MBA- Final Semester
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Latha Jishnu: Killing them
ever so softly: CASE-I
Latha Jishnu / New Delhi July 11, 2009, 0:33 IST
Widespread pollution by the Vedanta refinery in Orissa raises serious questions about environmental monitoring. At first sight the images are picture perfect. [In the newspaper there is a grey picture of the fly-ash effluents from the factory in a beautiful setting in nature]. There are gurgling streams, a rushing river, a tree-dotted landscape, all of which are partially covered in snow, the kind of destinations tour operators peddle every summer. Then you see scruffy village children and buffaloes ploughing through the white stretches and kicking up a lot of dust and you realize that something is amiss. As the camera zooms in, reality comes as a shocker: This is Lanjigarh in Orissa’s Kalahandi district where snow is as unlikely as apple blossom in Rajasthan. The thick white crust covering the Vamsadhara River and blanketing the surrounding villages is fly-ash — layers and layers of it, the soft, choking dust settling into heavy deposits that have scarred the topography and made life a living hell for people in the area. These are shots from a documentary that has caused quite a furore in recent weeks. Sham Public Hearing — The True Face of Vedanta is a narrative of the environmental problems that have ensued after metals and mining behemoth Vedanx`ta Resources (2009 turnover: $6.6 billion) set up an alumina refinery in Lanjigarh block of Kalahandi district three years ago. The one-million-tonne refinery along with a 75-MW power plant comes under Vedanta Aluminium Ltd (VAL) which describes its Lanjigarh facility as one of the world’s premier alumina plants “in terms of its technology, human resources and high quality infrastructure”. It also boasts that the refinery is the only zero-discharge plant of its kind in India. On June 1, VAL was marking a special triumph. It announced that it had bagged the ‘prestigious’ Golden Peacock Award 2009 instituted by the UK-based World Environment Foundation (WEF) in association with Institute of Directors. The selection had been made by a jury of wort hies headed by no less than P N Bhagwati, a former Chief Justice of India and member of the UN Human Rights Commission. The award, the company said, “recognises Vedanta’s efforts in setting high standards” in its environment management. The celebration turned out to be premature. Barely a week later, The True Face of Vedanta, made by Bhubaneswar-based filmmaker Surya Shankar Dash, ripped apart this image. Apart from the environmental degradation, the documentary records the effects of pollution on the hapless villagers. Some of its sharpest images are of the very young victims of pollution — children with all kinds of skin diseases, from suppurating sores and boils to rash, which is on the rise in the area. No one is certain why the disease is affecting villages like Bundel, which are on the periphery of the refinery. Local residents say the problem is of recent origin and comes from bathing in the river or drinking its water. The probable cause is the seepage of highly alkaline and caustic water from the waste ponds into the Vamsadhara and its nearby streams. The Orissa State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) has repeatedly brought this to the notice of VAL but despite several show-cause notices the company appears to have been unable to check the contamination. VAL is dismissive of such charges. Its standard response is that it has adopted the zero discharge system in which no waste/effluent is released outside the plant or red-mud pond or fly-ash pond. A VAL spokesman is categorical: “There is also no contamination of any natural stream or river due to discharge of fly-ash,” he says. As to the photographic evidence of fly-ash covering the streams and villages around the factory, he insists “it is of the inside disposal system of the fly-ash pond”....