It has taken a toddler’s blackened feet to re-launch the agitation against coal pollution in Vasco. Following the pictures and a video of the blackened feet of a toddler going viral over the weekend, there were angry responses, leading to renewed demands that a permanent solution has to be found to the coal pollution in the port town and even a police complaint filed against the companies involved in coal transportation and the port. With this, the simmering agitation against coal transportation has gone up a notch or two, with the people once again showing their displeasure over the pollution caused by the handling of coal at Mormugao Port Trust.
It is no surprise that a layer of dark soot covers the town of Vasco. The darkened dust particles are blown from the port area, where the handling of coal that is brought to the port takes place. The coal is transferred from the ships to railway wagons and then transported to Karnataka. It is this process of the transfer of the coal that causes the most pollution. The transportation too results in pollution along the way. This has been happening for several years and the issue of coal dust pollution has been playing along in Vasco without any solution, despite demands and agitations to stop coal operations.
The agitation led to Goa State Pollution Control Board stepping in with a series of measures to control the pollution, but the video of the toddler’s feet indicates that either there are no precautions being taken when handling coal at the port or that the measures are ineffective, leading to the dust making its way into the adjoining areas. GSPCB has to ensure that the measures it has suggested to control pollution are taken effectively, and don’t remain merely on paper. Monitoring is as important as the measures to control the dust clouds that arise from the coal jetties and invade the town.
Two years ago the coal pollution hearing at Vasco had led to an unprecedented display of unity among the people and environmentalists, who had jointly opposed the handling of coal and expansion projects. They had come for the hearing, not just from Vasco and the adjoining villages, but from across the State to stand in solidarity with the residents of the port town on the issue. Hundreds of persons had sought to speak and the hearing had to extended, as the voice against the coal handling grew louder, with just a whisper from the political in favour of the project.
That whisper continues till date. While people have been demanding that coal handling be stopped, the local MLA whose constituency is most troubled by the coal dust pollution, says the solution lies in stopping pollution and not in stopping the operations of the port. He justifies it by claiming the loss of livelihood of thousands who work at the port. But, it has been seen that the measures to control, reduce or end the coal dust pollution have not borne any fruit. What guarantee can the MLA, or the government, give the people of the port town that pollution will be stopped? Past experience has shown that coal dust pollution is not easily controlled, so mere statements would be unacceptable.
Coal dust can be toxic and hence cannot be confused with normal dust. The dust contains heavy metals that can be toxic even at low concentrations, with higher the exposure, higher the risk. The issue cannot be ignored as people’s health is at stake. For now, Goa State Pollution Control Board has to step up the monitoring process and ensure that pollution is contained. For the long term a permanent solution has to be found, and the government cannot postpone this any longer.