School students in Odisha have joined their parents in the ongoing protest against coal transportation and coal dust pollution.
The protest began on January 19 on the streets of Ratanpur village in the Hemgir block of Sundargarh district. Most of these kids are from the Hill khadia, Bhuyan and Gond tribals. The protest is staged under the banner 'Janashakti Bikash Parishad'. Led by the Khadiya and Gond Adivasi communities, the movement has met with repression and a state government clampdown.
The protest is against the pollution from trucks carrying coal from the Kulda and Basudhara Open Cast Mines of Mahanadi Coalfields Limited (MCL) to Chhattisgarh.
According to protesters, the trucks emit smoke and dust that degrade water bodies, cause severe air pollution in the region, and severely affect the lives of the people living in the district.
Notably, the Union Forest and Environment Ministry allowed MCL to expand the production capacity from 12 million tonnes to 16.8 million tonnes annually. The coal mining company is allowed to expand on the condition of planting around 100,000 trees in villages and 50,000 along the transportation route in two years, Hindustan Times reported.
However, the protesters, especially the children, said they did not want to rely on the company's promises. "We can no longer take the coal dust pollution. Every day hundreds of trucks leave a huge trail of dust while passing by our homes. How long should we face the pollution by trucks carrying coal," said Anjana Pradhan, one of the children in protest.
Since January, more than 5,000 tribals from Sundargarh town have blocked the roads in the Taparia area to stop the trucks carrying coal from the district to Chhattisgarh. Later, on February 10, the Odisha Human Rights Commission (OHRC) ordered a ban on trucks' movement, but for six weeks. On March 9, the district high court stayed the recommendation of OHRC after the state government filed a petition through MCL.
Several Detained/Arrested In Past
The villagers started a road blockade to stop trucks' movement on March 15, following which police picked nearly 150 locals.
Activist Prafulla Samantra told Hindustan Times that people had the constitutional right to hold peaceful protests, as the state failed to protect their right to clean air and water.
Samantra said that the authorities arrested people without any specific reason. In a recent case, women with children of Anganwadi Centre of Kandadhuda, Ratanpur and Beleimunda villages were taken to the police station and kept without food for nearly 30 hours. In the second case, dozens of villagers, including a social activist, were put behind bars on false charges of attempt to murder and dacoity.
Speaking on the development, district sub-collector Abhimanyu Behera informed that the authorities have planned to construct a separate road for the trucks for ₹146 crores. Until then, the coal mining company MCL has been directed to transport the coal by covering it with tarpaulins.