Calcutta, Aug. 7: The authorities of Kolaghat Thermal Power Plant were hauled up and fined by the pollution control board today for violating environment norms by neglecting handling of the fly ash generated.
The plant’s fly ash pond had overflowed on Monday and contaminated nearby villages.
After a landmark hearing at the pollution board office, senior law officer Biswajit Mukherjee said: “A bank guarantee amount of Kolaghat Thermal Power Station may be forfeited and sent to the district authorities for relief of the distressed people in the three villages — Dakshin Rakhachak, Andulia and Bonmecheda.”
A bank guarantee of Rs 5 lakh from the errant plant is now with the board. Plant officials were present at the hearing today. So were some of the villagers.
Problems over fly ash management are not new in Kolaghat. Hardly a year ago, the plant had to forfeit a bank guarantee of Rs 1 lakh. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had publicly admonished the unit on Environment Day.
But the latest disaster was worse than any before. “The nearby villages were flooded with ankle to knee-deep fly ash water even two days after the guard wall of the ash pond collapsed on August 4,” pollution board experts who had been to the spot said. A team from the board was in Kolaghat yesterday.
The pond is used to store the ash the thermal power plant produces by burning coal.
The water supply points of the area are under polluted water and run the risk of being “contaminated”. Primary symptoms of an epidemic have been detected with “mass-scale death of fishes”. Experts feel that the water supply sources should be sealed off immediately and disinfectants sprayed.
Narayan Chandra Naik and Ranjit Naik of the Krishak Sangram Parisad had complained that “allergy and irritation of the skin were common (symptoms) and diarrhoea cases had begun” to appear among the 2,000-odd people in the past few days.
They accused the Kolaghat unit of sending too few pumps to clear the ash water and for failing to arrange adequate drinking water. The residents rubbished the unit’s claim that it had made adequate medical arrangements.
Senior manager of the plant Gopal Mukherjee said they will clear the deposited fly ash from the three villages in 15 days. The plant has been asked to “submit a report to the board about the cleaning operation of fly ash” once “every three days”.
“Fly ash disposal related public complaints against the unit have been consistently pouring in for about eight years but they seem to be indifferent despite repeated reminders. They submitted an action plan only after the chief minister’s Environment Day speech,” said board sources.
The hearing concluded that the unit is “supposed to pay pollution cost for such environmental disaster”. The amount will be fixed after a study of the impact.
As a precaution, the board has decided “to see the conditions of the fly ash ponds of other power plants and industries or any other such types of ponds”.