School children in Odisha’s Sundargarh district protest pollution by coal trucks

The children say pollution caused by coal dust from trucks carrying the mineral has become unbearable.
School children in Ratnapur village of Odisha’s Sundargarh district at a protest site demanding the stoppage of coal trucks driving through their village.(HT PHOTO)
School children in Ratnapur village of Odisha’s Sundargarh district at a protest site demanding the stoppage of coal trucks driving through their village.(HT PHOTO)
Updated on Mar 23, 2021 10:59 AM IST
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By Debabrata Mohanty, Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar

Scores of school students, most of them tribals, have joined their parents to protest against the transportation of coal by state-owned Mahanadi Coalfields Limited in Odisha’s Sundargarh district claiming that the pollution due to coal dust is severely affecting their lives.

The school children protesting under the banner of Janashakti Bikash Parishad have been sitting on dharna on the street of Ratanpur village in Hemgir block of Sundargarh district for about a week to lodge their protest over the pollution from the trucks carrying coal from Mahanadi Coalfields Limited’s Kulda Open Cast Mine to Chhattisgarh.

The Union forest and environment ministry allowed MCL to expand the capacity of the mines from 14 million tonnes per annum to 16.8 million tonnes per annum on the condition that the company plants 100,000 trees with broad leaves along the villages and 50,000 trees along the transportation route in 2 years to prevent air pollution.

But the children who joined their parents in the agitation against the pollution, said they can no longer wait for MCL to fulfill its promise. “We can no longer take the coal dust pollution. Everyday hundreds of trucks leave a huge trail of dust while passing by our homes. How long should we face the pollution by trucks carrying coal,” asked Anjana Pradhan, one of the children sitting on dharna.

The school children, most of them Hill khadia, Bhuyan and Gond tribals, are the latest to join the protest against coal transportation that started in Hemgir block on January 19 this year. Over 5,000 tribals of Sundargarh started a road blockade at Taparia area to stop the trucks carrying coal from Sundargarh to Chhattisgarh. The villagers had a temporary relief when the Odisha Human Rights Commission on February 10 ordered a ban on movement of trucks on the village roads for up to six weeks. But the relief was short-lived after Orissa High Court on March 9 stayed the recommendations of OHRC when the state government petitioned through Mahanadi Coalfields Limited.

Prominent activist Prafulla Samantra who visited the area said the situation is becoming volatile. “The people have a constitutional right to protest peacefully the state fails to protect their right to clean air and clean water. But people who are protesting the coal dust pollution are being arrested arbitrarily without any reason. A few days ago women along with children of anganwadi Centre of Kandadhuda, Ratanpur and Beleimunda villages were forcefully taken to police station and kept there for 30 hours without food. Around two dozen villagers including 12 women were sent to jail on false charges of attempt to murder and dacoity. Social activist Sura Mishra has been slapped with a dacoity case as he supported the villagers’ protest,” said Samantra.

Sundargarh sub-collector Abhimanyu Behera said a new corridor for the trucks has been planned to be built at a cost of 146 crore.

“The construction of the corridor would soon start. But till the new road is made the villagers should not try to block the trucks. We have ordered MCL to transport the coal by covering with tarpaulins,” he said.

Meanwhile, coal transportation on Bankibahal-Taparia road, which resumed on March 11, had stopped from March 15 following the protest at Ratanpur village.

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