The business of cement production in Maihar, the newest district of Madhya Pradesh, is very old. If you are passing through the national highway in this assembly, you will not see Ithara village, rather a cement factory plant from a distance. This is a plant of Reliance Cement Company Private Limited. Maihar city’s Ithara is known by this cement factory. But for the people of Kherwa Kalan village, located 0.1 km away from the plant, this isn’t something which they take pride in.
Dust is released from the plant
Jitendra Singh Bundela (50) of Kherwa Kalan says,
“Dust is thrown up by the cement factory mostly at night. In such a situation, the dust gets inhaled by the people here while sleeping.”
Bundela says that due to this dust, the people here are facing problems of measles and asthma. The people of the village tell us that they have requested the plant officials several times to control this dust. However, it had no effect. Rajendra Prasad Prajapati says,
“We blocked the road once or twice with our demands… we have also submitted memorandums… the company never listened to us.”
Medicine helpless in front of the dust
Kali (62), lying on the cot in his small house, comes out after hearing our conversation. He says that he has been falling ill ‘every day’ for the past few years. He has difficulty in breathing and has cough. When asked the reason for this, he says in the Bagheli dialect here,
“Dust is everywhere.. flying… due to which the cough is coming out“
He also got himself treated in the government hospital located in Maihar, but according to him, “the medicines do not have any effect.” This isn’t surprising that medicines don’t cure the disease, as the cause lingers in the village’s air all the time. Rajendra Prasad Prajapati of the same village says, “At least 100 trucks pass through here every day. The dust that comes from them also causes a different problem.”
Cement plant is one of the most polluted units
There are a total of 101 industrial units in Madhya Pradesh which are highly polluting. Cement contains 3-8 per cent aluminium oxide, 60 to 70 per cent calcium oxide and 17 to 25 per cent silicon oxide. Whereas cement dust contains elements like arsenic, aluminium, cadmium, zinc and iron. It is worth noting that prolonged exposure to arsenic can also lead to diseases like cancer. Jitendra Singh Bundela says,
“There is not a month when at least one person does not die here.”
He says that those who die are usually victims of asthma.
Acquired land but did not provide employment
Khilji Bai (45) says that her 1.5-acre land was acquired by the company. During this time, his children were also promised jobs in the company. However, the promise has not been fulfilled to date.
“My children were young when the land was taken. Then he could not do the job… Later, when he went to the company to ask for a job, he was turned away.”
Just like Khilji Bai, numerous others have the same story to tell.
Problems in farming
A villager named Kodulal shares that he was employed in 2014. His duties involved collecting and tidying up debris. However, in 2017, he was abruptly dismissed from his job. Now Kodulal, a farmer without land, explains,
“We sow everything from pigeon peas to vegetables but there is no crop worth selling. Trees dry up.”
Whereas Khilji Bai says that her farm is located very close to the company. She faces problems when dust is released, “I start coughing while working in the fields. We always catch a cold and cough because of the dust.”
Promise after the promise of public representatives
People here say that they have taken their problems to local public representatives several times. But according to Prajapati, “Everyone just listens, nothing changes.” In this matter, we asked Congress assembly candidate and former municipality president Dharmesh Ghai. Responding to this matter he says,
“The devices installed by the companies to prevent pollution are not switched on.”
He further said that if he becomes MLA, these companies will be directed to start the devices and provide treatment to asthma sufferers under CSR.
Ambiguity regarding equipment in the company
It is noteworthy that in the year 2014, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had given instructions to install equipment (CEMS) to monitor various pollution in industrial units. In a document issued to the government in the year 2019, this company had said about the presence of such equipment in the plant.
In the year 2022, a report from the State Pollution Control Board (MPPCB) mentioned the industrial units located in the state where real-time environmental monitoring systems were installed. It is noteworthy that this plant of Maihar is not included in that report. In such a situation, there is doubt over the installation of this equipment in the plant. We tried to contact the officials of the nearby Kaharne plant but our calls went unanswered.
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