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Sonbhadra: Tales of Villagers Living in Fear of Contaminated Groundwater

At least 3.26 lakh tonnes of coal is used every day in Sonbhadra. Over 1 lakh tonnes is released as fly ash.

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Video Editor: Sandeep Suman, Prajjwal Kumar

In Uttar Pradesh's Sonbhadra, residents have left their homes due to an increase in the number of deaths due to diseases. The energy capital of India is dotted with powerplants across the district and the toxic fly ash released has been the primary reason for the exodus for many years now.

‘FLY ASH SPILLAGE IS COMMON’

At least 3.26 lakh tonnes of coal is used every day in Sonbhadra’s power plants out of which over 1 lakh tonnes is released as fly ash. The fly ash is mixed with water and disposed off in man-made lakes via pipes. The pipes carrying the disposed of fly ash are 'often punctured and spillage is common', says Kanta Prasad, a villager.

"Whom should we complain to? Everyone is contributing to the pollution. Close to 200-300 people migrated to higher plains because of the settlement of fly ash here. If fly ash settles in higher plains, we will have to migrate further," adds Prasad.

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However, T N Singh, a district official for the Pollution Control Board, refuted the claim saying that there is no leakage from any of the pipes according to inspection.

INCREASED CONCENTRATION OF POLLUTANTS

The concentration of elements including Sulphur, Silica, Mercury and Carbon has increased in the air due to the presence of machines like stone crushers and coal mines in the area.

"There is a high concentration of dust particles like silicon and coal in the air due to the presence of coal mines and industries in the area. The particles are inhaled by residents of this village, causing diseases," said Ramesh Thakur, Chief Medical Officer.

Villagers often complain of infectious diseases including Tuberculosis, Cancer and Silicosis taking an upward trajectory due to the presence of pollutants in air. In some cases, villagers are forced to resettle within the Sonbhadra district. However, those who had migrated to escape air pollution are now facing the issue of water toxicity.

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GROUND WATER CONTAMINATION

"From 11-14 November, four people died in my family, including my daughter-in-law and her two kids. Those admitted to the hospital with fever in the morning died by the evening.

Those admitted in the evening died in the morning. Hospital reports show malaria and jaundice as the cause of death. At least 50-60 people died within two months,” said Janakdhari, another villager.

The villagers were even provided with a water tanker but only for a month. They later resorted to using the hand pump. An RO (Reverse Osmosis) water plant was also provided which was at least 1.5 km away. Both the water tanker and the RO plant were provided after the deaths.

The disposed off fly ash overflows into the Rihand reservoir which is the only source of water for the residents of Sonbhadra. Due to fly ash being disposed off, the groundwater gets contaminated as well.

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Kiran Devi’s four daughters died due to fever and jaundice within five years.

My daughter was declared dead by the doctors the moment we made her lie down on the hospital bed. The doctor told me that the diseases were caused by the water that we use.
Kiran Devi, Villager

Another villager, Ranglal, said that it has been 30 years now and the problem has aggravated recently. He added, “The problem starts below the waist. We cannot even eat properly now and the doctors are least concerned with finding a cure or treating us.”

NON-COMPLAINCE OF NGT ORDER

While there are claims of at least 50 people losing their lives, authorities have recorded only 16 deaths.

“It is difficult for me to number these deaths but polluted water is the major cause of death. The water has a high concentration of sodium and iron. It is connected to the disposal of fly ash because water is absorbed in the ground and thus, it contaminates groundwater,” said Thakur.

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“The ash ponds of the thermal power plants are filled and the fly ash is now overflowing into the Rihand reservoir,” said Ankush Kumar, RTI and social activist. Kumar complains of non-compliance with the NGT order and provision of RO water instead of treated water at the behest of corporates.

Secondly, Kumar says that NGT had advised setting up a toxicological lab and a super speciality hospital to investigate the effects of the water on people’s health but the order hasn’t seen the light of the day for seven years now.

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Topics:  Pollution   Water Pollution 

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