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Samples suggest Gujarat lignite mining turns groundwater unfit for agriculture: PSS

Counterview Desk

In a letter to the secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India, and copies to the Gujarat chief secretary, Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority CEO, and senior officials of the state industries and forests and environment department, Gujarat government, top environmentalists Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS), have asserted that the groundwater samples from the Badi-Hoidad mining area suggests water has gone just unfit for drinking as also agricultural use.
Referring to previous three warnings in their letters dated November 26, 2020, November 30, 2020 and December 18, 2020, followed by legal notice on December 31, 2020 to the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited (GPCL), the state public sector responsible for mining in Bhavnagar district, for not having requisite Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) as per the Supreme Court Order, the environmentalists have asked the Gujarat Pollution Control Control Board (GPCB) to "immediately issue closure notice" to GPCL for mining the area and cancel Environment Clearance to the PSU for "violating" Supreme Court order.

Text:

This is to again draw the attention of the concerned authorities of the disaster unfolding around the Badi-Hoidad Lignite Mining Site in Bhavnagar District, Gujarat, which has done irreversible damage to the groundwater, farmlands, air, agriculture, and health of the villagers and other living beings in the surrounding areas.
It is now two months for the disaster dated November 16, 2020 at Badi-Hoidad Lignite Mining Site, Bhavnagar District, Gujarat. We had in the letter dated November 26, 2020, November 30, 2020, and December 18, 2020 detailed the disaster that came to light in November 2020 with the rising of farmland. Despite repeated letters and reminders, the concerned authorities continue to maintain silence with no directive / explanation, or any feedback shared with the panchayat members, and the authorities in more than twelve affected villages.
This is to share pertinent details of the disaster unfolding that is now affirmed through the random sampling tests done on Wednesday, December 2, 2020 by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) with us.
  1. The GPCB’s Regional Office had carried out a random sampling of borewells and had collected 16 groundwater samples of seven villages around the Badi-Hoidad Lignite mining site in our presence on 2 December 2020, as immediate action and detailed sampling of all the groundwater sources of all villages were to be taken after the outcome of this investigation.
  2. The results show low pH levels ranging between 6.84 to 7.33 contrary to what is usually found in the range of pH 8 in coastal region, even after heavy rains and flooding in this area during and after the rainy season. 
  3. The water sample also had very high TDS levels between 1068 – 6465 mg/l. The water sample had high Magnesium, and chloride. 
  4. The combination of law pH and high TDS, high Magnesium, and chloride is not only unfit for consumption for both human beings and animals, but also is unfit even for irrigation purposes. 
  5. The villagers have begun to report withering away of fruit bearing trees like jamun and mango in the area because of groundwater pollution. 
  6. The villagers also report that they are unable to grow vegetables, specifically onions, and groundnuts now. 
This clearly indicates the adverse impacts and subterranean geological activity due to mining and, in the past before mining, drilling operations done to find lignite. The mining activities have contaminated the groundwater and further damage is continuing. The phenomenon of rising of the farmland is still going on. Even a large mound of topsoil dumped by the GPCL was found to be descending into the ground and this descent is still going on as we write to you. We demand that for a conclusive evidence of the unfolding disaster:
  • The water sampling of surface, and ground water should be done in all the affected 30 plus surrounding villages.
  • The mining activity should be stopped with immediate effect. 
  • With agriculture and animal husbandry the mainstay of the villagers around and water being rendered unfit even for agriculture, the concerned authorities should immediately supply free of cost drinking water, water for animals, and water for irrigation. 
We also put on record the notice dated December 31, 2020 issued by the GPCB that points out serious lapses in the functioning of the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited, which does not even have the Supreme Court mandated Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) and Sewage Treatment Plant (STP). If we read the legal notice, all the major and crucial conditions of the Environment Clearance are admittedly violated.
The legal notice clearly states:
“Gujarat Pollution Control Board (hereinafter referred to as the Board) a statutory body constituted under Section 4 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act - 1981 (herein after referred to as the Air Act - 1981) and its Head Office situated at Sector 10-A, Gandhinagar - 382010 issue this notice as under:
  1. You are having industrial plant in name of M/s. Gujarat Power Corporation Ltd. at Village: Ghogha, Ta. Ghogha, Dist. Bhavnagar, engaged in mining of lignite.
  2. WHEREAS the Board has granted Consolidated Consents & Authorizations under the provision of the Water Ac t- 1974, the Air Act - 1981 & the Hazardous and Other Waste Rules - 2016 vide CCA order No. AWH - 92885 dated - 09/05/2018 which is valid up to 31/12/2022 same is issued for mining of lignite at- Ghogha-Surkha-2:25 MTPA. 
  3. ANDWHEREAS, complaint received by board regarding improper and illegal mining activity the adjacent land rises above ground level and also the groundwater deterioration. 
In reference to the above complaint board had visited your unit and details of violation observed during visit... 
As per Inspection report dated. 06/11/2020 and 25/11/2020, it is observed that mining activity is going on and major observations are as under:
  • During visit mining activity is going on. 
  • Unit has installed coal crushing machinery without permission of the board and coal crushing operation is going on. 
  • Unit has not provided any type of air pollution control measures with coal crushing machinery and a large amount of coal dusting was observed during the visit. 
  • Coal was stored in the open and not covered. Unit is not sprinkling water regularly, so it causes large amount of coal dusting during high wind. 
  • Burning of coal was observed in some places. 
  • Internal roads are not cleaned regularly by the unit as well as water was not sprinkled regularly so dusting was observed during vehicular movement. 
  • Trucks were not completely covered so dusting was observed during transportation. 
  • Green belt has not been developed. 
  • Unit has not provided ETP and STP. 
  • Unit has not provided sturdy stone wall around the toe wall. 
  • Unit has not planted grass on the overburden dump slopes. 
  • Conveyor belts used for transportation of raw material are not fully covered. 
AND WHEREAS you are responsible for violating the norms, guidelines and provisions of rules and acts for following reasons: 
  • You have installed coal crushing machinery without permission of the board and coal crushing activity is going on.
  • You have not provided any type of air pollution control measures with coal crushing machinery and a large amount of coal dusting was observed. 
  • You have stored coal in the open. You are not sprinkling water regularly, so it causes large amount of coal dusting during high wind. 
  • Burning of coal was observed in some places of the coal storage area. 
  • You are not cleaning internal roads regularly and water is not being sprinkled regularly so it causes dusting during vehicular movement. 
  • Trucks were not completely covered so dusting was observed during transportation. 
  • You have not developed green belt. 
  • You have not provided STP and ETP. 
  • You have not provided sturdy stone wall around the toe wall. 
  • You have not planted grass on the overburden dump slopes. 
  • Conveyor belts used for transportation of raw material are not fully covered. 
Under the circumstances, you are hereby called upon to show cause, within a period of fifteen days from the receipt of this notice, as to how have you not committed the breach of provisions of Environmental law and as to why you should not be prosecuted for offences committed by you, under Water act, Air act and Environment (P) Act - 1986.
Please note that in the event the GPCB does not receive any reply or if the reply so received is not found satisfactory, the GPCB shall initiate legal actions against you, as available with it, at your entire risks, as to costs and consequences thereof.
FOR AND BEHALF OF GPCB,
(R. R. PANCHAL) LAW OFFICER”

Even while the GPCB issues notice, the mining company authorities have started levelling the raised topsoil strata. As they do so, local villagers report that water has started oozing out from raised farmlands which clearly indicates that the water trapped between the hard rock and topsoil is coming out.
We are surprised that in such dire circumstances the GPCB has not yet issued the closure notice to the GPCL in spite Order, dated February 22, 2017, of the Supreme Court in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors)? The Supreme Court Order clearly states:
“4. […] We therefore consider it just and appropriate, to direct the concerned State Pollution Control Boards, to issue notices to all industrial units, which require “consent to operate”, by way of a common advertisement, requiring them to make their primary effluent treatment plants fully operational, within three months from today. On the expiry of the notice period of three months, the concerned State Pollution Control Board(s) are mandated to carry out inspections, to verify, whether or not, each industrial unit requiring “consent to operate”, has a functional primary effluent treatment plant.
5. Such of the industrial units, which have not been able to make their primary effluent treatment plant fully operational, within the notice period, shall be restrained from any further industrial activity. This direction may be implemented by requiring the concerned electricity supply and distribution agency, to disconnect the electricity connection of the defaulting industry. We therefore hereby further direct, that in case the concerned State Pollution Control Boards make a recommendation to the concerned electrical supply and distribution agency/company, to disconnect electricity supply to an industry, for the reason that its primary effluent treatment plant is not functional, it shall honour such recommendation, and shall disconnect the electricity supply to such defaulting industrial concern, forthwith.”

The Supreme Court Order further clearly states:
“13. We are of the view, that mere directions are inconsequential, unless a rigid implementation mechanism is laid down. We therefore hereby provide, that the directions pertaining to continuation of industrial activity only when there is in place a functional “primary effluent treatment plants”, and the setting up of functional “common effluent treatment plants” within the time lines, expressed above, shall be of the Member Secretaries of the concerned Pollution Control Boards. The Secretary of the Department of Environment, of the concerned State Government (and the concerned Union Territory), shall be answerable in case of default. The concerned Secretaries to the Government shall be responsible of monitoring the progress and issuing necessary directions to the concerned Pollution Control Board, as may be required, for the implementation of the above directions.
14. […] The concerned Pollution Control Board is also hereby directed, to initiate such civil or criminal action, as may be permissible in law, against all or any of the defaulters.”
Why are the concerned authorities not ready to implement the above-mentioned directions of the Supreme Court? Who all are responsible and accountable? We are attaching the copy of the Supreme Court Order for your ready reference with this letter, so that you can read and implement the Order, dated February 22, 2017, of the Supreme Court in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors) in letter and spirit.
While the authorities choose to maintain silence and not react to any of the information and requests/demand for action as disaster unfolds and lets the mining activities continue unabated, we again urge the concerned government officials to prompt action as lives and livelihood are at stake. This is also essential to do to pre-empt any future serious disasters.
We feel very sorry to state that this non-serious and nonchalant attitude and unscientific approach of the concerned authorities as well as the mining company continue despite repeated letters and reminders. All the concerned officials in the authorities and the mining company will be fully responsible for the short-term and long-term consequences of the December 2019, November 16, 2020, and other future disasters.
We expect your prompt and positive response in the interest of life, livelihoods, and environment. If you fail in your duties, you will, as the concerned authorities and individuals, be collectively liable for present conditions and future consequences and procedures.

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