ROURKELA: Matriculation examination is less than six weeks away but Class X student Madhuri Bhaisal is unfazed. Instead of the all-important test, pollution – a more pressing concern – has got her undivided attention.
Madhuri has taken to the street of Ratanpur village in Hemgir block of Sundargarh district to protest pollution from coal transportation by Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL).
She is not alone in her fight. Joining her are classmates Anjana Pradhan, Sasmita Nag, Lisa Bhoi, Sebati Pasayat, Sunita Naik and several others who have taken up the cudgels against air pollution in the region and are taking forward the protest which was launched at Taparia on January 19.
Madhuri said she and her classmates can no more take the coal dust pollution which is affecting their daily lives. “Is our demand for a pollution-free environment in our village unjust? We have faced years of inconvenience caused by incessant movement of heavy coal transport vehicles through our village,” she said.
Anjana echoed the sentiments and said coal transportation has made their lives miserable, both inside the classrooms and home as they suffer due to noise and dust pollution. Besides, using the highly-damaged Bankibhal-Taparia road is also fraught with risks. Though deprived of classroom teaching for around 10 months due to the COVID-19 situation, these protesting students are not worried, rather determined to change the dirty status quo.
The district administration has now found itself in a spot after the students joined the protest three days back. It had already evicted the protesters from Taparia and Kandadhuda twice but the situation now has become different with the students joining the stir. Earlier on March 15, police arrested 24 protesters of nearby Kandhadhuda village for resorting to violence but several minors including students stayed put at Hemgir police station for 20 hours demanding their arrest.
Meanwhile, coal transportation on Bankibahal-Taparia road, which resumed on March 11, has stopped from March 15 following the stir at Ratanpur village. The road is being used for coal transportation from Kulda and Basundhara open cast mines of MCL to different industries in adjacent Chhattisgarh.
MCL claims that it has no role in road transportation and Industries purchasing coal from MCL are responsible for the transport. While coal plays an important role in the national economy, the suffering of the villagers is also a reality.
The protests led by Janshakti Bikash Parishad was first launched at Taparia on January 19 but later called off on February 14 when the administration restricted movement of vehicles on Bankibahal-Taparia road till April 5 in adherence to an order of the Odisha Human Rights Commission (OHRC).
However, following an order of the Orissa High Court, the Sundargarh Collector allowed coal transportation on the road from March 11 with only a few hours of restriction during school time. The coal transport was again disrupted by Ratanpur villagers from March 15.