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Air pollution in Sonbhadra
Major reasons: unchecked mining and industrial effluents
Unchecked mining and industrial effluents have made this part of UP a pollution nightmare
Contrary to its name, there is nothing glittering or golden about Sonbhadra. The dominant colour is black. The leaves are black, so is the ground. Black soot covers classroom floors, textbooks, water left in a bucket overnight and the lungs of infants and adults alike.
About 180km from Varanasi with its new highway, glitzy airport and talk of development, dreams go to die. Welcome to Singhrauli zone, a 150sq km area covering 269 villages, spread over Uttar Pradesh’s Sonbhadra and Madhya Pradesh’s Singhrauli districts. This is home to the most toxic cocktail of coal dust-laden air, effluent-contaminated water and heavy metal-poisoned soil.
In Delhi, as PM2.5 and PM10 levels shoot up, residents start talking about leaving the city. Emergency measures are taken to control vehicular emissions, schools are shut, and panicky parents rush to buy anti-pollution masks. In Sonbhadra, life goes on as usual. Old rumbling trucks spewing black smoke and carrying coal and stones from quarries roar up and down the highways, while aluminum and cement factories and thermal power plants throw up billowing clouds of black smoke day and night.
Ask 33-year-old Vindeshwari Singh, resident of Anpara, a village whose only claim to fame is the 3,830MW Anpara Thermal Power Station. In the last couple of years, Vindeshwari’s daughters have been beset with health problems: 14-yearold daughter Ayushi has a skin rash, 8-year-old Pari’s hair has turned grey while 3-year-old Prakirti gets breathless after just a short run. “Hamari zindagi barbaad hai (our life is destroyed). The air and everything around us is so polluted that if you had a year to live anywhere else, you have only six months in Anpara,’’ she says.
Vindeshwari has to take her children for treatment every month to a hospital in Singhrauli, spending Rs 700-800 on every visit. Her husband, a factory worker, only earns Rs 13,000 a month. “Every visit takes the whole day. But no one is getting better. Ayushi wants to be a doctor. I want all of them to study further but I worry that their bodies may not be able to keep pace with their dreams,’’ she says frowning at the youngest.
It’s the story of every family in Anpara. Trishala Singh, 15, has fainting spells because of weakness and anaemia. Her parents have banned her from any form of sport or physical activity after she fainted in school. Her father Dasmas Singh says it took her some days to recover. “But she is so weak that we are always fearful,’’ he says. At 35, Singh has lost all his hair. His wife suffers from high blood pressure and thyroid problems.
Residents suffer from diseases ranging from mild breathing problems to skin diseases, and even cancer. Dr R V Singh, who practises in Sonbhadra, says air Patna pollution caused by coal dust has a huge impact on people’s health. “Everything from lung infection to skin diseases has grown rapidly in the last couple of years. But no policy action has been taken. Are our lungs made differently here than of those living in Delhi?’’ he asks.
In the Anpara middle school, principal Janak Lali Mishra says that students often complain of difficulty in breathing and rashes. “In the mornings, it feels as if the air will choke us. If adults feel like this, you can only imagine how much worse off the children are,’’ she says.
The environment ministry had declared Singrauli a critically polluted area in 2009 yet has dragged its feet over corrective policy measures. Social worker Jagatnarayan Vishwakarma, who petitioned the National Green Tribunal in 2014, says there have been a series of committees to assess the extent of damage caused by industrialisation and coal mining in the region. As recently as January 2018, the NGT asked for a committee to oversee remedial measures. Perturbed by the lack of progress, in August, the tribunal appointed a former high court judge to monitor the progress.
Anil Gautam, research head at the People’s Science Institute, Dehradun, has conducted extensive studies in the region over the last two decades. Along with air pollution, he says, the concentration of mercury and heavy metals has been on the rise with industrial expansion.
Outside the primary health centre in Dibulganj near Anpara, mechanic Kadam Rasool is headed home after a long morning with the doctor. His 4-year-old son Irshad has a rash while his wife is asthmatic. It is one of his weekly trips to the medical centre. “We can use purified water but you can’t stop breathing,’’ he says.
As smog tightens its grip on Delhi, some people have already booked tickets for cleaner climes. But for Anpara’s Vindeshwari, this is not an option. “Where will I go? This is home,’’ she says.