As per reports available, the
company has so far closed only two out of the four units. While the OSPCB
officials never took action on that, to justify the company’s profit interests,
they say they have conducted an expert enquiry into the matter now. This expert
committee, comprising of an ex-General Manager of Nalco and a professor from IIT
Kharagpur, as mentioned in media reports, have reportedly recommended that the
smelter plant should not be let closed since it will have severe environmental
impacts on the local soil and water.
We cannot accept this
report for three reasons:
1. Nalco has been a known
culprit so far as ash pond breach is concerned and it has several times
been shut down by OSPCB. So, having an ex-GM of Nalco in the expert
committee is a biased act;
2. There is no comparative
assessment of damage done by the OSPCB between the pollution created by
the ash pond breach and that is supposed to be created by the closure of
the smelter. Without doing this, no conclusion can be drawn about which
one is a lesser evil and hence continuing the power plant is not
3. The so called expert
committee has given a ‘green’ signal to Hindalco’s temporary arrangement
of ash pond management while the entire closure notice was based on the
breach of ash pond and also in response to the temporary and dangerous
management of ash mounts by the company, among other things.
This hurried act of the
OSPCB clearly shows that it is not acting as an institution to check
pollution but to facilitate pollution and related devastation.
We find it laughable stuff
when the OSPCB says that the current order to hold the closure notice is
to check environmental hazards that may occur due to closing down of the
smelter. We question, “If there is environmental hazard of even closing
down a smelter, why was this not considered by the OSPCB while giving the
closure notice earlier?”
The other question is,
“why at the first instance, such plants are given license to operate,
which pollute while running and even after being shut down?”
We would also like to ask
the OSPCB to tell us “if it can guarantee that no aluminium smelter of
the state will ever be closed because they will have polluting impacts?
Further, “Why is the board
silent on the remedial measures of closing down a plant and why not they
recommend Hindalco to take such measures while shutting down the plant?”
We are sure the OSPCB
cannot guarantee this and hence are sure that “OSPCB is admitting that it
has no role to play with pollution control, but, rather, in facilitating
private and polluting plants to run at cost of the people and
environment of the areas they operate in”.
If in reality the
institution was concerned about abating pollution, it would have
conducted a thorough enquiry about the several ecological dangers of the
fly ash mount’s breach on local people, crop fields and water bodies
rather than rushing for an expert committee visit to justify the plant’s
smelter to operate.
If you have teeth, show
it. Close the power plants. Hindalco’s loss for its own mistakes is
not your (OSPCB’s) concern. It’s are there to check pollution, not to
take political and financial decisions.
It is time the OSPCB comes
clear on its role or else shuts down because with the recent order it
has demeaned its own existence.
What is required for the OSPCB rather is
immediately conduct an open and independent
inquiry into the pollution and radiation impacts of the ash pond breach
and ban the temporary ash mount arrangements of the company and stop its
power plants from operating and polluting further. Otherwise, OSPCB will
be held responsible if there is any further breach in the ash mount and
related environmental damage done to the crop fields, soil, water bodies
and other species due to its recent order.
[Ranjan Panda is
the Convenor of 'Water Initiative Odisha', a coalition of organisations
and individuals working on water and environmental issues. He is also a
senior freelance journalist.]