A new report by the Healthy Energy Initiative India and Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) found that coal fly ash pollution was rampant in India in 2020-21 despite the COVID-19 lockdown and found at least 17 major incidents that occurred in seven states from April 2020 to March 2021.
The report titled "Coal Ash in India – Vol II: An environmental, social and legal compendium of coal ash mismanagement in India" revealed that while Delhi and other bigger cities had hyped up the lack of pollution during the lockdown, seven states including Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Maharashtra reported coal fly ash accidents. The report looked at media reports of incidents to assess their location and type.
"Ash pond collapse, air pollution from ash ponds and discharge of coal fly ash into rivers, streams and other water bodies were the most prevalent incidents, indicating the dismal state of coal fly ash management in the country, the report stated, adding that most of these locations are regions where the coal fly ash disposal is a perennial problem, and leaks and accidents are routine," the report reads, as quoted by The News Minute.
"We also found residents from coal hotspots reporting that many power companies used the COVID-19 lockdown to dump waste indiscriminately in the water bodies, villages and around the highways, causing irreparable harm to the environment and public health," said Pooja Kumar of Healthy Energy Initiative India to TNM.
According to the report, media coverage of research studies and reports published by leading universities and think tanks present a multidisciplinary approach in understanding the impacts of coal fly ash, over the narrative of 'development' pushed by industries. Similarly, greater coverage was given to the people's struggles around coal-based industries, their demands to clean up contaminated sites, reduction of pollution and compensation for loss of quality of life and livelihood were also prevalent.
Despite the onus being on the industries to dump coal fly ash responsibly and pay for any damages caused to health or the environment, the report pointed out that this was very rarely the case. According to the report, even though the responsibility was court-mandated, responsibility for damages was "rarely fixed" as the cost of restoration was determined by a third party who was usually influenced by the company.
"Given the fact that it will be the violator who will be deciding the agency which will calculate the damages, it is unlikely that a fair assessment of damages will take place," the report said.
This report also offers an in-depth legal and policy analysis and gaps of implementation on the emerging trend of courts imposing environmental compensation for environmental violations on the issue of coal fly ash.