Saturday 04 Feb 2023

Coal transportation: chinks in the system are showing


Picture this: Coal spilling off a loaded freight train along tracks at Margao with the loosely tied tarpaulin to the wagons ballooning and letting go chunks of coal and a thin layer of dust as the train chugs along the tracks to proceed towards Karnataka. The transportation of coal and the pollution it is bringing about has been a bone of contention and a big worry from not only Mormugao but areas of Salcete, Quepem and Sanguem.

The consequences of the environmental clearance for coal expansion at Mormugao port appear to have yet to sink in, although the ministry has stipulated a 30-day window from January 11, 2023, for appeals before the National Green Tribunal. People, activists and anti-coal lobbies are yet to firm up on action as the port braces up to handle up to 13 MTPA of coal from its existing capacity of 7.5 MTPA.

The South West Port Ltd (SWPL) has proposed deploying highly mechanised and efficient environment-friendly material handling systems to reduce pollution. There are plans to modernise the terminal by retrofitting state-of-the-art latest dust entrapment systems. Also, material handling systems like Grab Ship Unloader, Stacker-cum-Reclaimer, Closed/Pipe Conveyor, In-motion Wagon Loading System, Silos, Wagon Loader and Gantry Cranes. The question is about the practicality of these systems reducing pollution, and why were these methods not adopted while residents were choking on coal dust pollution?

The MoEF&CC, while granting the environmental and CRZ clearances, have imposed a slew of conditions on the Port, including those concerning connected creeks and rivers, dredging and monitoring shoreline changes. It has asked for regular checks of marine biodiversity and flora and fauna.

There is a crucial directive concerning pollution beyond Mormugao port where the Port is asked to take measures to contain, control and recover the accidental spills of fuel and cargo handling and make arrangements towards people's general safety and health. "The commitments made during the public hearing shall be complied with in letter and spirit," states the ministry order.

That brings us back to the point of transportation. How can citizens expect a full-proof mechanism when coal transportation doubles when under the current system, rules are blatantly disregarded? The problem is that no matter the strictures of the union ministry, the ground situation remains a stark reality that is going unchecked. Does the Goa State Pollution Control Board have the gumption to raise a red flag over such pollution, which is in apparent contravention of environmental pollution laws?

The crusade against coal and all the activism associated with the issue is fuelled by such fears that pollution runs full steam and no official bothers to raise a finger. Instances such as these shatter the confidence of ordinary citizens, and there is reason to worry because the roar against coal that was witnessed during pre-election days has died down.

While a few get into a huddle to decide on the course of action and citizens sporadically question the government on assurances of capping coal handling at the Port, a very pertinent point of transportation and the associated pollution that it will bring about has not got the attention it deserves.

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