Battle over Essar-led project reflects new mining pains

By Reuters Mar 20 2014, 

With an axe on one shoulder and lugging a large log over the other, Bhajandhari Kushwaha emerges from the dense Mahan forest in central India with his dog by his side after a day of foraging and wood cutting.

 
For Kushwaha, the timber, leaves and seeds of this centuries-old forest not only sustain his family of five, they represent a vital part of his community’s cultural identity that has suddenly come under threat from two of India’s largest mining companies.

“This forest is our life. We get everything from it,” says the 45-year-old, vowing to fight plans by Mahan Coal Ltd (MCL) – jointly owned by London-listed Essar Energy Plc and the Aditya Birla-owned Hindalco Industries Ltd – to mine part of the 1,000-square-km (385-square-mile) woods for coal. “Whatever compensation the company is offering us, we do not want it. We will fight until we die, if that’s what it takes.”

It is a sentiment shared by many villagers in this dusty corner of Madhya Pradesh, a sign of growing popular resistance spurred by a new forest law that gives people a greater say over how natural resources are exploited.

What happens at Mahan could determine if anti-mining campaigns will increasingly seek a legal recourse under the new law, underscoring a new twist in the challenges facing India’s quest for energy security and its industrial future.

Hundreds of projects are stuck over similar local oppostion, where protests often turn violent, including more than two dozen multi-billion dollar proposals.

A THICKET OF APPROVALS

In January, London-listed Vedanta Resources Plc lost a seven-year battle to dig bauxite in Odisha after the Supreme Court ordered that local tribespeople should decide on the project. The villagers voted against it.

The government accepted the decision even though Vedanta, had already spent more than Rs 50,000 crore on an aluminium refinery, smelter and power plant in anticipation of access to local mines. The company has been forced to bring in bauxite from the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh.

In Mahan, MCL was granted environmental approval last month to extract around 100 million tonne of coal. Essar and Hindalco have already invested $3.2 billion building a power plant and a smelter that will run on locally mined coal.

But local resistance, led by environment group Greenpeace, could still derail the coal mine project, affecting the economic viability of the power plant and smelter.

The final forest clearance for MCL came from environment minister Veerappa Moily, who in less than three months in the job has approved more than 70 big-ticket projects worth over $40 billion, some of which were stalled by his predecessors over green concerns.

Moily, who is also the oil and gas minister, has been criticised by environmentalists who accuse him of acting in haste to mollify industrialists who complain that approval delays are strangling economic growth.

“PAINFUL PARADOX”

Greenpeace says MCL’s project will fell hundreds of thousands of trees and affect the livelihoods of 14,000 people who sell products such as mahua seeds and tendu leaves, used to make cheap alcohol and hand-rolled cigarettes respectively.

MCL says only about 4,500 people will be affected and they will be compensated for as long as they live for lost income.

“There are a lot of phantoms over social and environmental concerns that are being created about this project,” says MCL’s chief executive, Ramakant Tiwari. “I personally believe that sustainable development is possible.”

Only 1% of Mahan will be cleared and a massive reforestation programme will be undertaken to regenerate the woodland, he told Thomson Reuters Foundation at a site office.

But there are fears that the MCL project will open the doors to the mining of the entire Mahan forest, a concern raised by environment minister Moily’s predecessor when he put it on hold.

Besides MCL, seven other coal mines are proposed across Mahan, including one by Reliance Power . Jaypee group also has an operating coal mine in the area.

The mining sector has been at the centre of a multi-billion-dollar corruption scandal after the government’s opaque and discretionary mining rights allocation system was questioned by the country’s top auditor. The furore slowed decision making in the sector and put a brake on mining.

India is desperate for power and coal is expected to remain at the heart of its energy security for decades. Government-controlled Coal India Ltd has not been able to mine fast enough, forcing power producers to import costly coal from Indonesia, Australia and South Africa to bridge the shortfall.

Seventy million households – 35-40% of the country’s 1.2 billion people – have no access to electricity. In 2012, a blackout left over 600 million people in northern India without power for nearly two days, exposing Asia’s third-largest economy and an aspiring global power to international humiliation.

“It’s a painful paradox for me,” says Tiwari. “Nearly one-third of our domestic production is imported from outside, despite India having the fourth-largest coal reserves in the world.”

The project, he says, will not only bring in millions of dollars for the government, it will also bring skills, jobs and better infrastructure to a backward area.

“OUR FOREST, OUR RIGHT”

The tussle over Mahan has divided the local community.

In Amelia, the largest of the affected villages, some wealthier, higher-caste villagers want the coal mine and have already sold land to MCL to build its offices.

“I want the same life for my children as they have in the cities,” says Amelia’s village head, Santosh Singh, who sold off some of his land and got jobs for his family at MCL. “I have no interest in the forest. Those who want to fight the company can go and hang themselves from the branches of the trees in Mahan forest if they want.”

But Singh may be in a minority against Amelia’s poorer residents where mistrust of corporations runs deep, partly due to an unfulfilled earlier promise to provide jobs at Essar’s power plant.

Painted on the mud-and-brick walls of many homes, Hindi slogans read “Our forest, our right.”

Inhabitants say clearance was given to the project in violation of the Forest Rights Act, a 2008 law that gives affected communities a right over the forests.

A village vote in Amelia supporting the MCL mine was rigged with hundreds of forged signatures, they say. The company said it had no say in the vote, which was conducted by the village head in the presence of government representatives.

Still, the allegation has forced district authorities to launch an inquiry, which is due to completed at the end of March. The outcome could scupper the project.

“If the majority is not with the resolution then, at my level, I would report to the government that mining should not be done in this area because it is a legal right of the people,” said M Selvendran, the top government official in Singrauli district, which covers the Mahan forests.

Selvendran recommendations will go to Madhya Pradesh state’s mining department, which is responsible for granting leases to companies – the final clearance required for a mining project.

In a show of strength last month, hundreds of men, women and children from Amelia and surrounding villages gathered on the fringes of Mahan forest to demonstrate. Arranging themselves in lines, the crowd formed three words: “Essar quit Mahan”.

“We are poor people but we are not afraid to take on these big companies,” said villager Kripan Nath Yadav, comparing the battle against Essar and Hindalco to India’s fight for independence from British colonisers almost 70 years ago.

 

Units in MP,UP not conforming to waste disposal rules: NGT

PTI Mar 11, 2014, 02.08PM IST| The Economic Time

NEW DELHI: Coal mines and thermal plants in Singrauli and Sonebhadra districts of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are not conforming to waste disposal rules while disposing of hazardous waste, the National Green Tribunalhas been told by a panel set up by it.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar had set up the five-member panel to inspect industries in the two industrial districts and report their impact on environment on a plea by advocate Ashwani Dubey who opposed the mining and power projects there for allegedly causing pollution and serious ailments to residents.

The panel was directed by NGT to see if the industries, which include Essar, Hindalco and Reliance’ Sasan Ultra Mega Power project, are adhering to prescribed parameters of emissions and also assess their cumulative impact on the environment.

The panel, headed by a member secretary of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), visited the districts on February 9 and 10 and found that “procedure being followed by the industries regarding management ofhazardous waste do not conform to provisions of Hazardous Waste (management) Rules”.

The panel, in its report tabled before the tribunal, has also found lapses in the disposal as well as management of fly ash generated by the power plants in the area.

Dry abandoned ash ponds in the area were found to be left open without provision of proper vegetation cover, the panel has said, adding trucks with excess loads of coal and without proper cover, were found to be spilling coal and fly ash during transportation.

http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-03-11/news/48118373_1_disposal-rules-five-member-panel-hazardous-waste

 

 

 

Date: 19 February, 2014

To,

 Dr. A.B. Akolkar

Member Secretary

Central Pollution Control Board

New Delhi 

 

Subject: Submission to the Committee formed By National Green Tribunal on environmental degradation in Singrauli 

 

This submission is to the Committee formed by the National Green Tribunal in the original Application No.  276 of 2013(Ashwani Kumar Dubey Vs. Union of India)as per its order on 29th of  January 2014 to inspect the industrial region of Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh and Sonbhadra, Uttar Pradesh and to assess their impact on environment , ambient air quality and health of people in these areas.

 SrijanLokhitSamiti is a people’s movement, working on social and environmental issues in Singrauli area of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.  In the past three decades Singrauli has seen an influx of industrial projects which have resulted in multiple displacements of people, severe health issues and a highly toxic environment in the area. SrijanLokhitSamiti has been fighting for people’s rights, displacement, land rights, human rights and environmental issues since thirty years as in this growth the people of Singrauli have been pushed to the periphery.

 As a concerned group we want to bring to your notice the environmental degradation we have witnessed since the past 30 years in our region, which till now has been ignored by the concerned authorities. Singrauli has come to the verge of being an ecological disaster and has also been a subject matter of researches and studies since the early 90’s and has validated our concerns of environment time and again. Below is a compilation of these studies that clearly corroborate environmental degradation we have been fighting against and witnessing.

1. Central Pollution Control Board conducted its study ‘Comprehensive environmental assessment of industrial Clusters’ in 2009[1], based on which Environment Ministry decided to impose a moratorium on clearances for all projects in Singrauli coalfields, as environmental pollution in this area exceeded norms. Subsequently, the moratorium on environmental clearance in 43 critically polluted areas or industrial clusters including Singrauli was lifted after the State Pollution Control Board submitted a plan for mitigation of adverse effects of pollution. But, this did not change the situation on ground.

2. A recent study (October 2012) done by the Centre for Science and Environment’s Pollution Monitoring Laboratory[2]conducted an extensive analysis of water and soil samples from the region, as well as biological samples such as blood, nails and hair of local people. The aim was to find out precisely what industrial pollution was doing to the district’s environment, ecology and people. The results of the tests exposed a tale of terrible contamination and ill-health stalking the region.

 

High level of mercury and fluoride contamination was found in drinking water and soil. Rihand Reservoir water was found contaminated with mercury. Arsenic was also found in Renuka River. One of the findings of the study is that residents of this region exhibited adverse health conditions and could be suffering from the effects of mercury poisoning, other than normal diseases. The report further states that, the likely cause of mercury pollution in the area is burning of huge amount of coal for power generation.

 

The report also goes to make recommendation that monitoring of methyl mercury in fish should be done regularly and advisory on eating fish must be issued by the government. This clearly shows that impact on aquatic life.

3.  A study on “Effect of Coal Based Industries on Surface Water Quality of Singrauli Industrial Area of M.P. (India)” published in IOSR Journal of Applied Chemistry, July 2012[3] established the impact of waste water discharge has been determined by analyzing the water sample with the help of the standard parameter. The result clearly indicates that the surface and ground water of the said area is being polluted substantially.

The report establishes that,

“Due to rapid industrialization and modernization the coal based industries are increasing at an alarming rate. The Coal based industries, such as by product coke- plants, coal washeries and thermal power plants release their liquid effluents, which are needed urgent attention for the treatment before they are discharged into fresh water streams.

The impact of Fluoride pollution is severe in the belt of Bargawan, Waidhan and Deosar are of Singrauli district. Incidence of white spots, skin infections and lumps of dead skin has been reported among the population of study area. A high percentage of gastro-intestinal parasitic infection was also found in the faecal sample of cattle in the village affected by effluents from coal based industries and coal mining.”

4.  Study done in 2012 “Contamination of Drinking Water Due to Coal-Based Thermal Power Plants in India”[4]assessed the impact of an Anpara and Renusgar coal-based thermal power plants(both plants located in Singrauli region) on drinking water sources. In this work, the concentration of trace metals such as Pb, Cd, Ni, and As in groundwater samples obtained from hand pumps located near these power plants were measured. The concentration levels of all the studied heavy metals in groundwater were found to be higher than the maximum acceptable limits of World Health Organization for drinking water.

5. In an article published in Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology in  October 2011,“Bioaccumulation of Metals in the Edible Catfish Heteropneustesfossilis (Bloch) Exposed to Coal Mine Effluent Generated at Northern Coalfield Limited, Singrauli, India[5]”; it is noted that:

“Metal accumulation in various tissues of Heteropneustes fossilis exposed to the effluent generated from an open cast coal mine was investigated. The contents of Fe, Mn, Cu, Zn, Ni, Pb, Cd and Cr in the effluent were above the permissible limits as suggested by the different pollution control agencies.Out of the eight metals investigated, accumulation (mg kg−1 dry weight of tissue) of Fe was maximum in every tissues followed by liver (265.88 ± 49.89) > kidney (153.0 ± 65.85) > gills (50.66 ± 23.923) > brain (49.303 ± 5.11) > air breathing organs (27.98 ± 10.93) > skin (19.56 ± 2.53) > muscles (8.74 ± 0.83). Accumulation of Fe, Cd, Pb and Cr in most of the tissues of exposed fish were above the permissible limits indicating their potential hazardous impact on fish as well as on fish consumers. Even in the tissues of untreated fish the concentrations of Fe (12.26–428.47), Cd (0.2–1.22), Pb (0.02–9.42) and Cr (1.14–11.05) were above the permissible limits.

 

 

The study establishes contamination in aquatic life and water sources in the region which had previously been established in a research conducted in 1995(mentioned below in point 8).

6. A study[6] for the assessment and management of the air quality was carried out around Jayant open cast coal mining situated at Jayant in Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh, India from January 2007 to December 2008 published in Indian Journal of scientific Research in 2010  establishes:

 “Air quality date at Jayant coal mining indicated that the concentration of SO , NO , TSP and dust fall rate and air borne trace metals were highest concentration of pollutant. 

 In Jayant coal mines suspended area the concentration of SO and NO were below the NAAQS and CPCB India at all the monitoring station but TSP and settled dust concentration were well above the limit.  Zinc and Maganese were present in highest qualities in both TSP and settled dust. In settled dust Zn showed maximum concentration followed by Mn, Pb, Cd, Ni and minimum in Cr however in TSP, Zn in followed by MnPb Cr Ni and minims Cd.”

 7. A study done on ‘Assessment of contamination of soil due to heavy metals around coal fired thermal power plants at Singrauli region of India’[7]  in 2010 establishes contamination of soil around four large coal-based Thermal Power Plants. The concentration of Cadmium, Lead, Arsenic and Nickel was estimated in all four directions from Thermal Power Plants.

The soil in the study area was found to be contaminated to varying degrees from coal combustion byproducts. The soil drawn from various selected sites in each direction was largely contaminated by metals, predominantly higher within 2–4 km distance from Thermal Power Plant. Within 2–4 km, the mean maximum concentration of Cadmium, Lead, Arsenic and Nickel was 0.69, 13.69, 17.76, and 3.51 mg/kg, respectively. It was also observed that concentration was maximum in the prevalent wind direction. The concentration of Cadmium, Lead, Arsenic and Nickel was highest 0.69, 13.23, 17.29 and 3.56 mg/kg, respectively in west direction where wind was prevalent.

8.In   an assessment of environment-mediated production functions of reservoirs done in 1995 and published as a technical paper by FAO[8], it had been noted that,

“Rihand is a large man-made lake of 46 000 ha, into which converge cooling waters from four super thermal power plants under the public sector viz., Singrauli (2 000 MW), Vindhyachal (2 260 MW), Anpara (3 130 MW) and Rihand (3 000 MW), besides the private sectors Renusagar thermal power plant with a capacity of 210 MW. All these power generating plants are located within a small area of 30 km2. Adverse effects of heated discharge on resident aquatic organisms were reported. Mortality of fish and decrease of aquatic life within 50 km of the discharge point, owing to high temperature (46 to 52°C) of the effluent was recorded.”

It further says,

“Deposition of fly ash has been reported up to 500 m downstream of the outfall point. Cooling waters of Renusagar power plant discharged into Rihand reservoir are acidic and high in chlorides. Although an increase in water temperature is known to cause deoxygenation, a rise within reasonable limit enhances photosynthetic activities resulting in supersaturation of water with oxygen. All the power plants around Rihand Reservoir are located near the intermediate and lotic sectors, where the fishes are known to congregate. The most deleterious among the impacts of thermal pollution is the blanketing effect on the reservoir bed. Thick mat of fly ash deposit at the bottom bed over the years may seal the nutrients away from the water phase and thereby affect productivity.”

9. In a study done in 1991, “Environmental degradation of the Obra-Renukoot-Singrauli Area, India, and its impact on natural and derived ecosystems”[9],it was noted that,

Quarrying for limestone, the establishment of a cement factory, thermal power stations and the construction of the G.B. Pant Sagar reservoir have resulted in a rapid buildup of human population, the displacement of the original population, deforestation and conversion of natural forest ecosystems into savanna and marginal croplands. The converted ecosystems are under immense biotic stresses such as lopping, grazing, etc.The rainfall is meagre and erratic, the soils are highly weathered and impoverished, consequently the natural forests, as well as the derived ecosystems, are fragile. Signs of desertification are widespread. A rapid depletion in the wildlife has occurred.

The establishment of thermal power stations and chemical and cement factories has also resulted in large scale gaseous air pollution, particularly of SO2 and HF, pollution due to particulate matter through fly ash and cement dust, and that due to liquid effluents. Surface coal mining has caused extensive damage to the natural ecosystems with growing dumps of overburden. The latter needs to be stabilized.”

These studies over a period of time,just go to establish that no serious attention was paid to these scientific studies which clearly established the degrading condition of the environment in Singrauli since past two decades.With this submission, we demand that these studies should be referred to and attention should be paid to the critical pollution levels in Singrauliwhich has been established by these scientific studies including the one commissioned by the Central Pollution Control Board; before the Committee submits its report to the National Green Tribunal.

In view of the above, it is pertinent that critical and comprehensive steps are taken to assess the damage on ecology, environment and people of Singrauli. We also strongly demand that the committee should recommend following to the Hon’bleNational Green Tribunal:

  • To conduct a study on a thorough and comprehensive review of air, soil and water contamination in Singrauli by competent institutions.All projects under consideration / construction must be stayed until this report comes out.
  • To announce a moratorium on all new projects in the area till the report comes out.
  • To conduct a comprehensive study on the health of the people in Singrauli and the damage caused by the decades of industrial influx and pollution.
  • To find errant industries flouting rules and laws in the region and take exemplary punitive actions.
  • To seek a review from the Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Boards of the Action Plan for mitigation of Pollution that was submitted by them based on which the moratorium on all projects in Singrauli was lifted in 2010.

We will be happy to provide more information if required.

 

Looking forward to hearing from you.

 

Sincerely,

Awadhesh Kumar

President

SrijanLokhitSamiti

Dhuti, Navjivanvihar

Vindhya Nagar, District Singrauli

Pincode- 688585

Singrauli pollution a matter of serious concern, admits high power government panel

Date:Mar 6, 2014

Report submitted to National Green Tribunal finds serious lapses in disposal of fly ash, but skims over health and environmental impacts of pollution in India’s power generation hub

 

The committee headed by CPCB member secretary A B Akolkar found that major power plants are dispose of fly ash slurry into the Rihand reservoir. The reservoir was found to be further contaminated by effluent discharges from coal mining projects in the areaThe committee headed by CPCB member secretary A B Akolkar found that major power plants are disposing of fly ash slurry into the Rihand reservoir. The reservoir was found to be further contaminated by effluent discharges from coal mining projects in the area

A report submitted to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has confirmed the ever-increasing burden of pollution in Singrauli industrial belt, spread across Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The report by a high power committee, chaired by A B Akolkar, member secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), has identified several air and water pollution concerns that continue to add to the pollution burden of the region.

“Pollution problems in the Singrauli- Sonbhadra area from industrial activities is a serious concern,” says Akolkar. The region has already been identified as a critically polluted area (CPA) by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).

The report was filed earlier this week in response to a case currently being heard at the tribunal on pollution in Singrauli. The area consists of north east area of Madhya Pradesh and southern part of Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh. According to the petitioner, Ashwani Dubey, a resident of Singrauli who is a lawyer, “heavy industrial activities are a major source of pollution in the area and causing immense health impacts.” “Incremental coal mining activities in the region and the rapid development of coal-based thermal power plants has resulted in acute air and water pollution, leading to serious health problems among the residents of the locality ,which remain unaddressed,” says Dubey  (see ‘India’s Minamata‘ and ‘Mercury in air, water‘).

Following the submissions of the petitioner, the NGT bench chaired by Justice Swatanter Kumar had passed directions on January 29 for setting up a committee to inspect the entire area. The committee was to investigate and report on whether major industries in the area were adhering to prescribed standard of emissions, check their individual emissions at the stack level, disposal of fly ash and assess their cumulative impact on the environment. The committee was also asked to check ambient air quality and ascertain whether transportation of coal and other goods to the industries in the area is causing health hazards on the road/ streets of the two districts.

Singrauli’s curse

Singrauli region, a major power hub of the country, is dotted with coal mines and coal-fired thermal power plants, which together have an installed capacity of about 12,700 MW. The mines produce nearly 83 million tonnes of coal per annum (MTPA). Most of the coal mines are located on the border of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The area also has aluminium smelting plants, chemical industry, cement industry, stone crushers and other industries.

In January 2010, MoEF had declared Singrauli as a critically polluted area on the basis of the comprehensive environmental pollution index (CEPI) of CPCB.  The CEPI is a measure of the severity of air, water and land pollution in industrial clusters and cities. Areas having aggregate CEPI scores of 70 are considered to be critically polluted, requiring detailed investigations in terms of the extent of damage and formulation of appropriate remedial action plan for managing pollution. Singrauli, with a CEPI score of 81.73, was rated the ninth most critically polluted area of India. As a result, in January 2010 a moratorium on new projects, including expansion projects, was imposed on the area. The states were to submit an action plan to address the environmental concerns in the region. Based on the action plans submitted by the Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Boards and CPCB’s recommendations MoEF lifted the moratorium in July, 2011.

Observations of Akolkar Committee

The Akolkar committee visited Singrauli industrial area on February 9 and 10. Other committee members included K K Garg, director with MoEF (Lucknow), Sushil Lakra, industrial advisor with Union Ministry of Heavy Industries, J S Yadav, member secretary of Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) and R K Jain, member secretary of Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB).

The report based on the site inspection and inputs from state officials, some major industrial stakeholders in the area, such as NTPC, Northern Coalfields Limited (NCL), and civil society groups, was submitted to the tribunal on March 3. The committee found serious lapses in disposal and management of fly ash in the area. Dry abandoned ash ponds in the area were found to be left open without provision of proper vegetation cover.  Trucks, often burdened with excess loads of coal and without proper cover, were found to be spilling coal and fly ask during transportation. Disposal of fly ash slurry in the Rihand reservoir was also a serious concern. Major players like NTPC were found to dispose of fly ash slurry generated from their super thermal power plant into the Rihand reservoir. The reservoir was found to be further contaminated by effluent discharges from coal mining projects in the area. It was noted that effluent from the NCL coal mining projects in Dudhichua was being discharged in the reservoir through Balia Nala. The committee also pointed out problems with management of mine overburden by coal mining projects and management of hazardous wastes by industries.

Based on the observations, the committee recommended that the action plans formulated by the pollution control boards of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh for various categories of industries in the area should be duly followed by industries in a time-bound manner and that a quarterly progress reports must be provided to the respective state pollution control boards. The process also needs to be monitored closely, the committee said.

Specific recommendations have also been given for fly ash management through 100 per cent fly ash utilisation, transportation of coal through closed conveyor belts, preventing discharge of fly ash slurry in Rihand reservoir or any other water courses, installation of effluent and emission monitoring by all industries that have been identified to cause pollution by July this year, installation of continuous air quality monitoring stations by operating industries at their own cost by September.

What the committee ignored

Given the severity of the pollution in the area, the committee report appears to go soft on industries. Though the report highlighted some of the pollution concerns, several important matters barely find mention. The committee says that because of time limitation the members could not examine ground water pollution, impact of pollution on public health and crops, toxic impact on the environment, particularly with reference to mercury pollution. They suggested that a systemic and holistic study needs to be undertaken in this regard. The committee specifically mentions the need of study on human health impacts caused by groundwater contamination, air pollution and mercury pollution.

Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of Delhi-based non-profit, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), says considerable studies have been done which indicate acute pollution problems and associated health impacts  in the region, including mercury poisoning. The need of the hour is action, he adds. Responding to community concerns about public health impacts of industrial pollution, CSE had carried out a study on pollution in Sonbhadra district between May to August 2012. The study found various levels of heavy metal pollution in the area, including fluoride, mercury and lead, which were found to be higher than the permissible limits. Of particular concern was mercury pollution in the area—average concentrations of mercury in human blood was noted to be 34.30 parts per billion (ppb), far exceeding the 5.8 ppb safe standard set by the United States Environment Protection Agency.  More than 84 per cent of the blood samples were found to contain mercury above the safe level. CSE recommended the setting of mercury standards for coal-based thermal plants, coal washeries and mining in the country. According to Bhushan, the states need to redevelop their action plans, taking into account mercury pollution and its impacts.

Comprehensive action plan needed

The report of the committee notes that the action plan in place for the area is being implemented by both state pollution control boards. However, officials of MPPCB consider that industrial activities and associated pollution problems of the area are more on the Uttar Pradesh side than in Madhya Pradesh, and therefore, action on part of the UPPCB is of greater import.

Akolkar, though, emphasises more on the regional nature of the problem. “The pollution problem in the area should be assessed on a regional basis to take effective measures,” says Akolkar.  He says that a comprehensive action plan needs to be developed for the area, taking both Singrauli and Sonbhadra into consideration. The dispersal of pollutants needs to be monitored and modelled appropriately for developing such approach. The committee has also recommended an assessment of the environmental carrying capacity of the region to consider future development projects.

The case is to be next heard at NGT on March 31.

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