Report on EC violations by CCL in Piparwar open cast project, Jharkhand, 14/09/2020

Report of Committee appointed by the National Green Tribunal in Sanjay Chauhan Vs CCL & Others (Original Application 39/2020/EZ) vide order June 22, 2020.

The matter related to investigation into environmental violations by Central Coalfields Ltd in Piparwar open cast project (OCP).

The North Karanpura coal belt in Jharkhand state comprises the districts of Ranchiu, Chatra and Hazaribagh and contains a large number of coal mines as well as some coal washeries and thermal power plants. In spite of the existence of multiple environmental regulations, there has been repeated public concern at the extent of environmental pollution in this region.

Sanjay Chauhan, a resident of Dakra village of Ranchi district filed an application with the NGT complaining of non-compliance of environmental clearance (EC) conditions in the case of Piparwar Opencast Coal Mining Project (OCP) of M/s Central Coalfields Ltd.

Main observations of the Committee:

Air, water and soil pollution by fugitive emission of coal dust from the handling and transportation of coal constituted the most important public health impacts of coal mining operations. The Pipawar OCP, currently no longer extracting more coal has been in non-compliance of a number of EC conditions and this non-compliance has persisted for many years. Further, ECs of other mines from where coal was being brought to RCM or Bachra siding or dispatched via the Piparwar/Rajdhar siding need to be scrutinised and if necessary modified. Clean up and remedial operations need to be initiated at all the sidings and the coal yards to prevent further fugitive emissions through wind and runoff.

The Committee said that the railway siding linked to the coal handling plant (CHP) was not completed by 2014 as committed but only in mid 2017. Thus, the silo was never used between 2007 and mid 2017. The field visit showed that the coal from the mine was being stocked largely on the ground in a coal yard near the CHP and the coal washery.

The arrangements for containing and treating the runoff water from the coal yard were inadequate. There was no catch drain around the coal yard and the runoff was pooling in various low-lying areas before reaching the settling tank. As per information provided by CCL, the dedicated siding over which the CHP is located became operational only in July 2017. Therefore, coal transport to the Bachra siding by road, a distance of 8 km continued for 5.5 years beyond the date permitted by the EC of 2014.

Further violations during coal transport by road to Bachra siding was observed - a violation of EC conditions, but further serious violations were noticed even in this transportation activity. Road transport of coal was resulting in much spillage on the road and consequent air and water pollution.

Following the sinking of the pillars of a bridge on the Damodar river, rather than take a longer route, the truck transporters dumped debris into the river to create a temporary crossing in complete violation of rules regarding river protection. This crossing was removed by the district authorities once in early 2020, the debris continued to block the Damodar river and "it seemed that the siding might still have been in use at the time of the NGT Committee's visit," according to the report.

The trucks were operating without any tarpaulin covering on the coal.

The Joint Committee in its report to the NGT said that the North Karanpura region has a large number of coal deposits and even though some old mines are reaching the end of their lives like Sanghamitra OCP, Ashoka West OCP and Piparwar Expansion OCP. Equally important, attracted by the coal deposits, the region is seeing an expansion in coal-based  thermal power plants (TPPs). The 2400 MW Tandwa TPP by NTPC is about to be commissioned and several TPPs are planned in a 25 km radius of Dakra.

The Committee said that the cumulative environmental impacts of these developments cannot be understood through individual EIAs or investigations of individual projects. In particular, coal transport occurs outside project premises on public roads or via common railway sidings used by multiple projects. Similarly, in a region rich in rivers, the impact of cumulative forest loss and mining activities on rivers and groundwater hydrology can only be understood at the catchment or sub-basin scale. The public health and socio-economic impacts of such large-scale mining and TPP would be non-linear and complex.

Evidence from Dhanbad in Jharkhand, Singrauli in Madhya Pradesh/Uttar Pradesh, Jharsuguda in Odisha and Tamnar-Ghargoda in Chhattisgarh shows that in the absence of prudent thinking, such coal rich regions quickly end up as 'critically polluted areas' with enormous damage to public health and the wider environment. To avoid a similar fate to the North Karanpura region, the Committee recommended that a wider and long-term perspective be adopted. This should include a process for region scale environmental carrying capacity estimation.

The Committee stressed on two policy issues:

  • About 2/3rd of the coal dispatch was actually taking place purely by road (never going to any siding). This is the consequence of the policy permitting 'on-road sales' and e-auctions. Therefore, any EC condition specifying that "no further transport of coal by road shall be permitted after such and such date" is rendered completely pointless.
  • Second, the focus of EC conditions is on various measures to be adopted towards pollution control. But the only way to know whether these measures are having the desired outcomes is to carry out frequent and continuous monitoring of ambient environmental conditions at multiple locations that are most relevant to public health and ecosystem impacts. 

Note:  The report of September 14, 2020 was uploaded to the NGT site on October 27, 2020.