In coal town Dipka, mining pollution takes a heavy toll on nature as well as public health
Coal dust is everywhere in Dipka – it turns the air hazy, the river water black and settles in a film on an any surface left exposed for a couple of hours. “You can see the water in the river. Sometimes it turns black. Even cattle avoid entering in Lilagar,” says 21-year-old Rohit Kashyap, who lives in one of four resettlement colonies that were made to accommodate those displaced by the coal mine.
People living around the Dipka mine – the site is in the spotlight since it was flooded on September 29 after the Lilagar river flowing nearby changed its course – are exposed to critical levels of air and water pollution, according to residents and experts.
“Even in the day, you can hardly see beyond 20 meters because of coal dust. People here are living in extremely unhealthy conditions. Sometimes, it is difficult to breathe,” said Surendra Rathore, president of Urjadhani Bhusthapit Samiti (UBS), a collective representing people who were displaced due to the mining projects.
Experts agreed on the risks to public health.
“Any river flowing through or near a mining waste dump is likely to carry a lot of pollution. Indian coal is high in sulphur. Fly ash contains a number of heavy metals. Animals or humans who are using the river water for drinking or bathing will have health impacts,” said Shashank Shekhar, assistant professor, department of geology, Delhi University.
5,000 TRUCKS A DAY
According to surveys by UBS, approximately 5,000 trucks ferry out coal from the Dipka mine – adding toxic fumes and kicking up more dust from the broken roads.
Korba, the main town in the region, was identified in a Greenpeace report published in August as among the biggest hot spots for sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions in the world. The report was based on analysis of data from satellites deployed by United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa).
Coal dust and SO2 particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and lead to conditions such as asthma.
“We know that here is pollution high and we are deeply concerned about it. We regularly issue directions to authorities to improve air and water quality,” said Dipka block medical officer Radrapal Kanwar.
Residents say they have raised concerns with higher authorities. “Some people protested and have also lodged complaints with Chhattisgarh pollution control board but nothing has changed here,” said Prakash Koram, who submitted two complaints to the pollution board -- the latest on March 29.
Activists say the water pollution is now leading to significant changes in the land.
Encroachment of the river basin, sludge dumping and waste discharge from nearby industries have virtually changed the topography, according to Dr Sirish Singh, senior environment scientist working with the Chhattisgarh government.
The statement backs claims made by environmental activists. “There are two coal washeries and a power plant that discharge waste into the river. There is hardly any river bed. It’s covered in coal. Such heavy pollution from mines in rivers is common here,” said Bipasha Paul of Raipur-based Jan Abhivyakti, which monitors pollution levels in Lilagar river.
Paul said the environment impact assessment (EIA) of the Dipka coal project – which is run by Coal India subsidiary South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL) – note that Lilagar flows at the south western boundary of the block and is hardly a kilometre away. “Pollution has caused excessive siltation due to leaching and discharge from coal washeries (based nearby) as well as continued expansion of mine boundaries near the river,” she said.
Around 80 villages around Dipka are affected because of problems stemming from pollution. “I would leave I can find a job elsewhere,” said Rakesh Jagat, another resident of Sirki village. Jagat said.
Manjit Yadav, vice-president of Urjadhani Bhusthapit Samiti, said the SECL has not provided medical facility or education. “Our kids cannot study in the schools developed by the company and we cannot go to their health centres,” said Yadav.
Representatives of SECL denied any violation of legal obligations. “SECL projects in Korba is running with valid environment clearances and consent from the state pollution control board,” said chief manager (public relations), P Narendra Kumar.