The trail of ash

the Orissa Pollution Control Board has said that it will file a case in the court if the National Aluminium Company (nalco) fails to restore an ash pond breach by April 2001. One of the ash ponds of nalco's alumina smelter plant and captive power plant situated at Angul, 160 kilometres from Bhubaneshwar, had developed cracks and fly ash, a byproduct of the power plant, broke the embankments and swept through 971 hectares of land, contaminating the nearby Nandira rivulet on December 31, 2000. This is the second time in three years that such an incident has taken place. Numerous incidences of skin irritation, burning sensation and gastroenteritis have been reported from the affected areas.

Local people of the affected areas allege that the breach was a result of negligence. They said that a crack had developed in the boundary wall of the ash pond a few days ago. " nalco officials did not take adequate precautions to repair this crack,' a villager alleged. Poor construction and use of low quality raw material might have caused the crack, a nalco official admitted. "The breach in the ash pond was due to negligence on the part of the nalco authorities,' alleged K P Singhdeo, Lok Sabha member from Dhenkanal, Orissa.

Experts from the Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology say that no crops can be grown in the affected soil for at least a year. Apart from this, once dry, the ash would begin to fly around, resulting in serious health problems. All the waterbodies in the area have been contaminated and this could damage the area's mangrove system and marine life of the Bhittarkanika sanctuary in the Kendrapada district where the river meets the sea.

The nalco management has failed to provide compensation to the affected people. M C Dash, chairperson of the pollution board, directed nalco to complete water treatment in the Nandira rivulet by January 22, 2001 and desilt the rivulet by May 31, 2001. "The board will make a comprehensive review in April and if nalco fails to comply with the directions, we will file a case in the court,' said Dash. A team of scientists is studying the impact of ash deposits on future agricultural production in the area.

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