Greasy mass is floating in the water. Now the farmers fear that due to the deposition of the chemicals in the land, their land will not be able to even raise a second crop. While the damaged area has been estimated as only 30 acres, the real damage is much higher. Because, most of this land being nursery beds, a large area of agricultural fields has to remain barren this time. And it is already too late for raising a new set of plants for transplantation.
Pramod Dehury of Kulad has alleged that such incidents of release of toxic fluoride gas and toxic water happens almost every year. Beforehand they also have lodged complaints with the district administration as well as with the NALCO authorities. But, neither the authorities take any corrective measures, nor they compensate the farmers.
This time the farmers have demanded with the district administration to identify the chemicals that has been released and compensate them. The demand for compensation is a regular refrain here, with no or limited impact.
Peetabash Sahu, AGM, Safety and Environment Division of Nalco has refuted these allegations and said that there is no chance of the toxic substances from the plant being released into the fields. Such chemical are stored within the plant premises safely. May be the overflowing water due to excessive rain has spilled out. But the Executive Director of NALCO smelter plant Sanjeeb Kumar Ray has given even a more blunt answer, "We have not received any such complaints. If anything like this has happened, then we will investigate it".
People of this region has a fairly good idea as to what kind of investigations will be undertaken. After all they have been experiencing it since quite some years. Finally nothing will be done in this regard. They allege that ideally the district administration should get it investigated with the help of the Pollution Control Board, which also has a regional office at Angul barely ten kms from the plant site.
Tests by the pollution control board will be able to fix the responsibility. But it is alleged that it is nexus between NALCO, district administration and the pollution control officials that does not lead to any conclusive result. "Such a release of chemical water or the toxic gas comes as a bonanza for these officials, so why should they take action?" rues Gangadhar.
The Sarpanch of Kulad Usharani Swain said, "Such incidents happen time and again. We have brought this to the notice of the plant authorities. This time, if the farmers are not compensated, then they will be compelled to agitate."
NALCO smelter Plant in Angul district is not alone in committing such crime. In Koraput district, polluted water from Bilt Paper Mill near Jayore has inundated the agricultural fields of Raniput, Purunapani and Siadimal villages under Phampuni Gram Panchayat. The paper mill effluents are released by cement pipes and drains to river Kolab directly. These pipes and drains pass through the fields of the farmers.
When it rained heavily for three days during the last week of July the effluents overflowed into the agricultural fields. It was not immediately possible to ascertain the exact extent of damage. But after there was respite from the rain, the farmers have assessed that crops in more than hundred acres of land has been damaged. And it is not that such an incident has happened this year only. They happen every year.
Keshan Muduli, one of the victims has alleged that such incidents happen every year and they complain with the Paper Mill Authorities. But the paper mill is not taking any permanent measures to stop this. And the district administration seems to be powerless against the Paper Mill to ensure this.
The Deputy Manager, Pollution Control Board, Durgesh Mishra has admitted that such an incident has happened. He has said, "This has happened due to heavy rains. Repair of the drain has already started. The farmers who have been affected will be compensated for the loss that they have incurred."
So kind of the plant authorities! But the farmers' demand for a permanent fix to the problem seems to be no where in sight.
Taking the advantage of heavy rains during the monsoon, many industries clean up their dirt. The huge volume of water dilutes the effluents and more importantly the heavy rain provides the perfect alibi- the effluent tank overflowed due to heavy rains. Such an innocent excuse helps them escape the punishment from the crime.
Although it is a different matter that no action is taken against such industries even if their excuses are not innocent. Reliable sources in the industries have revealed that such releases are planned by the plant personnel themselves. They are not mere accidents or innocent overflowing of effluent tanks or run-off from the factories.
It is not only the effluents that find their way to the fields and water channels in the vicinity of the plants. Even the solid wastes like fly ash also get released taking the alibi of rain. The small power plants mostly the captive power plants do not have proper fly ash disposal sites. They are dumped in the factory premises as hillocks. And when the rain comes, the fly ash finds their way to the nearby fields and the water channels.
The government presently has a policy of not providing land for the dumping of fly ash. This decision has been taken ostensibly with the intention that all the fly ash has to be utilized by the industries. Ideally this fly ash is to be used for making bricks, land filling etc.
But that hardly happens, so the ash is heaped up in the plant premises waiting for the rain to come and lessen the burden. Those older plants having ash ponds also use such opportunity of excessive rain to release huge quantities of ash and recharge the ash holding capacity of the ash ponds.