Whereas a sense of jubilation is palpable in Goa, tension is rising in neighbouring Belgaum district of Karnataka. The responses are divergent but their source is one: sponge iron plants.
The Goa government recently decided not to sanction any more sponge iron plants in the state. The units are extremely polluting and fall under the red category of industries. Following the decision, a state-level high-powered co-ordination committee that clears industrial projects, has rejected Mormugao Sponge Pvt Ltd's proposal to set up a plant in Sanguem taluka.
Goa's decision is making the industry turn to Karnataka, which has good quality iron ore mines. The Karnataka government is also reportedly welcoming the industry. A plant with a capacity of 60,000 tonnes per annum of the Goa-based Kundil Sponge Iron Ltd is nearing completion in Londa town near Belgaum. But the people of Karnataka are apprehensive.
"We have been supporting villagers of Sanguem taluka in Goa in their fight against these plants. No doubt we are happy that no more plants will be sanctioned there, but it is extremely worrisome that the same are being welcomed by our own state government,' says Shrihari Kugaji of a Belgaum-based ngo, Paryavarni.
Karnataka officials seem unconcerned. "We know that local environmentalists are opposing the upcoming Kundil plant. But it is also a question of development that needs to be balanced with environmental protection. Maybe it would be beneficial if such polluting plants come up in designated industrial areas but then that is the decision of the state-level single window clearance agency,' says Shalini Rajneesh, district collector, Belgaum.
Separate guidelines Officials of both the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (kspcb) and the Goa State Pollution Control Board (gspcb) admit the lack of separate guidelines on siting the plants. No wonder then, that these plants are located either on agricultural land close to water bodies, or next to residential areas.
Over the last couple of months, Down To Earth received numerous letters from people in Goa and Belgaum relentlessly fighting a war against these polluting units, and decided to follow the