Bhopal: Two villagers - a 35-year-old man and an eight-year-old boy - have died and four others are missing after a breach in an artificial pond that stores toxic residue from a coal power plant run by Reliance Power in Madhya Pradesh's Singrauli district on Friday evening. This is the third such incident of ash leak in the last one year in Singrauli, about 680 km from Bhopal. There are 10 coal-based power plants in the district.
A team of 30 members of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) is involved in the search operation for other villagers. "So far two bodies of an eight-year-old boy and a 35-year-old man have been recovered from the ash slurry, around seven km away towards the border with Uttar Pradesh," said Singrauli District Collector KVS Chaudhary.
"Four more persons including the boy's sister, 9, his mother, and the 35-year-three-year-old man's son are still missing," he added. Two women injured in the incident are said to be stable at a nearby hospital.
"We are trying our best to find the villagers who have gone missing. Crops have also been damaged. We will ensure that compensation is given and the accountability is fixed," Chaudhary added.
Photos and videos taken by the villagers on their mobile phones show a sea of sludge in the areas around the power plant and also what appears to be an agricultural land.
In a statement, Reliance Power said: "The break in the ash dump yard wall pushed the water leading to break in the boundary wall affecting some thatched houses and minor land parcel. The company added that it is investigating the reasons underlying the incident. Power plant operations, which are not disrupting the relief work, continue, the company said.
Last year, a protest was held by locals against the power plant in the area. "Three months ago, we had protested against the ash leak by Reliance Power Plant. The company gave us in writing that there would be no breach in the artificial pond. District Magistrate, collector had conducted checks and assured us there won't be any mishap. Despite that, there was a leak. The district administration is to be blame," Sandeep, a local, told reporters this morning.
"Thousands of acres of land has been ruined, crops have been damaged. Two dead bodies have been found. A negligence case should be filed against the district administration, CEO of the power plant," he added.
This is the third such incident in the last one year of breach in an artificial pond near a power plant in Singrauli, home to 10 coal-based power plants with a capacity of over 21,000 megawatt - the largest for one region.
These plants have made Singrauli the second-most critically polluted industrial zone in the country after Ghaziabad, according to the Central Pollution Control Board.
"Earlier, an artificial pond near Essar plant was breached and also a project run by the National Thermal Power Corporation Limited. Just a few months back, a national green tribunal team had visited the area. All power companies had assured the team that their ash dykes were in good health and were being maintained," said Ashwani Dubey, a lawyer who has fought cases related to pollution in Singrauli in the green court.
"Singrauli is a critical zone in the country. Many directions have been passed in the past but no one seems to listen," he added.
In August last year, after a similar breach in a power plant run by Essar, the company had alleged it was "a clear case of sabotage". However, a government report on the breach had blamed "extreme carelessness by the company management" and held them responsible for a sub-standard boundary and not clearing waste material from the boundary.
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