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Pollution lapse finger at sponge iron units

Calcutta, Aug. 31: Environment minister Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar today said sponge iron factories in the state had not responded to the government’s offer to undertake modernised projects for combating pollution.

The 60-odd sponge iron factories are considered to be extremely polluting and have been accused of bypassing green norms.

The minister was speaking at a meeting held by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) to release their green-rating report on India’s iron and steel sector.

The report, the first of its kind, has rated the environmental performance of 21 iron and steel factories as well as the monitoring quality of the state pollution-control boards.

“About six months ago, I had personally requested the sponge iron units in the state to come forward and undertake pilot projects using modern technologies like using coalbed methane, which would have reduced the pollution load. But till now, none of the industries have turned up with any structured proposal,” Ghosh Dastidar said.

“We even offered them free technology, guidance and a portion of the required finances but still there was no response,” he added.

“I visited the sponge iron units and found that the pollution-combating electrostatic precipitators (ESPs) are being kept shut and the emission is directly released into the atmosphere,” the minister told The Telegraph on the sidelines of the meeting.

Ghosh Dastidar said a newly constituted health and environment committee would assess the health effects, especially respiratory, on people exposed to sponge iron emission and compare them with those not exposed to such pollution.

The CSE rating report has also highlighted the pollution caused by the sponge iron factories in Bengal. “Of the 21 industrial units we surveyed, three are from Bengal and all three have fared miserably,” said Chandra Bhusan of the CSE, who led the project. Of the three, one is from the sponge iron industry.

CSE director Sunita Narain said the study had revealed that the units of the Steel Authority of India (SAIL) were the “worst” in terms of environment performance.

A SAIL official said: “The report is based on secondary data. We have improved and are investing nearly Rs 20,000 crore for modernisation in Burnpur and Durgapur.”

The CSE said secondary data from the state board and other sources had to be used as SAIL had refused to cooperate.

Green activists demanded the government take action to curb pollution by sponge iron units. “We have been hearing that the sponge iron units have been polluting (the environment). It is difficult to understand what prevents the state board from taking stringent long-term action against these units,” an activist said.