Celebrating Resistance: An Exhibition to Remember Three Decades of Struggle in Bhopal

Yes, Warren Anderson lived a full life of 92 years, escaping every law suit or call or cry possible. He probably had a wonderful memorial service organized by friends, family and colleagues. He will probably go down in corporate text books as the most resilient force against human rights movements as The Escapist, The Illusionist…

We can’t forget him. But, why does any struggle that questions economic growth, foreign investment, environmental degradation, or human right violations need to be part of our memory? Can’t we forget it as just another disaster? The thing is, these issues are not just happening in Bhopal, Cuddalore, Idinthakarai, or any one place. It is not a localized thing…

So The Remember Bhopal Trust inspired by the three decades of struggle by the Bhopal survivors, want to travel around the country, collect stories from similar struggles and weave it all in to a permanent museum in Bhopal.

As a start, from this Sunday, 9th of November 2014 to next Saturday the 15th of November 2014, in Chennai, the Trust has organized an exhibition of the lived memories of the disaster and the struggle that has followed.

Check out the event on Facebook. Join, invite, and go. Read and learn about the struggle at Bhopal.net

Criticality may mean death for Kudankulam’s seas

Reposted from rediff.com/news

The first two units of the Kudankulam nuclear plant will discharge 6.3 billion litres of waste water every day right onto the beach. This discharge will trigger a slow-motion disaster that will poison beaches, devastate near-shore fisheries and choke the livelihood of fisherfolk in the vicinity, says Nityanand Jayaraman.

Only providence, not the plant’s design or regulators’ due diligence, will now help the Kudankulam reactor function without any major mishap if and when Unit 1 limps to commercial production of electricity. Unit 1 and 2’s effluent disposal system is inherently harmful, and regulators have cleared the plant for operation despite knowing that.

In June 2013, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board renewed Unit 1 and 2’s license to operate. This allows each plant to discharge 6.3 billion litres of waste water every day right onto the beach. This discharge will trigger a slow-motion disaster that will poison beaches, devastate near-shore fisheries and choke the livelihood of fisherfolk in the vicinity.

When that happens, the blame should fall squarely on the individuals in Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, the State Coastal Zone Management Authority, the 12 members of the Union environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee on CRZ, and the ministry itself. All of them would have knowingly allowed this damage to happen.

As things stand, an open channel running along the nuclear plant’s seaside compound wall will empty the effluents onto the beach. That is a lot of pollution to dump into the Gulf of Mannar. 6.3 billion litres per day translates to 2,600 cusecs. Last fortnight, farmers in Tiruchirapalli rejoiced when 3,000 cusecs of water was released from the Mettur Dam. At full power, the two units will dump 5,200 cusecs of hot, salty, toxic water every day onto Kudankulam’s beaches.

Dr. Mark Chernaik, scientific advisor to ELAW-US — a global network of environmental lawyers and activists, reviewed Kudankulam’s Environmental Impact Assessment report and the response of the government’s expert group. According to him, “neither contains an adequate assessment of the impacts to marine life of cooling water (thermal) discharges.”

Citing case studies from China and Brazil, Dr Chernaik concludes that “The impact to marine life of thermal discharges are indirect, yet still very substantial: small increases of the temperature of marine water changes water chemistry, including reductions in dissolved oxygen levels. . .that can deleteriously impact fisheries. Also, fish may be able to migrate to avoid localised temperature shifts, but their food sources (sponges, algae, and small invertebrates) are fixed and cannot.”

Local effects on fisheries will be evident within days of release. According to a 2008 study for NPCIL, ocean currents in this region flow parallel and close to the shore. During the southwest monsoon, the currents flow east from Kudankulam towards Idinthakarai. Between November and February, the currents reverse.

The wastewater will kill all life in the inter-tidal zone in the immediate vicinity of the effluent channel. A 2011 study for Units 3 to 6 records 30 species of plankton in Kudankulam’s near-shore waters, nearly twice the number found in deeper waters. The hot water will float in the direction of the current, reducing dissolved oxygen and wiping out the plankton. The blanket of death will spread seaward until the temperature reaches ambient levels.

The rocky areas in the vicinity of the effluent channel are rich in prawns and lobsters. Local fishermen talk of days when prawns literally boil into their nets. Prawns and lobsters are not surface dwellers; so the hot water is unlikely to affect them directly. But, with the plankton gone, a keystone in the local food chain would have disappeared, knocking the life out of the local ecosystem and the fishery dependent community. All fish that can swim to cooler waters will leave.

The 2011 study also reports that the villages of Idinthakarai, Kootapulli and Perumanal — all in the vicinity of the plant — landed 14,000 tonnes of fish in 2010. At least half of that was sardines, a plankton-feeder. No plankton; no sardines.

Even the expert appraisal committee of the MoEF seems to think that discharging such a large quantity of polluted water onto the shores of the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve is not a good idea. The EAC considered NPCIL’s application for CRZ clearance for Units 3 to 6 in April and September 2011. The committee observed that the proposal is for “the construction of open channel for outfall. Due to various environmental problems, including adverse impacts on the marine life, the present proposal not (sic) acceptable.”

In May 2012, EAC recommended clearance with a condition that the effluent disposal scheme was “modified to discharge the [coolant water] through underwater pipelines to a region of 4-5 metres bathymetry which is away from the shore.”

Barring a few members, the EAC that made this insightful recommendation is the same that recommended CRZ clearance for Units 1 & 2 in March 2013. Curiously, this recommendation did not warn against near-shore discharge or recommend a deep-sea, marine outfall. As on date, the environment ministry’s website says that clearance is still pending. Legally speaking, the plant cannot commence operations without a CRZ clearance.

But the TNPCB has granted its consent to operate the plant. Unlike the AERB, which is subservient to the Department of Atomic Energy, TNPCB is technically independent. But that independence is only notional. Like the AERB, the pollution control board too is only a crony regulator.

Nityanand Jayaraman is a Chennai-based writer and a volunteer with the Chennai Solidarity Group for the Kudankulam struggle.

Vedanta-Sterlite: Dangerous by Design

(from Kafila.org)

by Nityanand Jayaraman

A toxic hotspot in the backyard of a house in Therkuveerapandiapuram, a village adjoining the Sterlite factory.  Dangerous levels of iron and arsenic were found in the soil here. (Picture by Nityanand Jayaraman)

A toxic hotspot in the backyard of a house in Therkuveerapandiapuram, a village adjoining the Sterlite factory. Dangerous levels of iron and arsenic were found in the soil here. (Picture by Nityanand Jayaraman)

On 23 March, 2013, a toxic gas leak from Vedanta-subsidary Sterlite’s copper smelter in Thoothukudi spread panic and discomfort for several kilometres around the plant. The leak once again highlighted the increased potential for major catastrophes due to an atmosphere of collusion between regulators and polluters. The company, which was shut down for maintenance, resumed operations in the early hours of 23 March. Within hours, people in the nearby areas complained of suffocation and eye and nose irritation. A 35-year old Bihari contract labourer, who was working at Sterlite’s thermal power plant nearly a kilometre away, reportedly succumbed to the effects of the toxic gas. Irate residents rallied to the District Collector’s office demanding permanent closure of the offending factory.

The District Collector suggested that sulphur dioxide may have been the culprit. But anyone who knows the history of this plant would lay the blame not on this gas or that, but squarely on pliant regulators, and perhaps the judiciary.

The 1200 tonne per day (tpd) copper smelter was constructed in two phases – both with dubious legality – with active support of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) and the chairperson of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC). In September 2004, when SCMC visited Thoothukudi, it found that Sterlite had constructed a 900 tonne per day copper smelter complex without obtaining an Envirnomental Clearance from the MoEF. Neither did the plant have the mandatory Consents to Establish under Air and Water Acts.

Citing poor pollution management, the SCMC recommended that clearance should not be given. It ordered the TNPCB to verify the illegal constructions and take action. Contrary to recommendations, clearance was given a day after of the Committee’s visit to Sterlite. TNPCB inspected and confirmed the illegal constructions, but did nothing more.

On 7 April, 2005, a director at the MoEF wrote to the chairperson of TNPCB urging her to grant a Consent to Operate to Sterlite. “The directions issued by SCMC in this regard has (sic) been discussed with Chairman, SCMC, who has desired that TNPCB may now decide regarding granting consent for expansion to M/s Sterlite Industries India Ltd (SIIL) Tuticorin, Tamilnadu,” she wrote. The Air and Water Acts do not have any provision for legalising units constructed without a valid Consent to Establish. TNPCB obliged and issued a consent on 19 April 2005.

Sterlite went on to expand its capacity to 1200 tpd. To get its licenses, Sterlite exaggerated the extent of land in its possession. In 2007, Sterlite submitted an Environment Impact Assessment report that suggested that it had greened 26 hectares of its 102.5 hectare plant site. It claimed that it had sufficient lands – about 176 ha — in its possession to accommodate the expanded capacity and the resultant pollution (solid waste, air emission and effluents). It promised to plant 43 hectares with pollution-abating trees. Subsequent inspection reports by the TNPCB even state that the company had greened 25 percent of its 176 hectare land holding.

On 28 September 2010, the Madras High Court ordered closure of the copper plant. One key grounds for closure was the industry’s failure to comply with the condition requiring the development of a 25 metre greenbelt around the factory. TNPCB was chided for arbitrarily reducing the greenbelt requirement from 250 metres to 25 metres in response to Sterlite’s lament about high land costs associated with the wider belt.

The Madras High Court had rightly held that the failure to comply with greenbelt requirements was a crippling lapse. Indeed, had a thick belt existed, the effects of the recent gas leak would not have reached the city.
When Sterlite was shut down by the High Court, the factory was running without valid licenses under Air and Water Acts. Two days later, the Supreme Court stayed the High Court order and unwittingly authorised the unlicensed operation of a disputed facility.

In May 2011, Sterlite’s non-compliance of greenbelt requirements and its land fraud came to light in a report submitted by NEERI to the Supreme Court. Against a requirement of 176 hectares for the 1200 tonne plant, Sterlite had only 102.5 hectares, the report found. Also, less than 13 hectares – as against 43 hectares – had been greened.

Since October 2010, Sterlite has functioned on leave granted by the Supreme Court. During the apex court’s watch, at least 8 hazardous incidents were recorded where 3 workers were killed, four more injured. Several hundred people in the vicinity of the plant have been gassed.

Under the circumstances, faith in the rule of law is not an easy belief system to sustain.

UPDATE

Thoothukudi Gears up For Major Showdown with Sterlite

27 March, 2013. Thoothukudi – Residents of the coastal Tamilnadu town of Thoothukudi are gearing up for a major showdown with Sterlite on 28 March, less than a week after a massive gas leak injured hundreds of people for kilometres around the company’s controversial copper smelter. Numerous groups, cutting across political lines, will march from the city to Sterlite’s gates demanding its permanent closure. In the 20 years that it has functioned, Sterlite has been blamed for numerous mishaps, deaths and injuries. It has been closed twice by the Madras High Court, including in September 2010 when the High Court shut it down through its final order arguing that the company had violated siting setbacks, pollution norms and licence conditions.Tomorrow’s rally is gathering massive support as the Tamil Nadu Federation of Merchants led by Vellian, and the Esakkimuthu Conch Divers Association have said they will participate in the strike. The call for the strike was originally given by Vaiko, a political leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, who said that this was an issue that transcended politics, and that the residents are united in their desire to rid their city of Sterlite’s Bhopal-like factory. Other prominent Thoothukudi-based workers organisations too have committed their support to the strike. The Anna Bus Stand Taxi Drivers Association, and the Anna Bus Stand Auto Drivers Welfare Association with nearly 200 auto drivers as members have said they will boycott work and join the residents demanding closure of Sterlite. Many more organisations and political parties are expected to join.“We are very angry. We have seen numerous such agitations start and then stop. We want an end to this nonsense. Sterlite must be shut down,” said 55 year old M. Shanmugavelu, Presidents of the Auto workers Association.34-year old M. Kishorekumar, who is the president of Taxi Drivers Association clarifies that they are not opposed to industries. “We want good industries to come to Thoothukudi, to Tamil Nadu. But Sterlite is not good for us. It is a dangerous factory. We have to think about our futures too,” he says. “My 11-year old son suffered because of the gas leak. It is now three days since the leak, and he is still complaining of head ache, eye and throat irritation, a bitter taste in his mouth and has no appetite. I have had to take him to hospital for three days. He has to go to school with all this because it is examination time,” Kishorekumar says.

List of Hazardous Incidents at Sterlite Industries between October 2010 and March 2013 during the time the plant has run on leave granted by Hon’ble Supreme Court.

Compiled by Nityanand Jayaraman, based on reports by Sterlite workers

Total: 3 dead; several injured in 8 incidents

Date

Incident

Number Dead/Injured

8.3.2013

Amalan, 30, sustained serious injuries after an electrical fire broke out at Motor Control Room of Phosphoric Acid Plant.

1 injured

18.3.2013

Swaminathan, 50, killed after falling into Phosphoric Acid tank. Due to the poor light conditions, the worker tripped on the scaffolding and fell 15 metres into an open and empty tank.

1 dead

23.3.2013

Massive gas leak, suspected to be Sulphur dioxide or trioxide, causes suffocation and panic around the Sterlite Copper plant. One Sterlite contract worker, Shailesh Mahadev, 35, reportedly succumbed to exposure to the gas.

1 dead; several injured

23.8.2011

One North Indian worker, sourced by labour contractor Lohit, and employed by Mahesh Engineering was injured while working in the Phosphoric Acid Plant. Workers, who said very little information was available about his condition and what actually happened. He is reported to have had 5 stitches.

1 injured

17.8.2011

A white gas (suspected to be Sulphur Dioxide) escaped for about 45 minutes at ground level throwing a scare among Sterlite workers, after a power outage caused a shutdown of the Copper smelter and sulphuric acid plant at around 10 a.m. today (17 August, 2011). The wind was blowing from East to West and carried the smoke away from the highway and the Milavittan village.

13.8.2011

Thangapandi, a 32-year old contract worker, engaged by OEG Ltd to work in Sterlite’s copper smelter factory sustained first degree burns due to an electrical accident. Thangapandi is a resident of Pandarampatti.

1 injured

31.5.2011

Amalanathan, a 28-year old crane maintenance mechanic, was electrocuted and killed in Vedanta-subsidiary Sterlite Copper’s premises today. According to workers, Amalanathan died on the spot at around 11.30 a.m. As of 3.30 p.m., the police had not yet registered a First Information Report. According to a Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) party worker, it was only after the communist unions and MDMK intervened by staging a road blockade did the Police even enter the scene. Amalanathan, who was married barely 3 months ago, is a resident of a locality called 3rd Mile, near Sterlite.

1 dead

3.3.2011

Ratheesh, a young contract employee from Sterlite, sustained 30 to 35 percent burn injuries on chest and hand. He was admitted to Apollo Hospital, Madurai, and underwent treatment until 24.3.2011. Inpatient Number: 205688. Referred by Dr. Vanitha Stephen, Tuticorin.

1 injured

 

Nityanand is a Chennai-based writer and environmental activist.

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News Update 12 noon: Anti-Sterlite Protestors Arrested en Mass in Thoothukudi

Reported by Nityanand Jayaraman

Speaking on phone from Chandra Mahal (a wedding hall) where more than 200 people are detained by the police, Fatima Babu — one of several organisers of the protest — said that the rally demanding Sterlite Copper’s closure was massively attended. At the time of her arrest at around 1145 a.m., at least 7 bus loads of people had been removed from the roads and taken to various locations for detention. The arrests were continuing as more and more people were joining the procession. According to Fatima Babu, by the time of her arrest, nearly 5000 people had gathered. Shops in Thoothukudi, including all vegetable markets, jewellery stores, provision and small stores, have downed their shutters responding to the call join to the strike demanding Sterlite’s closure. Lorry, autorickshaw, taxi and van drivers too stayed away from the roads in solidarity.

“I cannot estimate the number of people that are part of the strike, because there are people as far as I can see, and more are coming,” said Maharajan, a party worker with Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK). MDMK’s leader is one of the political figures who gave a call for the rally demanding closure of the copper smelter. The strike has representation from the Conch Coolie (Divers) Association, Anna Bus Stand Autorickshaw Drivers Welfare Association, All India Drivers Welfare Association, Tamilnadu Merchants Federation (led by Vellaiyan), and Anna Bus Stand Taxi drivers Association.

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Anugundu – The Atom Bomb | Documentary

Anugundu – The Atom Bomb ( Tamil with English subtitles) – YouTube. 48 minutes.

A film by Manila Mohan, a journalist with a Malayalam literary magazine, who visits the protesters in Koodankulam. The documentary details many pitfalls in the building and commissioning of the nuclear power plant in Idinthakarai, Koodankulam. It interviews many of the villagers, including women and children, who express concerns about their safety, the stupidity of such an unsafe technology, and question for whom is this development and electricity that the States promise.

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Appropriate Technology: E F Schumacher

E F Schumacher’s lecture on Appropriate Technology at the Great Circle Center, University of Illinois, Chicago, 3/19/77. (Peter Gillingham Collection, E. F. Schumacher Library Archives.) From Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems –

E.F. Schumacher was an internationally influential economic thinker, viewing things from a systems perspective. His work in economics led him to develop a collection of connected ideas in energy, work, technology, development, organisation and ownership, education, traditional wisdom and religion. E.F. Schumacher’s work is about a way of living that is as relevant today as it was in 1973 when his seminal book Small is Beautiful was first published.

Part 1: 4 mins 40s

Part 2: 4 mins 42 s

Part 3: 8 mins 32s

Part 4: 6 mins 18s

 

Accumulating ‘microplastic’ threat to shores

shared by Rahul Muralidharan, posted from BBC’s Science and Environment page.

‘MICROSCOPIC’ THREAT

Microscopic plastic debris from washing clothes is accumulating in the marine environment and could be entering the food chain, a study has warned. Researchers traced the “microplastic” back to synthetic clothes, which released up to 1,900 tiny fibres per garment every time they were washed. Earlier research showed plastic smaller than 1mm were being eaten by animals and getting into the food chain. The findings appeared in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. “Research we had done before… showed that when we looked at all the bits of plastic in the environment, about 80% was made up from smaller bits of plastic,” said co-author Mark Browne, an ecologist now based at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “This really led us to the idea of what sorts of plastic are there and where did they come from.” Dr Browne, a member of the US-based research network National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, said the tiny plastic was a concern because evidence showed that it was making its way into the food chain. “Once the plastics had been eaten, it transferred from [the animals’] stomachs to their circulation system and actually accumulated in their cells,” he told BBC News. In order to identify how widespread the presence of microplastic was on shorelines, the team took samples from 18 beaches around the globe, including the UK, India and Singapore. “We found that there was no sample from around the world that did not contain pieces of microplastic.”

Dr Browne added: “Most of the plastic seemed to be fibrous. “When we looked at the different types of polymers we were finding, we were finding that polyester, acrylic and polyamides (nylon) were the major ones that we were finding.” The data also showed that the concentration of microplastic was greatest in areas near large urban centres. In order to test the idea that sewerage discharges were the source of the plastic discharges, the team worked with a local authority in New South Wales, Australia. “We found exactly the same proportion of plastics,” Dr Browne revealed, which led the team to conclude that their suspicions had been correct. As a result, Dr Browne his colleague Professor Richard Thompson from the University of Plymouth, UK carried out a number of experiments to see what fibres were contained in the water discharge from washing machines. “We were quite surprised. Some polyester garments released more than 1,900 fibres per garment, per wash,” Dr Browne observed. “It may not sound like an awful lot, but if that is from a single item from a single wash, it shows how things can build up.

“It suggests to us that a large proportion of the fibres we were finding in the environment, in the strongest evidence yet, was derived from the sewerage as a consequence from washing clothes.”

As Chai Kadai was pondering over its endless list of good things to publish this particular photo-story came across as relevant. The photographer has recreated what is already known as ‘ugly’. He has set a level for what can be ‘ugly’ staging a really heavy environmental threat taking viewers off the issue (depends on how you look at it), but we liked it.

WASHED-UP

Washed Up is an ongoing project by Mexican-born, New York-based artist Alejandro Durán that addresses the issue of plastic pollution making its way across the ocean and onto the shores which is carried by ocean currents from every corner of the globe. Over the course of this project, Durán has identified products washed ashore from forty-two nations on six continents. The resulting photo series depicts a new form of colonization by consumerism, where even undeveloped land is not safe from the far-reaching impact of our disposable culture. Although inspired by the works of Andy Goldsworthy and Robert Smithson, Washed Up speaks to the environmental concerns of our time and its vast quantity of discarded materials. Beyond turning trash into treasure, the alchemy of Washed Up lies in the project’s potential to raise awareness and change our relationship to consumption and waste.

 In order to photograph the sculptures, Durán uses a mix of natural and artificial light, further blurring the line between existing and constructed realities.

The Last Of The Asbestos Miners Of Roro

Ex-miner Dansingh Bodra with the corroded helmet of his deceased neighbour Vijaysingh Sondi at the village of Roro, Jharkhand.

by Javed Iqbal

When miner Dansingh Bodra was asked about the people from his village who he worked with, in the asbestos mines of Roro, who have all died before their time, he slowly starts counting, first to himself, and then loudly: ‘gyaara…. Pooliya Sondi……….. baara………Rohto Gop……..taira….Bagan Sondi…….. chowda….. Vijay Singh Sondi…….. pandra……Gono Sondi….. sola….. Harish Sondi….. sattra, Sukmon Sondi…… atthra….. Rahto Samadh.’

Dansingh himself suffers from cancer, a huge tumour grows out of his stomach.

It took him five minutes to remember the dead. A few seconds to denounce the company that laid them off one fine day when the mines shut down in 1983.

‘They gave us nothing, no healthcare, no pension, just these illnesses.’

‘I worked in the mines for 12 years, and from that day itself I used to cough, and slowly it started to get worse.’

A man with a lump growing out of his stomach remains a testament to the reality of internal colonization, of a company that currently earns aggregate revenues of over 800 crores, of industrial development and the idea that mining offers jobs.

Dansingh Bodra awaits death in a village where his three grandchildren sleep behind him suffering from fever.

The mines have long but closed down, but the dust and pollution that emanates from them, still spread across the fields.

Even today, as per law, especially as per section 22 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981, all asbestos mines have to be closed but the Hyderabad Industry Limited of the CK Birla Group, did not close their mines at Roro village at Chaibasa, West Singhbhum, Jharkhand and the asbestos fibres that are blown into the wind, that seep into the fields and rivers, still exist 30 years after the mines shut down.

‘So many people died before they turned forty,’ Said Birsingh Sondi, who points to his neighbours house, ‘There lived Mangalsingh Sondi, who was 25 when he died and he never even worked in the mine, his father Sukmon worked there, and he died a few years ago too.’

Asbestos, whose use, manufacture and extraction is banned across the European Union, is still used widely across India and is part of a 4000 crore industry dominated by around 18 companies who justify the use of asbestos as a substitute for affordable roofing, who claim that chrysotile asbestos can be safely manufactured and used without risks.

The companies claim that the kind of asbestos used in India isn’t carcinogenic, even as all forms of asbestos are classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, and the International Agency For Research On Cancer, who mention in a report that was published in 2010: ‘Epidemiological evidence has increasingly shown an association of all forms of asbestos (chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite) with an increased risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma.’ It would go on the mention that an estimated 125 million people are still exposed to asbestos in the workplace.

Yet the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association, one of the main lobby groups for the continued production and use of asbestos, has repeatedly claimed, ‘Some five hundred other products and industrial processes are recognized as carcinogens, but this does not mean that we must prohibit their use.’

While the Lobby has often reiterated that chrysotile asbestos is safe, and that proper safety standards and use of asbestos, justifies the industry, the chairman of the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association, Abhaya Shanker, is also the Managing Director of Hyderabad Industries Limited, who says they closed the Roro mine, and that the mountains of asbestos tailings from the mine are not carcinogenic.

‘Roro is a finished chapter, a closed mine 30 years back, what’s the point of Roro? I don’t understand.’ He exclaims in a telephonic interview.

‘That is all an old story and that was all, an old type of asbestos and that is all done.’

‘The mine is safely handed over, and closed, and handed over to the government of India, and there is no danger to the public. It’s all bullshit.’

‘According to the Supreme Court directives in the CERC case, you have to monitor the health of your workers? Do you also monitor the health of your workers from Roro?’ I asked.

‘You can look at our world class health monitoring system, for our workers, …., for several years we keep calling them, for check-ups, for studying them…’

‘Even the Roro workers?’

‘The Roro workers are all finished, we would have done them (the survey) for a couple of years……and it’s been 30 years now, nobody would be alive now.’

A History Of Trying To Close The Mountain

Roro Hills at Chaibasa were first mined for chromite in the early 1960’s by the Tatas, and those mines were sold to the CK Birla Group, as the Tatas moved onto mining chromite at Sukinda, in Odisha, which itself, according to international environmental group Blacksmith Institute, is one of the 10 most polluted places in the world, where approximately 70% of the surface water is contaminated by hexavalent chromium, with 24.7% of the population living around the mines to be suffering from pollution-induced diseases.

When I had visited the village of Suanla in Sukinda in 2010, an old man scoffed at the media’s ability to highlight the issue and improve the lives of the people of his village. He claimed that over 30 people have died in the past few months. Some called the deaths in Suanla an exaggeration, but in the house of Markand Hembram, four members of the household had died within a year.

Quoting the report by the Blacksmith Institute, the government itself had gone on to say: ‘It is unique, it is gigantic and it is beyond the means and purview of the [Orissa Pollution Control] Board to solve the problem.’

Back at Roro, there were vocal attempts to close the mountain and clean up. Way back in 2003, a public hearing was held where villagers from 14 villages around the mines has spoken up about working in the mines and the health issues in their villages. The hearing was organized by Jharkhand Organization For Human Rights, and was paneled by a group of prominent doctors and advocates.

The report of the hearing was taken to the District Collector and Chief Medical officer who were given representations for conducting medical camps, to monitor health of workers and non-workers, and to detail a scientific closure of mines and to hold Hyderabad Industries Limited accountable to pay for health and environmental damages.

Yet till date, there have never been any attempt by any official body – from the Pollution Control Board, the Directorate General of Mines Safety, the Mining Department, the company or the local administration to remediate and clean up the mine tailings or do a proper mine closure.

‘Everyone wants the mines cleaned up.’ Said Birsingh Sondi, whose own fields run aground with asbestos dust.

At Roro, only three miners who worked with the Birla Group are left alive. But not everyone worked directly under the company as independent contractors had also taken on the responsibility of disposing asbestos dust, who paid workers Rs.1.50 per day, for working from eight in the evening to eight in the morning to do the work without any protective clothing.

‘there was no izzat in mining, we should never have allowed them here.’ Continued Dansingh Bodra, who had even worked underground, mining asbestos without any protective clothing, and there were accidents: Turam Sondi, Jida Sondi and Dausar Sondi were killed in the mines in a few years before the lockout and the closing of the mines.

‘No one should ever have worked the way we did.’

**

The author is a 27 year old freelance journalist, who has worked as an investigative reporter for The New Indian Express from November 2009 to April 2011. This article has been reprinted from his blog ‘moon chasing‘.  This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 8th of January, 2012.

Mercury in the Mist

15 mins 04s

Tamil with English subtitles

A documentary by Amudhan R. P. about the plight of the environment and ex-workers affected by mercury pollution from Hindustan Unilever’s thermometer factory in Kodaikanal. More than 30 workers have died till date, and several tons of mercury have been discharged in and around the factory. But the company refuses to take responsibility.

Green Tax

Stuart McMillen, a “human being” from Brisbane, Australia, interested in environmental sustainability, behaviour changes, (while worrying how to incorporate those in his business and marketing management), humour, cartoons, and music. Recombinantrecords.com, is an archive of the ‘cartoon perspectives’ of his life. In the following cartoon, Stuart looks at restructuring the tax system: