Coal pollution has been causing a host of problems – coats of coal dust on floors, furniture, clothes, cooking utensils and unseen consumption of coal dust in food – to the residents of Vasco without any respite to them. There are complaints of coal dust entering houses located around the Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) jetty and in Bogda, Sada, Vaddem, Baina, Mangor Hill and New Vaddem. Coal leaves behind profoundly harmful pollutants. According to health experts, prolonged exposure to coal leads to severe lung infections. The number of patients visiting doctors in Vasco with complaints of breathing problems has increased manifold. A number of people suffer from chronic respiratory diseases. Physicians say the worst affected are children.
The problem has been there in the port town for quite some time, and the cumulative effect of it is showing in the ill-effects on people’s health. Despite assurances, coal handling operations are being carried out without adopting mitigating measures. Coal stacks in the port area are not properly covered, which leads to coal particles being blown into houses by the wind. Coal transportation is without protection. The problems get aggravated between January and March when strong tidal winds blowing from seaside carry coal dust towards residential areas. Transportation of coal through rail wagons also causes pollution. People living near the rail tracks complain of coal dust escaping from the wagons and blown into their homes by the wind. Obviously pollution control standards are not being observed by the rail and road transporters.
The whole Swachch Bharat-Nitol Goem Mission looks like a farce to the people of Vasco. Are we giving the children of Vasco a grand future with chronic lung diseases? Swachchta means clean air and clean surroundings. The people of Vasco have a right to clean air as a fundamental right, as right to life is a fundamental right. The state government must intervene to alleviate the sufferings of the people of port town. The Mormugao Port Trust authorities should also contain coal pollution. As coal import and transportation are necessary for the economy, the importers, the transporters, the MPT and the state government must regulate the stacking and transportation, so it has no effect on the daily life and personal health of the people living in Vasco.
It is only when people of the port town make strong protests about their sufferings from coal pollution that some action is taken to make them believe action is being taken, though no serious efforts are made to save them from the scourge of coal pollution. When the issue was raised the last time the MPT authorities and the companies importing coal had agreed to adopt measures, including sprinkling of water, to contain coal pollution. However, the measures turned out to be cosmetic, with no relief to the people. A stage has reached when the state government will have to decide whether the health of the people is more important or import and transportation of coal without any safeguards for prevention of coal pollution. The Goa State Pollution Control Board currently put certain restraint on coal handling, though how long and how effective the restraint will be remains to be seen. Citizens of Vasco want coal handling at the port regulated, if not stopped forthwith. Though almost a week has passed since the issue of coal pollution was raised there are no signs of any strong action by the state government. There are accusations of some local politicians having vested interests in coal transportation; they are alleged to have influence with the government and other authorities and hence are able to stall strong effective measures to stop coal pollution.
The Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) may have to take a fresh look at the consent given to coal handling operators. The GSPCB has kept the decision on renewal or grant of fresh consent to operate to South West Port Limited of Jindal Group for handling coal in Vasco on hold following complaints received from the locals. The board has not received compliance report and data on various measures taken up by the company. The current consent to operate is likely to expire soon. The GSPCB should leave no room and make the company strictly comply with effective mitigating measures throughout the year and not just during the time when the consent is due for approval or renewal. The importers, transporters and the MPT must put adequate standard measures in place to eliminate coal pollution.