Facing extreme environmental and social issues due to highly polluting sponge iron industry, West Bengal government has proposed to solve the problem through technological up gradation at zero cost plus financial help, but there are no takers of it.
This was revealed by the State’s minister for environment, Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar while releasing a report titled- ‘Into the Furnace: The Life of Indian Industry’ on the Green Rating Project (GRP) of the steel sector by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
Dr Ghosh Dastidar, disclosed that he personally made six visits at the sponge iron factories to know the real situation, including three unscheduled visits at night and found the pollution control devices put off and least house-keeping. Then he came out with a solution of technological help to convert coal-based methane (CBM) through one of his IIT, Kharagpur friends, who agreed to support free of cost. “We have even proposed to help the industry financially to meet the goal. Astonishingly, none came forward,” he said expressing his utter disappointment. “It needs the intention also, not only new innovative technology or financial help only”, he added.
The CSE report card, released by Ghosh Dastidar says that of the 16 amongst the 21 companies of eastern region surveyed by CSE, situated in West Bengal, Chattisgarh and Orissa, none is in the top three and all are major non-complier. Durgapur Steel, IISCO and Jai Balaji are three companies from West Bengal. “Highest marks any West Bengal-based steel company got 7 out of 100 while Durgapur got only 2 and IISCO 3. Though Jai Balaji got 23, but it is also a highly polluting industry,” said Sunitha Narain, Director, CSE. These West Bengal-based companies are blatantly "flouting environmental norms" by polluting land, water and air, said Chandra Bhusan, in-charge of the Green rating team of CSE.
The Survey, done for the first time in steel industry, says that the Steel sector is using up enormous quantities of resources like land, water, energy and raw materials, polluting blatantly, and getting away with all this because of the sheer apathy of the region's regulatory bodies like Pollution Control Boards. It also noted that due to these, the ecology and the local people are at the receiving end. In respect to the state pollution control boards of Eastern India, West Bengal seems to be in a slightly better position than the Jharkhand and Odisha, Narain said.
According to the analysis, the Indian iron and steel sector's energy consumption of 6.6 GCal/tonne is about 50 per cent higher than the global best practice. Water consumption, including power generation, township and other downstream operations, is around three times the global norm. "If all the residual land with steel plants were to be properly utilised, the industry can produce more than 300 million tonnes of steel, not the 75 million tonnes it is producing today. In fact, the steel industry will not need extra land till 2025," the report said.
The Survey team found that about 350 steel industry workers met with accidents or suffered from occupational health problems during 2007-2010 as the industry has one of the worst safety records in the world. “At least 144 lives were lost in between 2008 to 2010,” the study said. However, the Surveyors failed to provide any data of how many people in the steel industry is suffering from dust-related occupational diseases like Silicosis, anthroco-silicosis or the like.