will say is that we do not want Vedanta to take our mountain from us,” she said.

Gouda’s family cultivated cotton, sunflower, rice and vegetables on their mountainside farm, perennial streams irrigating their crop in the absence of any other water source. Forest produce augmented food and income, while closely held religious beliefs and practices revolved around nature. The dependence on nature ran deep.

Higher up the mountains in Phuldumer, entirely inhabited by the reticent Dongariya Kondh tribes, questions about the election evoked nonchalance, and those about Vedanta, rage. “Who should one vote for—hatha na shankha na hathi (the hand or the conch shell or elephant—election symbols of the Congress, Biju Janata Dal and Bahujan Samaj Party, respectively),” asked a young man in Kui, an axe resting on his right shoulder, while the beats of village drums for a prayer wafted through the air. “Who is against Vedanta?”

No candidate had walked up here yet to canvass for votes. Along the kutcha roads leading to this hamlet, the structures built by Vedanta as corporate social responsibility outreach stood broken and abandoned, apparently attacked with axes by angry villagers.
A Vedanta spokesperson did not respond to Mint’s questionnaire and calls.

Down below, in Lanjigarh, an occasional campaign jeep rode the streets, fitted with loudspeakers playing songs that emphasized symbols rather than candidates, signalling the absence of formal literacy among rural voters. At the police station, opposite the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) barracks and a short distance from the refinery, languid policemen took a break from watching news to show charts listing the polling areas in the mountains as HS, shorthand for “highly sensitive”, or Naxal-affected. Of the 24 completely inaccessible booths in Kalahandi district, 22 are in the Lanjigarh segment.

Environmental referendum

The gram sabhas of Niyamgiri in some ways marked India’s first environmental referendum, and pointed to the chipping away of prior hierarchies and emergence of new sites of formal power. Views expressed by the villagers in the gram sabhas eventually led the ministry of environment and forests this January to disallow the bauxite mine. The rejection threw into sharp relief a broader conflict afflicting several resource-endowed areas of the country, including Odisha.
New laws passed during the decade-long regime of the Congress party-led alliance, such as the Forest Rights Act (under which the Supreme Court ordered the gram sabhas) and the Right to Information Act, are legally empowering local communities to raise questions and voice opinions, making decision-making more democratic and participatory, but also messier and unpredictable.
A greater scrutiny of corporate actions by non-state actors is also making it less easy to run roughshod over local communities and unilaterally annex the resources they depend on. Simultaneously, governments and companies are increasingly seeking to bring mineral-rich areas under their control as part of larger economic plans. Some resources, such as coal, are essential to meet India’s expanding industrial and consumer demand for power. Others, like iron ore, have presented a quick and often illegal route to wealth and power through profitable raw exports, as pointed out by the justice M.B. Shah Commission’s findings on illegal mining in Odisha, Karnataka and Goa.

Conflicts had become inevitable, Kalahandhi’s sitting member of Parliament (MP) and Congress candidate Bhaktacharan Das said. “But gram sabhas are going to arrest the attention of government and industry,” he added. In a speech in Lok Sabha in 1996, Das, a former Railways minister in the Chandrashekhar government, had strongly supported an aluminium plant in Kalahandi. He now says he opposes mining in Niyamgiri, and backs agro-based industries instead, “which can add value to the district’s Rs.6,000 crore worth of annual agricultural produce.”

Das, who brought Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi to visit areas in Niyamgiri like Ijurupa in 2008, defended his altered stance: “I never said industrialization should be blind and brutal. When I made the speech, I was concerned about poverty reduction. When I saw the spontaneous protests of the tribes and visited those forests, I realized mining cannot take place at their cost.”

It is not just remote subsistence forest economies that are mounting a challenge to government and industry in India’s most mined state, which holds close to 60% of the country’s bauxite, one-third of its iron ore and one-fourth of its coal. Prosperous settled agrarian villages are not keen to alter their lives for mining either—in the state’s coastal edge protests have been taking place for eight years in villages to be acquired for a steel plant by Posco of South Korea. The proposal represents the country’s biggest foreign direct investment deal, and has been strongly backed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
“Stand-offs, as are taking place in Odisha, are inevitable because mistrust in institutions is high, and it is not misplaced,” said Planning Commission member Arun Maira.

In a reflection of this stand-off, last week, in coal-rich Angul district’s Chhendipada block, nine villages collectively decided they would boycott the 10 April election. The tactic, residents said, was meant to draw attention to their demand that gram sabhas under the new land acquisition law be held in their area so that they could formally register their opposition to being displaced for a coal mine.

The new law, which took effect on 1 January, introduces a consent provision for landowners.
In ministry of coal documents, the nine villages with over 2,500 residents are depicted as the rectangular-shaped Machhakata coal block. The block, for which close to 7,500 acres of land must be acquired, is to be mined by the Gujarat-based Adani Group, eventually generating power for residents of Maharashtra and Gujarat.

In an online presentation from 2012, the Adani Group’s plans show production in Machhakata to begin in 2013, part of the company’s larger plan to increase its coal mining and trading from 36 mt per annum (mtpa) in 2012, to 300 mtpa in 2020.
Chhendipada’s farmers have other ideas. Over the last three years, roadblocks and protests by residents, often turning violent, have ensured that the administration is unable to hold the public hearing as part of the environmental clearance procedure for the mine.

In sharp contrast with the Kondh residents of Niyamgiri, where few had school education or interest in the nuances of law and the contending arms of government, Bagdia’s college-educated residents closely followed shifts in policy. They surfed the Internet, filed Right to Information requests, moved courts and tracked which party was saying what. “The new land acquisition law has been passed, but why is our local Congress MP not supporting it?” asked Bagdia resident and engineering lecturer Satyabrata Pradhan in an interview on a recent afternoon, explaining the boycott decision. “Let the gram sabha consent provision of the new law be applied to us—if 70% of residents say yes to the mine, we are ready to be displaced.”

The new law, Maira argued, could end up amounting to more legally imposed procedures, while not necessarily addressing the fundamental issue of mistrust. “Institutions—governments and corporations—have to alter how they operate to engage with people in a more modern and democratic way. They must listen, and people must see some change in their attitudes. That is the way to resolve these conflicts more efficiently and equitably,” he said.

The mistrust Maira referred to was evident in Bagdia. The village consisted of paddy and vegetable farms, and large mango and cashew orchards, where elephant herds frequently visited from the adjoining Kosala Reserve Forest. With their pucca houses and two- and four-wheelers, the protesting farmers were akin to a rural middle class, expressing as much contempt for subsidies to the poor, as for industrialists and politicians across parties, who they saw as striking private deals and helping each other grow rich (“Why does Modi use Adani’s jet?”, asked one local, referring to a media report about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi).

“We are far from the era of Hirakud (the large dam in western Odisha built in the wake of independence), when farmers would be told to make a sacrifice for the nation and be evicted,” said Jagadish Pradhan, a former member of the National Commission for Farmers, referring to the altering grounds of aspirations and rights in rural Odisha, including in his native Kalahandi. “There is a realization now that mining does not even create the kind of jobs and prosperity it promises to locals.”
Figures from the state’s Economic Survey of 2012-13 support Pradhan’s argument: the value of minerals produced in the state increased over ten-fold from Rs.2,776 crore in 2001-02 to Rs.30,204 crore in 2011-12. The sector’s employment in the corresponding period fell marginally from 52,937 to 48,239 jobs, reflecting increased mechanization, according to the report.
“Give us alternative land if you want to take our land, and we will leave,” said Bagdia resident Sujit Garnayak, a 34-year-old farmer. “Why should we give up what will always sustain us for a temporary job in a coal mine?”

Banikanta Mishra, a Xavier Institute of Management professor and a former state planning board member in Odisha, argued that over the past decade, the state government had overly relied on mining for quick royalty revenue to the exchequer, while side-stepping “the more difficult and intensive task of creating growth with a broader and more sustainable base.”
If Naveen Patnaik returns to power in May for a fourth term as the chief minister of Odisha, Mishra said, “I would hope he focuses much more on jobs and incomes, particularly related to agriculture and rural skills, rather than that one big mining project which makes headlines.”

“A well in our village—that way we could harvest a larger produce,” said Ijurupa’s Parvati Gouda, when asked what she desired from her elected representative. “Two tins of sunflower oil would become four tins then.”

April 11, 2014 at 6:22 am 1 comment

OSPCB asks power plants to introduce high concentration slurry disposal system

Following report is from the TOI:

BHUBANESWAR: The Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) has asked power plant industries in the Sambalpur-Jharsuguda region to introduce High Concentration Slurry Disposal ( HCSD) system in an attempt to check the spreading of fly ash to other areas.

The fly ash, according to the new system, will have less water, to prevent spilling and flying of the ash. The decision of the board came after the violation of fly ash disposal by Bhushan Energy Limited (BEL) came to light.

“The ash released from the power plants to the ash ponds used to contain 90 per cent water, which was taking more space of the pond. According to the new system, industries have been asked to use 40 per cent water. So, there will be less dilution of ash and more solidification,” said regional officer of the board Sitikantha Sahu. He said the concentrated ash would get dried up easily, preventing a spill over.

The power plants release ash through elector static precipitator to the designated pond in the form of slurry. “Power plants require a huge amount of water. The new system will not only conserve water, but will save nearby agricultural lands from getting damaged due to spilling of fly ash,” said senior scientist of the board D K Behera. There are six mega power plants in Sambalpur-Jharsuguda belt. A recent OSPCB survey revealed that only 54% of the total ash generated from industries in the state is being utilized. “Lack of proper use of fly ash is not only damaging lakhs of acres of farm lands in the state, it is posing danger to water and aquatic life,” said Behera.

December 8, 2013 at 2:29 am Leave a comment

Quality of air in the Jharsuguda and Sambalpur area is highly polluted: National Environmental Engineering Research Institution

Following report is from TOI:

BHUBANESWAR: The National Environmental Engineering Research Institution (NEERI), which undertook the ‘carrying capacity’ survey in Odisha’a new industrial hub of Jharsuguda and Sambalpur, has given thumbs down to the quality of air in the area.

The survey report submitted to the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) was aimed at examining if further industrialization is possible in those areas. The draft report is being examined by SPCB environment scientists.

“We have received the report and are examining the recommendations of NEERI. Another round of discussion will be held at Nagpur in November as to which components of the recommendations are necessary to take a decision regarding a cap on further industrialization in those areas,” said senior environment scientist of SPCB Dilip Kumar Behera. NEERI reports revealed that emission of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and fluoride are causing environmental hazards in the area, he said. “NEERI study reveals particulate matter — 10 and 2.5 — is responsible for air pollution. Mainly thermal plants, refractories, sponge iron units and coal mines are having an adverse effect on the environment,” said Behera. He, however, said NEERI didn’t give any industry specific recommendations.

The SPCB had entrusted NEERI to conduct the study in a 45 km radius area with Rengali in Sambalpur district as the epicenter. Earlier, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, had conducted a similar survey, based on which some industries, in the first phase, were given closure notice.

The basic purpose of the survey was to ascertain how much area in the districts can take the pollution load. “It was a typical scientific study based on which newer technology can be put in place to check pollution and expansion plans of existing industries and accommodation of new industries can be decided accordingly,” said NEERI director S R Wate.

There are around 23 sponge iron units in Sambalpur-Jharsuguda region. “After we felt that mostly sponge iron industries were responsible for dust and ash generation, we approached NEERI to conduct the study,” said SPCB environment engineer A K Swar. Odisha is the only state which has 110 sponge iron units, which emit 45% ash, he said.

He said earlier SPCB had recommended ‘no standalone’ sponge industry in the state. “If one applies for only sponge iron industry, he won’t be given the permit. A sponge iron industry henceforth can not be set up alone. There must be some ancillary unit attached to it,” said Swar. He said pneumatic dust handling has been made compulsory for the industries.

October 25, 2012 at 1:14 pm Leave a comment

The death of Khandadhar waterfall

Following report is from the outlook: 

Drying up Khandadhara waterfall, a victim of iron ore mining in Khandadhar mountains

A rugged, tree-covered mountain range sweeps vertically into a brilliant blue sky. Out of a cave on its western side gushes a natural spring, its lacy, white water tripping 244 metres over a sheer black-and-red cliff face to fall into a blissful rock pool, before cascading further downhill. The site is of ethereal beauty, evoking awe, elation, a sense of rejuvenation.

One of India’s highest and most sacred waterfalls, Khandadhara in Sundergarh, Orissa, is cherished by tens of thousands for the life it brings to all in its vicinity. “It’s because of the Khandadhara that my life flows with power,” says a Munda resident of Bandhbarna village, which lies near the foot of the mountain. Although a migrant from Jharkhand, he shares the reverence of all the indigenous peoples here—including the Christians—for the Khandadhar mountain and its waterfall.

By common consent, the guardians of the range are the Pauri Bhuiya, a tribe of shifting cultivators who traditionally live in the dense sal forest that covers the peaks. Genetic research finds that about 24,000 years ago the Pauri Bhuiya shared a common ancestor with the Jarawa of the Andaman Islands—a reminder that India’s indigenous peoples directly descend from some of the first modern humans to wander the earth. The Pauri Bhuiya are also unique among Orissa’s tribals for speaking a version of Oriya, rather than an entirely different language: they claim theirs is the original Oriya.

A Pauri Bhuiya legend speaks of how their mountains came to be so munificent. The Sundergarh branch of the community was once possessed by a rapacious goddess named Kankala Devi, who consumed trees, soil and everything else. In despair, the Pauri Bhuiya placed her on a rock, which she ate through as well—creating a deep hole from which poured out the Khandadhara (split-rock waterfall). So they had water. Then a couple from the community went to visit relatives at the eastern, or Keonjhar, end of the Khandadhar mountain range. Their prospective hosts were away but a pile of grains had been left outdoors and, amazingly, not even the birds were eating it. Inside the heap, the couple discovered a small goddess, Khand Kumari, protector of the region’s prosperity. They stole her and brought her back to Sundergarh, and so her bounty became theirs.

The mining firms call the Khandadhar range the “jackpot”; Orissa govt has promised Posco 2,500 ha of it.

The Pauri Bhuiya never cut down a shade or fruit tree, so the mountaintop abounds with nourishment. The pristine, ancient jungles are home to elephants, sloth bears, leopards, gaur, pythons, peacocks, tigers and a rare limbless lizard—a keystone species that testifies to the richness of the ecosystem. The thick jungle absorbs monsoon rain, releasing the water in perennial streams that feed the Khandadhara. But in the ’90s, some 80 Pauri Bhuiya families were shifted by the Pauri Bhuiya Development Agency (PBDA) from the mountaintop to the plains, under the pretext that their shifting cultivation was damaging the forest.

“Here we have nothing,” laments Kalia Dehuri, who now lives in a PBDA settlement. “Our houses are as small as latrines. They promised us five acres of land each but gave us just a little over one acre. When we lived in the forest, if I cut my leg I could find a plant to heal it. Now I have to walk miles in the sun to the doctor, who tells me to come back another day.” The despair and hopelessness is palpable. Of the families brought down, at least 15 have since returned to the mountain. “There it is cool,” says Dehuri, “and they have fruit, water, wood, tubers.”

Not for long. The strikingly coloured rocks that give Khandadhara its beauty are red jasper and black hematite—both made of iron. Downstream of Khandadhara, one can pick up massive, gleaming chunks of largely pure iron. The mining companies call the Khandadhar range the “jackpot”, and at this very moment the Supreme Court is deciding which of several contending firms has the winning ticket. The Orissa government has promised the Pohang Steel Co of South Korea (Posco) as much as 2,500 hectares of Khandadhar—essentially the entire Sundergarh section of the mountain range.

Red waste The Kurmitar mountain now

All the region’s tribals know what will happen if Posco comes, because they have had a foretaste. Deep inside the range, invisible from normal roads, rises a horrific sight: the blood-red carcass of Kurmitar mountain, flayed of its skin of trees and topsoil and terraced into a giant pyramid by a spiralling road for trucks laden with iron ore. Dynamite blasts have pulverised the underlying rock into a fine dust that gives the mine its brilliant red colour. Behind this Mars-scape, the partially shaved surface of another mountain rises—readied for mining by clear-cutting the trees. Dust smothers the jungle for hundreds of metres around, but in the distance one can see the undulating green of what remains, for now, of the Khandadhar reserved forest.

The Kalinga Commercial Corporation Ltd (KCCL) operates the 133-hectare Kurmitar mine. It boasts on its website of having exceeded production targets by several hundred per cent, and of exporting iron ore to China and manganese ore to an unnamed Korean company. Hanuman is said to have carried on his shoulders a portion of the Himalayas in order to find a medicinal plant to save Lakshman’s life. The Samal family of Bhubaneswar, which runs kcc, could be even more powerful: it is transporting an entire mountain to China and beyond.

Kurmitar was a “devisthan”, the abode of a goddess, say the Pauri Bhuiya. It was covered with dense jungle in which thrived elephants, bears and luscious kakri fruit hanging from vines. No doubt driven out by the blasting and loss of habitat, the elephants have begun emerging in the plains. A tigress appeared in January near Phuljhar, at the foot of the mountain. In April, the forest department burned down the huts and food stores of some 20 Pauri Bhuiya families who had come off the mountain and were sheltering in jungles that had been their own.

Just as frightening, the destruction of the forest and the diversion of a mountaintop stream by KCCL has caused the Khandadhara waterfall to partially dry up. Its water no longer reaches the Brahmani river as it used to, and a canal that Bandhbarna’s residents used for fishing, bathing and irrigating crops has been bone-dry for two summers now. All over the region, tubewells are becoming defunct as the water table falls. Streams by Phuljhar and other villages run red with mining dirt, killing fish and polluting fields. When it rains, even the Khandadhara bleeds red, transforming into a ‘raktadhara’ that flows from the mountain’s gaping wounds. If a 133-hectare mine can cause such havoc, the devastation to be wreaked by Posco’s 2,500-hectare lease is beyond imagination.

To begin with, the Khandadhara waterfall will completely dry up, depriving tens of thousands of the water of life. “The miners are demons…they not only eat the soil and trees and rock, but even the water,” says a Pauri Bhuiya woman in Phuljhar. “Kankala Devi gave us this water, these demons will consume it too. We have to get rid of them or they will eat up everything.” All around the Khandadhar range, the tribals are gearing up for a fight—not only for their own survival, but in defense of a common heritage of humankind.

June 3, 2012 at 10:26 am 1 comment

Pollution whip on sponge units: The Telegraph

Following report is from http://www.telegraphindia.com/1110922/jsp/orissa/story_14535693.jsp:

Bhubaneswar, Sept. 21: The Orissa State Pollution Control Board has asked 26 of the total 109 sponge units in the state to cut down production to reduce pollution levels in the sponge iron plants.

Sources said the units had been asked to scale down production for failing to stick to the bag filter size prescribed by the pollution control board on the recommendations of IIT, Kharagpur.

Bag filters are meant to filter the ash generated by burning of coal in these units to keep the environment clean.

The Orissa government is keen on reducing the pollution levels in sponge iron plants, which are considered among the most polluting industries in the world.

The units are located in Sundergarh, Keonjhar, Sambalpur, Jajpur, Jharsuguda, Cuttack and Mayubrhanj districts.

This is not the first time the pollution control board has cracked its whip on the erring sponge units. In June, it had served showcause notices to 68 of these units. Six had also been shut down.

Member-secretary of the board Siddhant Das said the IIT, Kharagpur was commissioned to make a study on the pollution control requirements in the sponge iron plants in 2009 when the number of units in the state was 104. The organisation had recommended filter bag capacity for each unit, but some of them complied.

Since ash generation in these units had gone up owing to use of the poor quality coal, air quality in and around these plants was bound to be affected significantly unless the plants used filters of the required size as prescribed by the expert body.

Bulk of coal produced in Orissa was of F and G grade, which has high ash content. Sources said the ash generation was almost to the tune of 50 per cent, when this coal was used in the plants.

In June, showcause notices were issued to 68 sponge iron units for failing to meet the pollution control norms. “Forty two of these have since complied with the norms and enhanced the capacity of their bag filters,” said Das, adding that the board was keen to ensure that the remaining 26 also fell in line.

Orissa is one of the largest producers of sponge iron in the country with plants operating in six big clusters. As a consequence, it also bears the brunt of environmental pollution caused by this industry.

September 22, 2011 at 6:41 am Leave a comment

Fly ash deposition and environmental degradation in Jharsuguda district

Following is from Dharitri (e-edition):

March 16, 2011 at 6:46 pm 1 comment

Orissa for Central policy on Independent Power Producers (IPPs) solar power generation

Following report is from http://www.business-standard.com:

In a move that is tipped to give a big boost to solar power generation in the country in general and Orissa in particular, the Orissa government has urged the Union ministry of power to introduce a policy which makes it mandatory for all the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to generate solar power equivalent to one per cent of their proposed thermal power capacity.

“Orissa has got a number of investment proposals from the IPPs. We have requested the Union power ministry to come out with a policy which makes it mandatory for all the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to generate solar power equivalent to one per cent of their proposed thermal power capacity. Moreover, we have suggested that these IPPs can sell thermal as well as solar power in bundled form”, an official source told Business Standard.

The generation and consumption of solar power being an expensive proposition, many of the power producers are not keen on tapping this renewable energy source. As against the cost of Rs 4-4.5 crore per MW for setting up a thermal power plant, the cost of installation of a solar power plant is around Rs 18 crore per MW.

However, a policy measure which makes its mandatory on the part of the IPPs to commit one per cent of their proposed thermal capacity to solar power generation and the concept of selling both thermal and solar power in bundled form is expected to promote solar power in a big way.

It ma be noted that as many as 27 IPPs have entered into MoUs (Memoranda of Understanding) with the Orissa government for setting up coal-based power plants with a cumulative capacity of 32,420 MW.

Besides, there is a proposed capacity addition of 23000 MW through the setting up of an Ultra Mega Power Plant and also capacity expansion plans of National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and the state utility- Orissa Power Generation Corporation (OPGC).

Out of the 27 IPPs, Sterlite Energy has commissioned the first unit (600 MW) of its 2400 MW (4×600) power plant at Burkhamunda near Jharsuguda.

September 29, 2010 at 5:01 pm Leave a comment

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