The findings of the Goa State Pollution Control Board that South West Port Ltd (SWPL) of Jindal group had handled excess coal/coke at berths of Mormugao Port Trust harbour since 2012 in violation of the consent orders issued by the board have lent credence to the claims of the citizens of Vasco that they have been facing excessive air pollution owing to coal dust. The state government had been dismissing the claims of Vasco citizens as politically motivated and maintaining that the air pollution at the port city was within permissible limits. There was open hearing on the issue in the city some months ago at which citizens complained of coal pollution, but little changed, as the government took a stand that supported the coal importing companies and the MPT.
Now the truth is out. The GSPCB had given consent for coal handling only up to 5.5 million metric tonne by SWPL. However, in 2012-13, SWPL exceeded its handling capacity by 25 per cent from 5.5 million metric tonne to 6.89 million metric tonne. In the following year 2013-14 the company’s coal handling exceeded by 35 per cent, in 2014-15 by 46 per and in 2015-16 by 80 per cent. The Pollution Board was appalled to find that the company had been concealing its excess coal handling by not giving the actual figures to the board. It was only when the Pollution Board compared the coal handling figures with the figures from the MPT that the company lie was discovered. This was a case of unethical, illegal business activity by the company which could not have been carried on without the knowledge of its top management. Perhaps they thought they could go on by fudging the figures and claiming that their handling was within the permissible limits.
It is sad that the top management of the company did not care for the health concerns of the citizens of Vasco who had been complaining of rising pollution of the air in the city with coal dust for years. On one hand, the Jindal group boasts of a number of philanthropic corporate responsibility projects and on the other they remain indifferent to their responsibility of letting the citizens of Vasco breathe healthy air. The ambient air quality data of the GSPCB of last five years showed that the Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM or PM10), which directly affects breathing, has been rising in Vasco and in MPT premises. In 2015-16, the PM10 increased to 60.57 mpcm in Vasco and the highest at 192 mpcm at MPT. In 2016-17, it further exceeded and crossed the permissible limit at MPT with the air quality data showing the level of PM10 and PM2.5 exceeding two-three times frequently in October and between January and March last year over and above 300 mpcm. It was 82.8 mpcm in Vasco city. The quantum of Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter has been rising in the past five years as a direct consequence of the rise in the quantity of excess coal handling by the company. The excess coal handling by the company rose from 6.89 million metric tonne in 2012-13 to 8.06 million tonne in 2014-15 and 9.92 million metric tonne in 2015-16.
During the public hearing at Vasco in April-May this year, senior citizens, students, housewives, fishermen, scientists, engineers, priests, lawyers, senior citizens and patients suffering from pulmonary diseases and cancer raised their voice to stop coal handling at MPT and the plan to convert Goa into a coal corridor. Among the projects strongly opposed by them was the MPT terminal capacity expansion of two berths run by South West Port Limited to double coal imports to 14 million tonne. Now that the SWPL illegal excess coal handling has been discovered by the Pollution Board – for which the board has filed a complaint in the court against the company and the MPT – how could anyone believe that the SWPL would stick to the approved limits? The coal handling in excess of the prescribed limit by SWPL in connivance with MPT strongly reminds us of the illegal mining that wrought havoc in Goa some years ago. Nobody cared for approved leases and permissible limits in mining in those years. SWPL has showed similar disregard for the institutional authorities and permissible limits. As long as the company’s purpose of maximizing profits through as much coal imports as possible through MPT, they were not bothered about the diseases they cause or aggravate in the Vasco city among its residents and MPT employees. The Pollution Board must stop the company from any more coal handling at MPT by way of first penalty for its illegal and public health-endangering activities.