Living under a dusty black cloud near Raipur

By Sujeet Kumar, IANS,

Siltara (Chhattisgarh) : Every morning as the sun rises, you can see a thick layer of black dust over 40 villages on the outskirts of Chhattisgarh capital Raipur. That is probably all the proof you need about the spread of industrial pollution in the area.

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According to villagers, 145 units based within a periphery of 3-20 km of Raipur in the Urla, Siltara and Borjhara industrial areas – categorized as ‘red category’ industries because of high pollution potential – are refusing to use pollution control equipment.

The three areas near the national highway (NH) 200 on the Raipur-Bilaspur road are home to 43 sponge iron plants and some 100 rolling mills and ferro-alloy units.

“Every morning you can see a thick layer of black dust all over 40 villages on the outskirts of Raipur,” Baleshwar Sahu, a farmer and deputy sarpanch of Kurra, one of the pollution-hit villages, told IANS.

“We have been left to die. You will find that the majority of families in my village have skin diseases because of heavy industrial pollution. We have taken out several protest rallies to highlight our plight but the situation is still alarming,” said farmer Sundar Sahu of Charoda village, which is close to the Siltara industrial area.

Shirish Tiwari, assistant block education officer posted in the Dharsiwa block under which the Siltara, Urla and Borjhara industrial areas fall, said: “I avoid going to duty because spending eight hours in office in a pollution-hit area is intolerable, I inhale black smog throughout the day and last week a doctor confirmed that I have developed some respiratory problem.”

“It’s not my problem alone. Recently I visited a school in Dharsiwa and stayed there for two hours and I asked a school teacher why he is teaching students in a dark room keeping the windows closed? He replied that the black smog of industrial units affects the students and some start vomiting as well,” Tiwari said.

According to the government, the scenario is improving in the area after it was made mandatory for industrial units to operate electro-static precipitator (ESP) – an air pollution control device – and power supply was disconnected to some units that failed to comply with pollution control norms.

Chief Minister Raman Singh who has been heading the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state since December 2003, said: “It was the previous Congress government that allowed sponge iron units to come up on the outskirts of Raipur without making ESP mandatory.”

“I have been strict in trying to contain industrial pollution and since 2007 I barred industrial houses from setting up sponge iron units on the outskirts of Raipur. And now we are making sure that the existing units follow pollution control norms and run ESP round the clock,” Singh told IANS.

K.S. Patel, an expert who carried out extensive research on industrial pollution in the area and is a professor with Raipur-based Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University’s School of Studies in Chemistry, said: “Sample results of ambient air being taken out from the industrial area confirm that suspended particulate matter (SPM) in the Raipur and Siltara areas are at least 10 times higher than prescribed limits.”

“Some one million people of Raipur and its 40 surrounding villages close to the polluting units are suffering from serious respiratory diseases and skin cancer due to exposure to polluted air, polluted water and dust-mixed grain and vegetables,” Patel added.

Principal Secretary (Environment) N. Baijendra Kumar, who is also chairman of the Chhattisgarh Pollution Control Board, said: “I am taking legal action against the industries in Urla, Siltara, Borjhara that are not following pollution control norms and also disconnecting power supply to such industries.”

(Sujeet Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])