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Monday, June 09, 2014

HINDALCO, ASH SLURRY, POLLUTION, ODISHA  
Odisha: Polution Control Board demeans its existence to favour HINDALCO!  

"Even after directions by the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) to stop operations of its Power Plant, Aditya Birla Group’s HINDALCO has only stopped two of its four units. Marking gross violation of norms, the state water resource department has also filed a FIR against the Hirakud smelter unit of HINDALCO for failing to check leakage of ash slurry from the captive power plant and caused massive damage to the croplands of local farmers. But, instead of insisting to follow the laws and its own directions, OSPCB’s soft tone towards HINDALCO is now raising many questions about the nature of industrialisation in Odisha, that too in the name of development."

 

Ranjan Panda

 
 

In a quite unfortunate development, the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) has kept on hold its order of closure of all Captive Power Plant (CPP) units of Hindalco Company at Hirakud, whose serial ash mount breach has already put the local people at risk of severe health hazards and threatened the environment. The OSPCB, on Friday the 24th August, ate up its own decision of complete closure and allowed the company to run two units of power production.

This is complete surrender to the black mailing techniques of the private company.

Despite closure order of all its power plant units, the company officials have never attempted to follow the order but, rather, have been giving public statements in media that they can’t close all the units because that is going to affect the production of the aluminium smelter plant.

 

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 justified; and

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 to 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.]

 
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