How Journalists may assess Industrialisation in Orissa
During the last few years there has been a great deal of news about the impending prospect of extensive industrialisation in Orissa. The state government has signed MOUs with some 39 different firms for starting Iron and Steel mills, with capacities varying from 12 million tonnes to a million tonnes or less. There have been MOUs with firms proposing to set up aluminum factories with local mineral. Newspapers in the state have rarely published the complete list of such companies and the substantive contents of these MOUs.. There is more noise than hard fact before the public.
The large number of iron and steel factories are to be set up in the district of Keonjhar and the adjacent areas in Mayurbhanj, Cuttack, Dhenkanal and Sundargarh districts.. Moreover, some super thermal power stations are to come up in this area as well, besides near Jharsuguda. That all these iron and steel factories and some super thermal stations, besides a large number of sponge iron factories, will all come up in the geographical area of a little more than one district, mainly Keonjhar, is something that is almost never highlighted in the newspapers. Besides the factories, there will be extensive mines, for iron ore and coal, dug in addition to the ones already in operation. New roads and feeder rail lines will have to come up to service these factories and mines.. In addition, new housing colonies for the employees and for shops and other service establishments will also come up.
Has anyone any idea about how this region will look like when all these are in full steam? I do not know if the Government of Orissa has this picture before it. If it has, it seems not to have shared it with the newspapers and the public. The industrial firms in the picture possibly think of only their factory and mines, not about the total scene. Some one must try to piece these pictures together, for every one to realise what the prospects are, before informed public discussion on the implications and policy measures can take place.
Is this a very difficult task for the journalists? Surely, it can not be done by sitting in the office or collecting hand outs. But, collection of information from institutions in Bhubaneswar and elsewhere in the state, visits to existing sites of mines and factories to gather information and experience of people will help the enterprising journalist to piece together the picture.
There is a very good institution of ISRO in Bhubaneswar which has been mapping the state for a variety of purposes. It is estimating the area under different crops in reasonably small patches of land surface in every village of the state, with the help of satellite pictures and maps. Similar detailed pictures for Keonjhar district and the adjacent areas, put side by side, can give us a fair idea of the existing situation - the roads, railways, the factories, the mines, as well as the villages and towns. The proposed factories and their mines can be located on such maps, with the help of the ISRO institution. This will help one understand the geographical dispersion of these proposed as well as existing factories and mines, and the inevitable need for transport facilities for them. It will help tell the viewer how the area would look like when all these proposed units are in operation.
What might happen to the atmosphere in these areas, what will be the change in temperature in the region, can be guessed from this, if the investigator gets similar information about the Angul-Talcher industrial Zone as well as the area adjacent to Rourkela. This central area of Orissa is very hot in summer; 113-114 degrees F. was not a one-day feature in these areas in earlier times. With industries belching smoke and putting out slag and waste, the region's temperature in summer and other months can be gauged from the present day situation in the Angul-Talcher region.
What will happen to the rivers and other sources of water supply? Again, Angul-Talcher region can give us an idea of the shape of things to come. The ash ponds of the thermal power stations, the slag and waste near Rourkela, multiplied many times because of the many steel factories and super thermal power stations to come up in the district of Keonjhar, will give an idea of the possible state of the Brahmanee, Vaitaranee and the other smaller rivers there.
Can the ash and the slag not be used in any manner, separately or together, for making bricks or toping road surface or any other manner of use? The Regional Research Laboratory at Bhubaneswar can help. While the present public sector producers of these do not appear to have taken initiative in this direction, surely some thing useful can be done, while preventing the huge costs they are imposing on the public. The journalist can highlight this and suggest direction for profit to private enterprise.
What about the short and long term effects of mining? The interested investigator can visit the current mine areas in Keonjhar and elsewhere to see what is happening to the discarded waste around the mines which are already 8-10 years old. Are there trees or bushes or at least grass on these soils? What is the dust from these doing to the villages in the neighborhood? What will happen to these areas when mining is over because the material is exhausted? A good example would be a visit to Gorumahishanee and Badam-pahar areas in Mayurbhanj, where the Tatas started mining ore nearly nine decades ago. Is there any vegetation on these lands? What is the experience and opinion of the villagers about the land now? What do the scientists in the Regional Research Laboratory say about the quality of land there for any productive use, without heavy investment? These will tell us what this district may look like at the end of fifty years of industry and mining.
Thoughts occur to me as I read the Chapter on Montana (a state in the USA) in Professor J. Diamond's book Collapse. It is a devastating picture of what mining can do to the land. I was, therefore not surprised when I read in the newspapers sometime back, the remark by the Union minister Jairam Ramesh in Bhubaneswar, as he emerged from his meeting with the Chief Minister. He said that a state with extensive mineral deposits is a cursed state.. (I wonder if he had also made this remark to the chief minister earlier). I begin visualising the state of this district of Keonjhar at the end of the current desperate heavy industrialisation , and I shudder.
Must one exhaust the entire ore deposit in another fifty-sixty years from now? Surely, India does not have the greatest deposit of iron ore. The industrialist is anxious for the immediate prospect of profit. But, what about the state, which is expected to be custodian of the welfare of the present as well as the future generation of the people of the region? Look at bauxite. India's total deposit appears sufficient to last another hundred years, if used at the current annual rate. But, if the use is increased four-five fold, as appears to be the plan of our state government with its ore resource - which is the biggest in India, it may not last another thirty years. The states with the biggest deposits are in Africa and Australia. Our industrialisation of the type that would demand aluminum in large measure is still in the planning stage. By the time these materialise, we will be without the ore; we will have to depend on the multinationals who hold these elsewhere. Is this our best strategy in the use of important resources?
As for the human cost, the sad thing is that the life of the poor in this country, in every country, is cheap. No one is greatly concerned. There is never even the thought of enabling the displaced agriculture-based rural households to have their younger ones trained in alternative employment opportunities, like machining, welding, electrician, carpentry, plumbing, even brick laying and making, computer operation, at industry's cost, with guaranteed employment in the industrial unit or its ancillaries. The journalist-investigator can find out how many villagers are likely to be displaced and how many young persons, boys and girls, will need such training right now.
I realise that individual industrialists will not be concerned about all these problems. But the civil society and its representative, the State, must be concerned. The task of the fourth estate is to collect the information, from institutions, villagers and by visiting and carefully observing the field, and present it for public debate and discussion. That will lead to meaningful policies. It requires proper training, competence and understanding and hard work. Dependence on gossip and hand outs will ultimately ruin the fourth estate.
Pune 411 004. 10th September, 2008. __._,_.___
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