School Children in Odisha's Sundargarh protest against coal dust pollution

School Children sitting on dharna in Odisha's Sundargarh. Source- The Hindustan Times

In Odisha's Sundargarh district, students have been sitting on a week-long dharna. Both students and their parents have participated in this protest.

The community in this area is protesting against coal dust pollution. It has occurred due to mineral transportation. Odisha's Mahanadi Coalfields Limited carries coal from the Kulda Open Cast Mine to Chattisgarh. This has led to the spreading of coal dust in the area. People are expressing their health concerns over this issue.

These children are mostly from the tribal community residing in the Sundargarh district. They are protesting under the banner name of Janashakti Bikash Parishad.

Students and their parents are sitting on dharna for a week on a street in Hemgir Block of Ratanpur village of Sundargarh.

The Union Ministry of Forest and Environment has given permission to MCL to increase mine capacity. MCL is allowed to increase the mine capacity from 14 million tonnes per annum to 16.8 million tonnes per annum.

The company is only allowed to do this if they meet certain requirements. The Ministry has instructed them to plant trees as a measure to curb air pollution in the area. The company has to plant 100,000 trees with broad leaves in the village area along with 50,000 trees in the transportation route in the next two years.

Despite these measures, the students along with their parents are agitated. They can no longer wait for MCL to fulfill this promise.

Anjana Pradhan, one of the school children participating in the protest said, " We can no longer take the coal dust pollution. Every day hundreds of trucks leave a huge trail of dust while passing by our homes. How long should we face the pollution by trucks carrying coal."

Over five thousand people from the tribal community of Sundargarh have been protesting. Initially, they started a road blockade in the Taparia area to stop coal transportation. On February 10. there was a ban on the movement of trucks on the village roads for up to six weeks. This came as a relief to the community. But it did not last long.

What was the reaction of the Activist?

Prafulla Samantara, a prominent activist who visited this area said, " The people have a constitutional right to protest peacefully. The state fails to protect its right to clean air and clean water. But people who are protesting are being arrested without any reason. A few days ago, women and children of Anganwadi Centre of Kandadhuda, Ratanpur, and Beleimunda villages were taken to the police station. They were kept there for 30 hours without food. Around two dozen villagers including 12 women were sent to jail on false charges of attempt to murder and dacoity. Social activist Sura Mishra has been slapped with a dacoity case as he supported the villagers’ protest."

The situation has become very volatile. The coal transportation on Bankibahal-Taparia road resumed on March 11. It had stopped from March 15 following the protest at Ratanpur village.