The journey of coal from the power plant to the human body leaves a path ridden with disease in its wake.
Living next to three smoky chimneys of the Anpara Thermal Power Plant, 50-year-old Rajkumar Devi connects the dots that led her to her ills.
LEFT: ANPARA THERMAL POWER PLANT RIGHT: RAJKUMAR DEVI, ANPARA TOWN
The day starts for the government school beside her house with a thorough sweep and sprinkle, but the black soot remains settled deep within the cracks of the floors. In summer, the coal-dust storms often turn day into night, even as the teachers and children tie their scarves tightly around their faces while singing the National Anthem.
LEFT: ASH, NEAR JAYANT MINES RIGHT: GOVERNMENT SCHOOL, ANPARA
With 11 power plants and 12 coal mines in it, the Singrauli-Sonbhadra region has been coined the ‘Energy capital of India’; understandably, it is high on the list of critically polluted areas of the country. Jagat Narayan Viswakarma, a petitioner in the National Green Tribunal's case in 2013 against the Union Government of India for pollution in the area, estimates that about 500 deaths occur every year here. Rarely, though, if ever, is the cause of death ascribed to heavy metal contamination.
LEFT: JAYANT OPEN CAST MINES RIGHT: PHOTO OF RAJU WHO DIED OF A 'STOMACH AILMENT', GARIYA
A forty-minute drive away from Anpara, Chilkadand village stands precariously at the edge of the Northern Coalfields open cast mine. During the monsoon, the dumps from the mine frequently spill into Chilkanand.
A study in 2012, conducted by Delhi-based non-profit organisation Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), confirmed that Fluoride, Mercury and Arsenic were all higher than the permissible limits in most water, soil and fish samples tested. It also revealed that over 84% of the blood samples of the local population contained mercury above the safe level. Environmentalists warn, mental retardation among the people will only spread over time.
LEFT: A MURAL, AMROLI RELIANCE REHABILITATION COLONY RIGHT: MENTALLY-RETARDED DAUGHTER,...., OF A MINE LABOURER, CHILKADAND
LEFT: VIMLESH SAWHNEY’s HAND, CHILKADAND RIGHT: COMPANY LOGO OF A FIST, COAL TRUCK DEPOT OF NCL JAYANT COAL MINES
Vimlesh's neighbour, 17-year-old Rohit Kumar, is living out his father’s destiny.
In desperation, his mother Sukhraj Devi would collect loose coal at night which she'd sell in order to pay for her husband's treatment. After his death, she travelled all over for her son's treatment - from Ashram, Badwahi and Renusagar to NTPC, Anpara and Buxar - but Rohit still remains bed-ridden.
LEFT: ANGEETHIS (OVENS) AT CHILKADAND RIGHT: ROHIT KUMAR, CHILKADAND
Ash slurry from the Belvadah Ash pond, disposed of by NTPC Shaktinagar and Vidhyachal Thermal Power Plants, overflows into Rihand Dam. Even the committee constituted to look into the NGT case, chaired by AB Akolkar, Member Secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), shared its concern over the contamination of the Rihand river - the main water source of the area. Ash pipes of several thermal power plants have leaks, which also adds to the contamination of fields and ground water.
Gariya Block is located 10 kms away from Anpara. Records maintained by its Pradhan (elected head) show that as many as 33 deaths were registered in 2016 alone. On testing samples at a recognised laboratory at Ahmedabad, the Gram Panchayat found that not a single water source was uncontaminated. This is accepted by the Jal Board (Department of Water) too. Yet, the official cause of death of 22-year-old Raju from Bicchi Village of the same block was 'an acute stomach ailment'.
LEFT: LALERAM YADAV’ S WIFE AND SON RIGHT: ASH SLURRY,....
The red, stagnant lake at Pipragaon Nayi Basti, 20 kms from Obra Thermal Power Plant, tested positive for pollutants with far higher-than-permissible limits. Lying in the direct direction of the wind blowing from the plant, the lake stands testimony to the continual passage of arsenic, mercury and fluoride in the air. This exceeds the15 km safe-radius that the government recognizes. For bedridden patients of the Basti like Vijay Kumar and Vindhyanchal, hope too lies forgotten.
LEFT: RED LAKE, PIPRAGAON NAYI BASTI RIGHT: VIJAY KUMAR SHARMA, PIPRAGAON NAYI BASTI
Yet, the story continues. 95% of the new power plant projects that have got the green signal don’t have treatment devices like flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) units and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) units to limit pollution.
In spite of a two-year notification, the deadline of December 7, 2017- set by the Supreme Court for thermal power plants across India to reduce their emission of PM, SO2 and NOx pollutants below specified limits- has been missed.With a staggering 66% dependence on coal for its aggressive power-generation plans, the government itself has appealed for a further extension till 2022.
In the meantime, the lives of the affected and forgotten will continue to get cut short.