Fly ash from power stations in Bihar wreaks havoc on human health, crops: Study
PATNA: Villagers and farmers residing around Kahalgaon super power thermal station are reeling under the constant fear of damage to their health and standing crops owing to improper management of fly ash generated in the course of production of electricity, according to a joint study by two non-profit organisations.
Research organisations Asar Social Impact Advisors, Research on Energy and Clean Air and Manthan Adhyay Kendra recently released a study, titled “Lest We Forget - A status report of neglect of coal ash accidents in India (May 2019-May 2021)”. Fly ash is also known as coal ash.
The report stated that residents living around power plants such as Kahalgaon and Bokaro power stations were at the receiving end of the casual approach in handling fly ash, despite penalties and fines being levied on coal-based power plant operators. “Despite clear-cut rules for fly ash management, villagers and farmers are exposed to suffer,” the report said.
While people face health issues due to heavy concentration of small particles in the air, crops on around 80 hectares of land were damaged late last year and early this year, as the station’s ash dyke breached its embankment and a pipe of ash slurry burst near Chaitola and Masdaha.
Scores of houses had also been flooded with ash slurry in Bokaro after a pond built to store the fly ash near the Bokaro thermal power station overflowed in September 2019. Power station authorities attributed the accident to excessive rain.
The study maintained that fly ash still remained in fields and a few wells in the villages rendering them unfit for use even several months after the incidents occurred. Power plants have failed at not only removal of ash, remediation of sites, addressing health impacts but also in paying full compensation to affected villages. “About 200 acres of farmland was left covered in ash slurry, destroying standing rabi crops,” the report said.
According to locals, airborne ash has been leading to tuberculosis cases and breathing issues especially across central India. Impacts also included severe pollution in natural water bodies as ash was dumped directly in rivers, the study recorded.
Balkrishna Kumar of Masdaha village said that it takes four-five seasons to grow crops on any farmland once they are covered with fly ash. “Hundreds of people in villages like Ekchari, Bholsar, Chaitola and Masdaha suffer from respiratory diseases and tuberculosis. But, neither the NTPC nor the state government took any initiative to identify the ailing people and provide them with adequate treatment,” said Kumar.
District agriculture officer, Bhagalpur, Sanjay Kumar said that the district administration assessed the damage to Rabi crops due to fly ash flooding and submitted the report to the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) for payment of compensation. The NTPC management has also been asked to dispose of the fly ash as per the rules.
Chairman of Bihar State Pollution Control Board Ashok Ghosh said he was unaware of recurring fly ash accidents in the Kahalgaon area. He, however, said that he would seek a detailed report from the NTPC regarding management of fly ash and adherence to the stipulated norms.
Saurav Kumar, public relations officer at NTPC’s Kahalgaon plant, said the power station complies with all guidelines of central and state pollution control boards, and 100% fly ash produced is sent to cement factories for use in production of cement as part of its commitment toward the environment.
“There was a minor incident in which water overflowed from one of the ash dykes at Kahalgaon, resulting in temporary flooding of water in some agricultural lands in the vicinity. However, NTPC Kahalgaon is committed to compensate the villagers for the same as per the direction and finalisation of compensation by the district administration,” Kumar said in a statement.
On the villagers’ claim that it takes four-five seasons to grow crops on any farmland once the land is covered with fly ash, Kumar clarified that the land in the vicinity of the ash dyke area was presently covered with standing crops and there was no impact of flyash on grain productivity.
“NTPC organizes medical camps in various villages to provide free treatment and medicines. There was no conclusive finding that people were getting sick due to flyash-led pollution,” said the PRO.