A day after HT exposed how iron ore dust from West Singhbhum’s mines and crusher units was choking and killing locals, the Jharkhand government swung into action.
“The government will shut down all polluting crushers and mining companies,” said Jharkhand Food and Civil Supplies Minister Badkunwar Gagrai, a legislator from the area, which borders Orissa.
“They are not just choking our lungs, they are polluting the entire environment — land, air and water — as well,” he said, adding that the government action would begin after the current assembly session, which ends on March 26.
However, West Singhbhum Deputy Commissioner Sunil Kumar said: “Unless we are provided specific and concrete information, we cannot take action against anyone.”
About 40 mining companies and 200 crushers — mostly illegal — operate in the area, 160 km south west of Ranchi.
But the Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board (JSPCB) said there are only 142 crusher units of which it had shut down 60 for failure to adhere to pollution norms.
“We will shut down 20-30 more,” said R.K. Sinha, secretary, JSPCB, adding: “I am preparing a draft on steps to be taken to minimise pollution and save people from various health hazards being caused by the red dust. Swift action will be taken as soon as the government clears the draft.”
But highly placed sources in the state told Hindustan Times said that this was easier than done. “Most polluting mines and crushers operate under the patronage of powerful politicians who prevent law enforcement agencies from taking tough action against them,” one such source said.
“Whether it’s Karnataka or Jharkhand, the mining lobby is so strong that the government turns a blind eye to the disaster they are causing to human lives, especially children,” said Enakshi Ganguly, co-director of the Delhi based HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, an NGO that is working in the field of children in the mining sector.