ISSUE / DEVELOPMENT / ENVIRONMENT
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Victim of Mining - Sukinda fast converts into a death trap
"In Sukinda, which contains one of the largest open cast chromite ore mines in the world, 60% of the drinking water contains hexavalent chromium at levels more than double of the international standards. An Indian agency estimated that 84.75% of deaths in the mining areas — where regulations are almost nonexistent or often violated — are due to diseases caused by chromite dust inhalation or consumption."
Lisa Pradhan : December 15, 2008
Exactly a year passed since the Blacksmith Institute dropped another bombshell that Orissa never expected. The institute, in its report, had named two Indian sites –Sukinda in Orissa and Panipat in Haryana among the ten most polluted areas in the world. Sukinda almost topped the list in the US based independent environmental group’s survey, because of the toxic wastes from the numerous mines present there. Sukinda’s mines spew out millions of tons of waste rock into the rivers that residents drink from. Almost a quarter of the nearby residents have got pollution-related illnesses. The major culprit here is hexavalent chromium - a heavy metal used for stainless steel production and leather tanning - that is carcinogenic if inhaled or ingested.
As per the report released by the Blacksmith Institute, around 2.6 million people are potentially affected by the pollution in the industrial township of Sukinda. At present there are 13 operative chromite mines in the valley. Tucked away in the Northern Orissa’s Jaipur district, this small mining complex has 97% share in India’s total chromite ore supply. The ore has great importance as it’s the most essential ingredient for production of stainless steel, plated metal surfaces, glassware, leather tanning, catalyst and alloys.
In Sukinda, which contains one of the largest open cast chromite ore mines in the world, 60% of the drinking water contains hexavalent chromium at levels more than double of the international standards. An Indian agency estimated that 84.75% of deaths in the mining areas — where regulations are almost nonexistent or often violated — are due to diseases caused by chromite dust inhalation or consumption. There has been virtually no attempt to clean up the atmosphere and stop contamination. Decades of intensive open-cast chromite mining has resulted in a scarred landscape, toxic water and soil, abandoned agricultural fields, degrading forest lands and populations that are being slowly poisoned.
Many of the mines in Sukinda do not have an environmental management system nor do they have any plan for it. Untreated or partially treated waste water from the mines is let off into the open fields of the surrounding villages that eventually drain into River Damsa, a tributary of the Brahmani - lifeline for an estimated 2.6 million people in the district.
Even after the Comptroller and Auditor General pointed Sukinda as a “highly polluted area” in 2002, , instead of taking strict measures immediately the Orissa Government washed its hands off terming the pollution “gigantic and beyond the means and preview of the Orissa Pollution Control Board to solve the problem”. Although Orissa Pollution control Board called the Blacksmith report “exaggerating”, its own findings confirmed dangerous level of Cr+6 present in the surface water. Between 2004 and 2005, the Board monitored levels of Cr+6 in Damasa river and found that the level of Cr+6 far exceeded the prescribed standard.
Extensive mining in the area have resulted in severe water scarcity. With the mine pits lower than the water level, ground water is draining into the pits. Shockingly due to the severe water scarcity, many villagers are forced to bath in the water that accumulates in the abandoned mine pits exposing themselves to severe skin ailments and other health hazards.
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The Blacksmith report says that residents in nearby villages suffer from gastrointestinal bleeding, tuberculosis, asthma, infertility and birth defects.
This phenomenon has severely affected agricultural production in the place where most villagers own small pieces of land and, primarily, depend on subsistence farming. Thus, the loss of agriculture has forced to people leave farming and work in the mines on meager daily wages.
While studying the impact of mining and mineral based industries in the Sukinda valley, the Orissa Remote Sensing Application Centre also mentioned about large-scale soil degradation of the surrounding forest land in the area since 1974.
Many of the nations do not have enough resources for environment protection and, under pressure from international investors and funding agencies, industrial pollution remains a low priority area there. In this context, it is to be seen whether the Government wakes up from its stupor and saves the state from embarrassment when it is quite allured with the current investment trends.
(Author is pursuing journalism master's studies at Manipal University, Karnataka. This article is a part of her internship project)