Closing the enforcement gap: Groundtruthing environmental violations in Sundargarh, Odisha

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Executive summary of the report, “Closing the enforcement gap: Community-Led Groundtruthing Study of Environmental Violations in Sundargarh, Odisha”, prepared by Centre for Integrated Rural and Tribal Development (CIRTD), Rangadhipa, Sundargarh, and Centre for Policy Research (CPR)- Namati Environmental Justice Program, New Delhi:

Amidst local people’s struggle against the issues of displacement and alienation from their agricultural land, community forests and other common property resources, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), New Delhi granted clearance to the Kulda Open Cast Project (OCP) on December 24, 2002.

Owned by Mahanadi Coalfields Limited (MCL), it is located in Hemgir block, Sundargarh district, Odisha. This Environmental Clearance (EC) was subject to compliance with certain conditions given in the EC letter. Other conditions to be complied with were given by the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) in the Consent to Establish (CTE) issued on November 28, 2001 and the most recent Consent to Operate (CTO) dated March 27, 2017.

Soon after the mining operations started in 2002, the same local people faced problems related to contamination of air, water and soil that was directly impacting their livelihoods and daily activities. In addition, access through and around the mining area impacted and risks associated with the same came about as well.

A community-led “groundtruthing” process was initiated by the Centre for Integrated Rural and Tribal Development (CIRTD), Hemgir Adivasi Ekta Manch (HAEM) and the Centre for Policy Research (CPR)-Namati Environmental Justice Program. Through discussions, it was revealed that multiple problems and cross cutting issues had emerged due to the Kulda OCP’s mining operations.

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The major ones that were prioritised were the following:

  1. Excessive dust: This was mainly due to transportation of coal by uncovered vehicles. Further, all roads in the mining area had not been blacktopped or concretised. Sprinkling of water on these roads was not done regularly. Consequently, fugitive coal particles and dust covered not only the roads, but also agricultural land, water bodies and forests located alongside.
  2. Spontaneous and continuous fire in coal mixed overburden (OB) dumps: This generated excessive heat and smoke in the area. At times, fire from the OB dumps spread towards villages and cropland. No guard wall or retaining wall had been constructed along the OB dumps to check the entrance of stray animals.
  3. Water pollution of Basundhara Nallah: This was due to the discharge of contaminated or polluted water from mine sumps and lack of proper channelisation or maintenance of garland drains and sedimentation ponds. Rainwater that flowed over OB dumps was also polluting water bodies, agricultural land and forest land.

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Conditions were identified in the CTE, EC and CTO issued under different laws that were directly linked with the impacts mentioned above. This was done with the purpose of understanding whether the impacts being faced by the communities were legally permissible or due to non-compliance with the law. Through the groundtruthing process, evidence was collected in instances where illegalities were found.

Complaint letters with evidence in connection to problems and specifying the non-compliance with certain conditions were filed by the concerned community volunteers with the Regional Office, SPCB, Jharsuguda and the Regional Office of the MoEFCC in Bhubaneswar. Follow up complaint letters were later filed the Regional Offices of the SPCB and MoEFCC.

On October 25, 2017 the Regional Officer, SPCB, Jharsuguda, after a field visit, responded positively to the complaints in connection with dust pollution due to transportation of coal by uncovered vehicles. Directions were given to MCL’s General Manager, Bansundhara Garjanbahal area, to take necessary steps for the transportation of coal with tarpaulin covers. An order for sprinkling water more frequently on mine haulage roads as well as roads used for transportation of coal was also given. During his visit, the Regional Officer had observed a fire in one of the backfilled areas.

cpr namati5In light of this, a further direction was given to segregate coal from the OB material before it was taken for backfilling. This would also help in checking fires in the OB dumps. The Regional Officer even called for a meeting with the officers of the mining project and the complainants.

The complaints about the contamination of water in Basundhara Nallah and other water bodies in the mine area and non-construction of a retaining wall are yet to be addressed.

During the time of finalisation of the groundtruthing report, the findings were also shared with the concerned officials. The submissions drew upon the main issues discussed above-dust pollution, fire in OB dumps and water pollution. The public hearing to be held on November 14, 2017 in relation to expansion of the Kulda coal mine was postponed to January 10, 2018.

Click HERE for the full report

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