Amidst big talk of nature conservation, Ennore oil spill suggests little is being done on the ground

oil-spillBy Sadhan Mukherjee*

The oil spill near Ennore port on 30 January following collision between two ships has spelt disaster not only for marine life but also for local fishermen who survive on sea fishing. The port, about 24 km north of Chennai, is the 12th major port in India. The shipping company whose ship spilled the oil claimed that only about a ton of oil had leaked. But the people dealing with the cleaning operation have already collected over 60 tons of oil though manual means.

The cleaning operation again shows how multiplicity of authorities and lack of proper arrangement to deal with such catastrophe make people suffer. The accident took place on 30 January but till 2 February the ships were not impounded as the responsibility to do so was unclear. Moreover, it seems that the cleaning operation is also being done haphazardly using manual means like gloves and buckets.

The 12th biggest port or the state as well as the central government are not equipped with modern means of cleaning. Use of special vehicles, chemicals and so on is simply unavailable. It is not treated as a national calamity. This is an utter callousness that indicates total unconcern about the poor people’s means of livelihood and marine life. The famous Marina beech of Chennai faces danger.

While there are big talks of conservation of nature and environment, not much is done on the ground. Governments talk about development, as if development only relates to creating more industries.

This writer used to frequently travel in the late forties between Howrah and Tatanagar stations by train passing through hills, valleys and forests. Clean and refreshing air used to blow through open windows. But rapid industrialisation has denuded much of the forest and is polluting its areas belching out smoke and dust.

What is worse and is not widely known is the fact that the once healthy tribals living in the lap of nature have now not only lost their lands but have fallen victims to radiation. The Jadugoda uranium mines began operation in these hilly areas in 1967 near Jamshedpur. A yellow peril has attacked the local people in the form of uranium waste and radioactive water discharge from the tailings pond where the mined ore from the mines is washed. The mines are run by central government’s Uranium Corporation of India.

The Indian Doctors for Peace and Development in a detailed survey in 2007 noted horrible situation. According to the survey, more children – about 9.5 per cent of the newborns – are dying each year due to extreme physical deformity; primary sterility is becoming common with 9.6 per cent of women not being able to conceive even three years after marriage. Cancer deaths in nearby villages are about 2.87 per cent and 68.33 per cent people are dying before the age of 62 (The Telegraph March 2, 2008).

The situation became so bad that mining and tailing of uranium ore had to be suspended in 2014. Now there is a plan to revive the operation and expand the mining as well as the tailings pond area. New mining areas are being explored and worked on for more and more uranium required by India’s power industry. The resumption of operation at Jadugoda is slated for this year.

In a great city of modernisation and latest technology, Bengaluru’s Musi river is choked. Foaming and frothing all over with garbage and all sorts of effluent killing the river. Apart from air pollution, the natural water of Bengaluru and its neighbouring areas. The government has not taken any meaningful step to get the city and the river cleaned up.

There is the pathetic story of Mumbai’s Mithi river. The river has become a dual danger to the people. In rainy season, it floods Mumbai and in dry season it turns out to be a polluted and poisonous nullah. The same is the story of Hyderabad’s Musi river which is now a sewage-dumped water body.

Orissa’s Barbil mining area is unbreathable with dust and mining residue and the nearby river Karo has lost its natural colour with iron ore dust. The same is the plight of the mining areas in the Baitarini river zone. This river is one of the six major rivers of Orissa. With its 65 tributaries it covers a huge catchment area. There are about 55 mines around Baitarini and its tributaries.

Justice M B Shah commission in his report to the union government in 2014 said: “River water is also polluted and it gets colour of the minerals due to discharge of effluents. It is apparent that environmental laws are not implemented effectively and polluting mining companies are not punished at all.”

According to the commission, during the rainy season, the river gets “highly polluted, muddy and turbid with unchecked flow of salt generated from waste dump” out of 176 leases located in the two districts.

The high content of iron, manganese and other heavy metal generated from dumps of mines flowing through rivers are highly detrimental to aquatic fauna in the estuaries and the Bay of Bengal, the commission said.

Go anywhere in the country, the same scene will hit you between the eyes. Even the pristine river systems and the natural flora and fauna of the remote mountain areas of Uttarakhand and Himachal are not excluded.

But nothing tangible has happened. Those who talk big about India’s rapid progress and industrial growth should look into the pathetic state in which ordinary people live and work, and how their life itself is affected by these developments. The urban areas may try to largely hide the visible signs of this impending disaster but the industrial areas are crass examples of neglect and apathy. Between belching smoke and serene green with discoloured rivers could India really progress?

*Veteran journalist






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