‘Black’ life around a coal washery: A story of dying crops, and failing health | Nagpur News

It is not just the iconic Taj Mahal but also cotton — the cash crop of Central India — which is losing its pristine white color due to unabated pollution. Every few minutes, toxic coal dust is blowing and settling on the crop’s flowers; Your fingers blacken the moment you touch them.
The monstrous coal washery facility (where raw extracted coal is treated before being sent to the power plants) in Warada village is threatening to engulf agricultural fields which have been witnessing declining crop yield since a year. Commonly known as Gondegaon coal washery and located in Nagpur district, the unit turned operational in March last year after remaining closed for about 15 years.
Since then, the rural population of around 3,000 has been suffering from its devastating outcomes – the crops and health of villagers are choking on coal dust. “Ever since the washery has restarted, the coal dust settles on the fruits and leaves of our crops, affecting the quality and quantity of yield. Also, our agricultural produce has gone down by 75%,” says Hiralal Khidekar, a local farmer.
The coal from mines, which is brought in uncovered trucks and without following mandatory transportation norms, is being dumped in the washery. A 20-22 ft tall heap of coal lies completely open without any covering or other precautionary measures. “Since the coal is kept uncovered, there is not a single second when the air around us is not polluted,” say villagers.
Living under constant stress after continuous crop failure, 65-year-old Tejram Khidekar had a heart attack one morning while he was working in his field next to the washery. “When cotton failed, I tried growing tomatoes and soyabean, but the coal pollution is not letting any crop grow,” he says.
A week back, TOI accompanied the farmers to their farms — once green, but now barren and black. A thick layer of coal dust has blanketed all the cotton flowers and crops. The trees of sweet lime have no fruits at all. Picking up small green balls from the soil, farmers tell, “Had the dust not settled on them, these would have been big nicely riped fruits.”
“Have you ever seen black brinjals,” an eager 10-year-old boy asks. He makes way through the standing crops to show lifeless brinjals which are covered with coal dust that lost its original colour. “Our children think this change of color is some magic. They don’t know it’s killing all of us. Kids, who never had asthma or respiratory ailments, are now suffering from these diseases,” say farmers.
Their repeated complaints to local political netas have gone unheard.
While they walk back to get copies of complaint letters, a strong wind carrying the dust from the washery blows, giving everyone cough fits and burning sensation in eyes. “If we can’t tolerate this for a few seconds, imagine what the locals must be going through,” says environmentalist Leena Buddhe, director of NGO Center for Sustainable Development (CFSD).
Holding the washery accountable and trying to get the government’s attention on the farmers’ pleas, Buddhe is the ray of hope for this dark town. “This coal washery is right in the middle of fertile farm lands. Flouting all norms, it’s operation has created havoc in the lives of farmers. An area of ​​over three kilometres is severely impacted due to the coal dust. The human cost is huge and the livelihoods of more than 50 farmers have gone. How do these units get a permit to operate when all they do is only pollute the land, water and air and destroy lives of farmers,” asks Buddhe, adding that one man’s profit at the cost of the farmers and their families is something that needs to be probed.
Locals inform that the coal from the washery, where it is graded and cleaned, is supplied to Koradi Thermal Power Station, one of the biggest coal-fired power plants in the country. “While earlier the washery was owned by Gupta Coal India Limited, it is now under a Bilaspur-based company,” they say.
TOI tried to contact both the companies but did not get any response. “We have filed several complaints with the local administration but no action has been taken yet,” says Vidya Chikle, sarpanch of the village.
Chikle, along with CFSD’s team, recently met a few officials who were present at the washery. “We raised our complaints with the officials. They did not clearly tell us who owns the washery now but indicated towards a Bilaspur-based company. While they assured us that measures like sprinkling water and increasing green cover are being taken, we know that won’t solve the problem. This pollution is a slow killer for us,” says Chikle.
The farmers here might not know what climate crisis is called but they sure know what it is. “Dear leaders of the country, we request you to find an alternative for coal which will not threaten our lives and crops that we are growing for the citizens,” they say.

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