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Opencast mining impacting water channels of Dehing Patkai region

By SIVASISH THAKUR

DIGBOI/MARGHERITA, July 9 - Opencast coal mining in the Ledo-Margherita coal belt along the Dehing Patkai range has severely impacted its natural water channels and the ecosystem dependent on those. It also poses a serious health hazard to people and livestock, besides causing large-scale crop loss.

The pollution in the streams crisscrossing the mined hills has been documented by several studies over the years. As all these streams, rivulets and rivers ultimately drain into the Burhi Dehing, the river has also been affected though the pollution level there is said to be comparatively less in view of its large volume of water discharge.

The contamination of water is also borne out by the large deposits of sulphur-rich coal residue and overburden in these streams, turning the water acidic. In fact, collection of coal from these streams is a major occupation with many local residents as well as migrant labourers.

During a visit to the affected areas, this correspondent saw a good number of people engaged in collecting coal from the streambeds.

�It is a profitable business and I have been doing this for a long time. Many locals as well as migrant workers are engaged in coal collection in the Samukjan nullah, Chippe nullah, Kacha nullah, Tirap river, etc.,� Kalu Mula, a coal collector, told The Assam Tribune.

He added that all the rivulets had large deposits of coal as those cross mining areas before reaching the plains. This correspondent witnessed that the streams passed through coal overburdens and coal dumps, carrying huge amounts of those materials in the process.

Milon Debnath, a farmer who suffered massive crop loss due to deposition of coal-mixed silt on his 16-bigha cropland, said that aquatic life and domestic animals, especially cattle, have also borne the brunt of water pollution. �You won�t find any aquatic life in these waters whereas those brimmed with fish before opencast mining started. Even the leeches have disappeared and so have the birds that used to feed on fish and insects,� he added.

According to an earlier study of Assam Agricultural University, Jorhat on the �Environmental impact of opencast mining in the Patkai hills�, acidic effluent carried by the streams remains stagnant in the cropland and low-lying areas for a long time, causing serious depletion of soil fertility.

�Nullah and surface water from paddy fields recorded extreme drop in pH (acidic/basic measure) and abnormal increase in electrical conductivity and sulphuric acid contents,� the report stated.

Another study on �Trace metal levels in soil and water of Tipong, Tirap and Tikak collieries of Makum coalfield� by Life Sciences Division, Institute of Advanced Study in Science and Technology in 2008, the highest amount of cadmium and zinc were detected in water samples of Tipong colliery and the concentration of both the metals were found to be present above the permissible level, while other two metals (lead and copper) were under the permissible level as recommended by WHO (1985).

�On the basis of results obtained, it is clear that continuous mining operations have left permanent scars in the coalfield environmental scenario to a large extent. The main collieries of Makum Coalfield, namely Tipong, Tirap and Tikak collieries lie between the rivers Namdang and Tipong. The Tipong, Tirap and Tikak coalfields are facing serious environmental problems due to the presence of excessive toxic substances in soil and water of the surrounding areas,� it said.

Yet another study on �Hydrogeochemical characteristics of acid mine drainage and water pollution at Makum Coalfield, India� published in the Journal of Geochemical Exploration in June 2010, �It can be concluded that mine discharges from the Tikak, Tirap and Tipong collieries are highly contaminated with AMD, and generating very low pH and metal enrich discharge. Ledo and Sipi creek are highly impacted with the AMD; whereas major rivers such as Dihing, Tipong and Tirap are not much impacted by the AMD. Ground water close to the collieries and AMD-affected creeks are highly contaminated,� it noted.

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Opencast mining impacting water channels of Dehing Patkai region

DIGBOI/MARGHERITA, July 9 - Opencast coal mining in the Ledo-Margherita coal belt along the Dehing Patkai range has severely impacted its natural water channels and the ecosystem dependent on those. It also poses a serious health hazard to people and livestock, besides causing large-scale crop loss.

The pollution in the streams crisscrossing the mined hills has been documented by several studies over the years. As all these streams, rivulets and rivers ultimately drain into the Burhi Dehing, the river has also been affected though the pollution level there is said to be comparatively less in view of its large volume of water discharge.

The contamination of water is also borne out by the large deposits of sulphur-rich coal residue and overburden in these streams, turning the water acidic. In fact, collection of coal from these streams is a major occupation with many local residents as well as migrant labourers.

During a visit to the affected areas, this correspondent saw a good number of people engaged in collecting coal from the streambeds.

�It is a profitable business and I have been doing this for a long time. Many locals as well as migrant workers are engaged in coal collection in the Samukjan nullah, Chippe nullah, Kacha nullah, Tirap river, etc.,� Kalu Mula, a coal collector, told The Assam Tribune.

He added that all the rivulets had large deposits of coal as those cross mining areas before reaching the plains. This correspondent witnessed that the streams passed through coal overburdens and coal dumps, carrying huge amounts of those materials in the process.

Milon Debnath, a farmer who suffered massive crop loss due to deposition of coal-mixed silt on his 16-bigha cropland, said that aquatic life and domestic animals, especially cattle, have also borne the brunt of water pollution. �You won�t find any aquatic life in these waters whereas those brimmed with fish before opencast mining started. Even the leeches have disappeared and so have the birds that used to feed on fish and insects,� he added.

According to an earlier study of Assam Agricultural University, Jorhat on the �Environmental impact of opencast mining in the Patkai hills�, acidic effluent carried by the streams remains stagnant in the cropland and low-lying areas for a long time, causing serious depletion of soil fertility.

�Nullah and surface water from paddy fields recorded extreme drop in pH (acidic/basic measure) and abnormal increase in electrical conductivity and sulphuric acid contents,� the report stated.

Another study on �Trace metal levels in soil and water of Tipong, Tirap and Tikak collieries of Makum coalfield� by Life Sciences Division, Institute of Advanced Study in Science and Technology in 2008, the highest amount of cadmium and zinc were detected in water samples of Tipong colliery and the concentration of both the metals were found to be present above the permissible level, while other two metals (lead and copper) were under the permissible level as recommended by WHO (1985).

�On the basis of results obtained, it is clear that continuous mining operations have left permanent scars in the coalfield environmental scenario to a large extent. The main collieries of Makum Coalfield, namely Tipong, Tirap and Tikak collieries lie between the rivers Namdang and Tipong. The Tipong, Tirap and Tikak coalfields are facing serious environmental problems due to the presence of excessive toxic substances in soil and water of the surrounding areas,� it said.

Yet another study on �Hydrogeochemical characteristics of acid mine drainage and water pollution at Makum Coalfield, India� published in the Journal of Geochemical Exploration in June 2010, �It can be concluded that mine discharges from the Tikak, Tirap and Tipong collieries are highly contaminated with AMD, and generating very low pH and metal enrich discharge. Ledo and Sipi creek are highly impacted with the AMD; whereas major rivers such as Dihing, Tipong and Tirap are not much impacted by the AMD. Ground water close to the collieries and AMD-affected creeks are highly contaminated,� it noted.

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