With a production of 35.52 million tonnes, the Lakhanpur and Ib Valley Area of Mahanadi Coalfields Limited (MCL), located under the Brajrajnagar constituency of Jharsuguda district, has emerged as the number one coal producer in the financial year 2020-2021.
However, the massive coal production has also led to unprecedented pollution levels in the Brajrajnagar constituency area due to coal mines emissions. As a result, residents who live near the coal mines are exposed to higher particulate matter levels, making them more susceptible to breathing-related ailments and diseases that affect their health and indirectly impact their livelihoods. Forest cover shrank by nearly 50per cent, while many dense forests were gobbled up by open cast mines.
According to local sources, residents of Brajrajnagar, Belpahar,Bandbahal and Lakhanpur have been severely affected by pollution-related ailments for more than 5 years without any respite from the menace. The problem is further compounded by around 5,000 Hyva and trucks involved in the transportation of coal from Lakhanpur, BOCP, Samleshwari, Lajkura and 11 railway sidings which release toxic gases and coal dust.
Such is the situation in some areas that even in broad daylight, the visibility is as low as only 20 meters due to the severe influence of coal dust.
Neither the trade union representatives nor political leaders talk of pollution and environmental degradation in their rallies and public meetings in the area.
"Even breathing in the open has become difficult due to such a dismal state of affairs," said Lakhanpur Coalmine Sangram Samiti president Ramakant Pradhan. The forum is a public action group that represents people who were displaced due to mining projects in the Jharsuguda district. Local environmentalist Shashank Shekhar claims that the toxic waste released by the OCP mines is making its way into shallow water bodies like the Lilari nullah, further polluting the drinking water available to both residents and animals of district.Furthermore, as per a report issued by environmentalists and Jharsuguda's civil society, the toxic water and emissions from MCL mines are causing severe damage to the region's air, water, and land and causing significant damage to health indicators of residents.