Third ash-pond disaster in Singrauli in one year
The ash dyke breach on Friday at Sasan Ultra Mega Power Plant in Madhya Pradesh’s (MP) Singrauli is the third ash pond disaster in a year in the district, which is a “severely polluted” area as per the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) assessment.
The CPCB has asked Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB) to investigate the incident that allegedly damaged large tracts of agricultural land and killed two villagers. Four other villagers are still missing.
The CPCB is yet to release its 2018 assessment of critically polluted industrial clusters and act on them.
“We’ve asked the MPPCB authorities to investigate the case. There was an ash dyke leakage and low-lying areas were flooded with slurry. The investigation can conclusively prove whether was any negligence that caused the incident,” said Prashant Gargava, member secretary, CPCB.
Reliance Power, which runs the plant, said in a statement on Friday evening: “We are deeply anguished by the incident involving the break in the ash dump yard wall at our Sasan power plant. The break-in ash dump yard wall pushed the water leading to break … we are closely working with locals and district administration in relief and restoration work.”
Last August there was a fly ash pond breach at Essar’s Mahan Power Plant in Singrauli district, leading to damage of crops of about 500 farmers in three villages.
On August 8, 2019, Essar had said that the ash dyke was breached by an act of sabotage and the land that was damaged was non-agricultural.
Last October, a fly ash pond of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) had breached, damaging 30 acres of land and several cattle were also found missing. “Assessments were made of earlier incidents as well. We’re checking if compensation was paid for the losses incurred by the villagers,” Gargava said.
“This time the extent of the damage is massive. The ash pond broke around 5:30 pm on Friday and the slurry entered around 40 houses. Those (four) missing may have died. The mud wall around the pond was weak and gave way. Prime facie it appears that negligence caused the incident. People are already suffering because of loss of livelihoods amid the ongoing 21-day nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak. Who will compensate for the huge loss of farmland?” asked Jagat Narayan Vishwakarma, an environmental activist from Vanavasi Seva Ashram in Singrauli.
These successive incidents ring a warning bell for Singrauli, said experts. “Singrauli as a region has nearly 23 GW (gigawatts) installed coal-based capacity, which is more than 11% of the total installed capacity in the country. This dirty energy source has become a curse for the people living in the region. The air they breathe is polluted, the water they drink is contaminated and their traditional livelihood, which was heavily depended on forests, has been destroyed by rampant coal mining,” said Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).
“The ash dyke breach should not be considered as a one-off accident or a minor incident of non-compliance. Singrauli, like many other areas in the country, is a critically polluted area, with acute land, air and water contamination. Several regulatory agencies and court-based monitoring mechanism are in place to ensure exiting illegalities are acted upon and impacts redressed. This breach has taken place, despite the mechanisms,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research.
Earlier, the CPCB had submitted a list of 100 critically and severely polluted industrial clusters, which were monitored in 2018, in Singrauli, which straddles both MP and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, to the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
Later, the tribunal referred to the list on July 10, 2019. The NGT in its order had directed that “the CPCB in coordination with state pollution control boards to take steps in the exercise of its statutory powers under air Act, water Act and environment protection Act or any other law to prohibit the operation of polluting activities in critically and severely polluted clusters within three months.”
But neither the CBCB nor the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) made the list public.
The findings of the assessment are being considered by the ministry and are likely to be released soon, said Gargava.
The assessment of industrial clusters is based on the CPCB’s comprehensive environmental pollution index (CEPI), a framework for identifying critically and severely polluted industrial clusters in the country.
The score is calculated based on the scale of industrial activity and scale of compliance of environmental standards such as air, water and soil pollution.
Singrauli has a score of 62.59 as per the latest assessment. Tarapur in Maharashtra, Najafgarh drain, Anand Parbat and Okhla in Delhi and Mathura in Uttar Pradesh are the three most critically polluted clusters in the country.