By Mumtaz Naiyer for Twocircles.net
For the past month or so, all talks about Bihar have been accompanied by the state elections, its impact, the results and the future that the state under the new alliance of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United). However, in an act that skipped national and even local attention, the Ministry of Environment has given its clearance to a cement factory within a two-kilometre radius of the AMU Kishanganj Campus.
As per the proposal, the new project, which will cost about Rs 300 crore, will come up in 14.02 hectares at Chakla (Bhedyiadang) village in Kishanganj district. Bhedyiadang falls within the two-Kilometre radius of the AMU Kishanganj campus, where the University’s infrastructure work is in progress.
Interestingly, no group or political party has raised its voice against the plant, which poses serious threats to health and agriculture production. It is surprising to see how JK Lakshmi Cement received a nod for setting up of a clinker-grinding unit in this green belt, known for high quality tea production apart from pineapple, jute and rice. As a concerned citizen and a native of this district, I would like to mention that we are not opposed to industry, but do say a “big NO” for setting up a cement factory in this green belt. There has been a long-pending demand for agro-based industries like tea processing plants, pineapple processing plants and jute mills by the local farmers, which have been ignored in favour of a cement factory, the effects of which could be catastrophic.
The effects of a cement factory on the environment
The cement industry is listed as one of the 17 most polluting industries by the Central Pollution Control Board. The aerial discharge of cement factories consist of particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides producing continuous visible clouds which ultimately settle on the vegetation, soil and effects whole biotic life around. As a result, the whole ecosystem around the cement factory is subjected to extraordinary stress and abuse. According to a report by Baby et al (Impact of dust emission on plant vegetation of vicinity of cement plant-Environmental Engineering and Management Journal-2008) cement dust contains heavy metals like chromium, nickel, cobalt, lead and mercury pollutants hazardous to the biotic environment with impact for vegetation, human health, animal health and ecosystem, prolonged exposure can also cause serious irreversible damage to plants and animals.
Other reported effects of cement dust on plants include reduced growth, reduced chlorophyll, clogged stomata in leaves, cell metabolism disruption, and interrupt absorption of light and diffusion of gases, lowering starch formation, reducing fruit setting inducing premature leaf fall and leading to stunted growth thus causing suppression in plants and in animals it leads to various respiratory (Asthma) and haematological disease, cancers, eye defects and genetic problems.
Kishanganj is the only district in Bihar which produces tea on a large scale. Tea production is all about the quality of leaves and the quality of leaves depends on the chlorophyll content. There was a recent study by Chaurasia et al. (Effect of cement industry pollution on chlorophyll content of some crops at Kodinar, Gujarat, India-2013) which pointed out that the amount of chlorophyll in plants that are away from cement plant is more than ones nearer to the cement industry.
If this proposed factory by J K Lakshmi Cement comes up in the Chakla (Bhedyiadang), this will have serious ramification on the AMU Kishanganj campus which is envisioned to be a residential university spread over 226 acres. I have not seen any cement factory in the vicinity of a residential university in India. I think Environment Ministry has overlooked the AMU Kishanganj campus while giving EC to J K Lakshmi Cement. Moreover, this area is densely populated having a village at every kilometre. The worst sufferers will be the farmers and small peasants as their agriculture production will go down as a result of air pollution.
I would like to request Bihar Chief Minister Shri Nitish Kumar to look into this matter and liaise with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate change, Govt. of India. If they have flouted rules pertaining to Industrial Policy Location, then it must be corrected soon to avoid any face-off between the company and local residents, activists and AMU Kishanganj campus.
The author is a Postdoctoral Scientist at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, UK.