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17 major coal fly ash incidents in India last year: Report

A new report by the Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment (LIFE) and Health Energy Initiative (HEI), India, has found that pollution from coal fly ash was rampant across the country between April 2020 and March this year
By Prayag Arora-Desai
PUBLISHED ON MAY 29, 2021 01:08 AM IST

A new report by the Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment (LIFE) and Health Energy Initiative (HEI), India, has found that pollution from coal fly ash was rampant across the country between April 2020 and March this year.

The report “Coal Ash in India – Vol II: An environmental, social and legal compendium of coal ash mismanagement in India, 2020-21” documents 17 major incidents related to fly ash pollution which occurred in Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Maharashtra.

“Ash pond collapse, air pollution from ash ponds and discharge of coal fly ash into rivers, streams and other water bodies were the most prevalent incidents, indicating the dismal state of coal fly ash management in the country. Most of these locations are regions where coal fly ash disposal is a perennial problem and leaks, and accidents are routine,” the authors stated.

The newly published report builds on a similar research published last year, which documented 76 coal fly ash-related incidents that occurred in the country between 2010 and 2020.

LIFE and HEI have also scrutinised media reporting around such incidents, noting the presence of detailed reportage, which took into account the impacts of such incidents on the environment and communities that live around fly ash ponds.

“Media coverage of research studies and reports published by leading universities and think tanks present a multidisciplinary approach in understanding the impacts of coal fly ash. Similarly, coverage of the people’s struggles around coal-based industries, seeking remediation of contaminated sites, clean up, reduction of pollution and compensation for loss of quality of life and livelihood were also prevalent,” the authors said.

More importantly, the authors pointed out that coal fly ash-based pollution remained prevalent through the Covid-induced lockdown in localities away from big cities, which celebrated “clean air and blue skies”.

Regions such as Chhattisgarh’s Korba, and north Chennai’s Seppakkam and Ennore, witnessed multiple accidents related to fly ash mismanagement. For instance, the report points out that wanton dumping of fly ash took place along arterial roads and near habited villages. The authors also noted how residents from coal hotspots were reporting that many power companies used the Covid-19 lockdown to dump waste indiscriminately in water bodies.

“Korba has witnessed unprecedented coal fly ash pollution in the past one year. We have been living here for decades, but have never seen a sight like this before. Power companies have used Covid-19 restrictions to dump coal fly ash wherever they could. Piles of fly ash can be found everywhere – along the entire highway and ring roads and in villages. With summer winds, we are seeing the entire city covered in fly ash and we are breathing it. Despite several complaints no action has been taken on the errant companies”, said Shri Laxmi Chauhan, an activist from Korba.

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