Dam Disaster

2022 Fly ash dam breaches in India

(Feature image:- This is the second time in the six months that Rautdih village has become inundated by the breach of ash pond embankment in Bokaro. ToI, Oct. 09, 2022)

Most mining companies make dams to store the semi solid slurry waste from the mines. Similarly most thermal power projects have fly ash dams to store the fly ash slurry. These dams store highly toxic slurries but there is little happening by way of regulation, monitoring or compliance at design, construction or operation level. Many of these dams breach or overflow, leading of release of the toxic slurry in the downstream areas. These dams do not even come under monitoring of Central Water Commission or under the dam safety act passed by the parliament. Despite accidents happening with huge adverse consequences, there is no accountability.

In this report, we have compiled the instances that we could locate about breaches of such dams in 2022. We earlier wrote about the Singrauli instance in April 2020 and in the 2019 SW Monsoon dam breach compilation report.

Maharashtra Koradi plant’s ash bund falls, toxic slurry in farms, houses The Khasala fly ash bund of Koradi Thermal Power Station (KTPS( breached on Saturday (July 16), flooding three villages with toxic fly-ash slurry. From farmlands to houses to natural nullahs and even Kanhan, which provides drinking water to Nagpur city and Kolar rivers, the slurry reached everywhere thus leading to massive damage and contamination.

According to residents of affected villages, the embankment wall of the bund collapsed around noon, immediately after which fly-ash slurry started heavily flowing out, submerging nearby villages. The slurry destroyed several agricultural fields, entered houses and submerged Kalamna-Godhni track which is used for goods trains.

Leena Buddhe, director of NGO Centre for Sustainable Development (CFSD) which works in the area, said that approach roads to the three villages were completely flooded. “The bund had about 2.47 crore metric tonnes of ash slurry. Imagine the damage that it has done. Koradi plant authorities have been mindlessly dumping ash and the bund was overflowing,” she said.

Villagers said that a similar but less severe accident had happened last year. “The bund had breached but we had managed to control the flow of fly-ash slurry. Since then, we filed repeated complaints with Mahagenco but they turned a deaf ear. This mishap was bound to happen,” said villagers of Khairi. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/koradi-plants-ash-bund-falls-toxic-slurry-in-farms-and-houses/articleshow/92926900.cms (17 Jul 2022) Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday (July 19) stated that the government will set-up a high level committee to probe the breach of fly ash-bund of KTPS leading to severe damage to crops and drinking water sources. https://www.nagpurtoday.in/high-level-committee-to-probe-fly-ash-bund-breach-fadnavis/07201407  (20 July 2022)

In absence of any concrete action against the offenders, CFSD and Manthan Adhyayan Kendra petitioned Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), revealing that the plant was issued a prosecution notice at the beginning of the year but in vain. The complaint highlighted the catastrophic event which submerged large parts of five villages in toxic fly ash slurry.

With villagers continuing to suffer due to crop damage and extensive pollution, the NGOs stressed on the lack of accountability and punishment. “The MPCB, which is the regulatory body, has been lax in following up on its show cause and prosecution notices. On January 27 this year too, a prosecution notice was issued to Koradi power plant but no prosecution took place. This led to the violation of norms and the ash bund mishap,” they wrote.

According to the complaint, fly ash was being unscientifically discharged by Koradi and Khaparkheda power plants even before the mishap. “The matter got so serious that Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) and Orange City Waterworks have been forced to stop lifting of water from one side of Kanhan river due to fly ash contamination,” it stated. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/ngos-approach-pmo-for-action-against-koradi-fly-ash-bund-breach/articleshow/93306810.cms  (03 Aug. 2022) Notably, in April 2017 also, the PMO had sought action on the various irregularities at the Koradi Thermal Power Plant asking for an action taken report in 15 days. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/pmo-seeks-report-on-koradi-plant-irregularities/articleshow/58268837.cms  (20 April 2017)

Fly-ash dyke, Koradi thermal power plant. Counter View

Though the authorities claimed to have acted quickly and the fly ash dumping in the river was stopped, the claim stood to be misleading and false. Even today, the Kanhan river continues to be polluted with fly-ash, and the water supply to the city is affected. Not only did ash dyke of the Khaparkheda power station break, on July 16, 2022, the ash bund of the Koradi thermal power plant also broke. Fly-ash and water stored in the dyke gushed downstream to six villages -drowning houses, water bodies and farmlands. With such large-scale devastation, contamination of food, land and water resources, the community is staring at an uncertain future. https://www.counterview.net/2022/08/a-countdown-to-disaster-breach-in-fly.html  (07 Aug. 2022)

Koradi power plant knowingly violated env norms: MPCB In its notice, MPCB regional officer AM Kare said the power plant authorities failed to carry out pre and post monsoon survey of all ash bunds and ensure safety, which led to the breakdown of Khasala ash bund. “The toxic ash which flowed out to low lying areas, agricultural fields, natural nullahs, and into drinking water sources is causing harm to environment on large scale,” the board’s chief wrote.

In another shocking revelation, the board highlighted that the power plant officials raised the height of the bund wall without obtaining the mandatory environmental clearance. Locals also alleged that the constructed wall was of very poor quality. “Moreover, the work was not completed on time. Before the incident, we had warned officials that ash had started overflowing but they ignored us,” said locals. Calling the plant a “habitual defaulter”, the board also said that it has been receiving frequent complaints regarding air and water pollution from it. A team of MPCB officials had also carried out a spot inspection on July 16 and 17, during which they observed several non-compliances and discharge of large quantum of ash into the environment. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/koradi-power-plant-knowingly-violated-env-norms-mpcb/articleshow/93120877.cms  (26 July 2022)

MPCB had decided to forfeit the bank guarantee of Rs 50 lakh of MahaGenco for the breach of Khasala ash bund and the damage caused due to the collapse in nearby villages. MPCB will also calculate the environmental compensation for the loss and the Board will impose the fine over MahaGenco, informed A M Kare, Regional Officer, MPCB in a review meeting that took place on Sunday (July 17). https://www.nagpurtoday.in/ash-bund-breach-mpcb-to-forfeit-rs-50-lakh-bank-guarantee-of-mahagenco/07191350  (19 July 2022)

60% fly-ash being used, claims KTPS  The officials of KTPS have claimed that 60% of the fly-ash generated in the plant is being utilized. As per the data, 13.53 million metric tonnes of legacy ash is lying at Koradi ash bund, while 19 million metric tonnes is lying at Khasala. During the second environment surveillance committee meeting held recently, city environment NGO CFSD questioned the plant authorities on fly-ash utilization.

The sarpanches of villages affected during the Khasala ash pond breach expressed concern over dam safety measures taken to avoid such leakages in future. “We have roped in Dam Safety Organisation (DSO) from Nashik, and experts from Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology Nagpur (VNIT) to ensure that the dam is safe,” said officials. Farmer Bhaiyyalal Makade informed that villagers from Mhasala have demanded rehabilitation and relocation of the village after the breach. As reported by TOI, the Khasala fly ash bund breach had flooded three villages with toxic fly-ash slurry in July this year. As per the initial reports of the district collectorate, around 47 hectare farmland has been affected due to fly-ash overflow.

Though power plant authorities had distributed compensation to some affected farmers, the latter alleged that it was not sufficient. “The fields and water sources got completely contaminated. We don’t think we will be able to farm for the next three years,” said farmers. Another issue raised during the meeting was maintenance of water ATMs, which have been installed in affected villages. Power plant officials said that it was not their responsibility to maintain the ATMs. However, refusing to accept this, villagers said, “When power plants are polluting our sources of water, it is their responsibility to provide us safe water. Moreover, the maintenance of these machines is very high, we can’t afford it.”

Responding to the queries, officials informed that the contract for lifting ash has been given to three contractors; MERU, RCC Cement and Birla. “The ash is also being sent for highway construction work. We are also planning to build tracks to transport fly-ash via railways,” officials stated. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/60-fly-ash-being-used-claims-ktps-farmers-still-wary-of-safety-measures/articleshow/96261256.cms  (16 Dec. 2022)

Jharkhand Fly ash dam breach in Bokaro On 7 May, the dyke of an ash pond belonging to Bokaro Power Supply Company Limited (BPSCL) had given way resulting in slurry entering numerous dwelling units in Rautdih village, in the Chas subdivision of Bokaro district. As per reports, barely a few days before the incident, SPCB had instituted an enquiry into the alleged illegal dumping of fly ash by the power company.

As per the enquiry report, the dyke breach took place due to the accumulation of huge amounts of sludge within a certain section of the pond. Further, channels constructed to drain water from the pond had also been clogged with sludge. Stone blocks used to construct the dyke had not been properly placed resulting in their displacement, which led to overflow and flooding, the report states. The enquiry committee has also found deficiencies in the structure of the ash pond and noted that timely action could have prevented this disaster.

Sludge floods in Rautdih village after breach in fly ash pond. News 18

A report by Manthan last year documented, eight major instances of fly ash breaches resulting in loss of lives and property between August 2019 and May 2021. A number of other flooding incidents resulting from the overflow of slurry due to leakages or collapse of dykes of fly ash ponds were also reported during this period.

At least, three incidents were reported from the Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project, in Singrauli district, MP between August 2019 and April 2020. The flooding in Singrauli on April 10, 2020, spread over 200 acres and killed, at least, six people. The think tank found a pattern in fly ash pond breach incidents in its study. “The fly ash breaches and illegal dumping documented in this report occurred at different places and times, but they demonstrate the same patterns of violations, negligence, lack of accountability, and unsatisfactory action by keepers of the law,” the report stated. https://www.newsclick.in/fly-threaten-jharkhand-villagers-centre-boosts-coal-usage  (28 May 2022) https://hindi.news18.com/news/jharkhand/bokaro-ash-pond-of-bokaro-steel-plant-broken-water-entered-25-houses-of-rautdih-jhnj-4239753.html  (07 May 2022)

BPSCL fly ash and bottom ash continue to be a concern for residents living in around six villages situated in the fringes of the Bokaro Steel Plant (BSL). “Sometimes fly ash storms blow along with heatwave. Residents of Modidih, Maheshpur, Kanchanpur, and Chaitata are the worst affected. Even when the windows are closed, fly ash dust enters the home,” said Ganesh Saw, a Mahuar resident. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ranchi/bokaro-residents-cry-foul-over-fly-ash/articleshow/91111200.cms  (27 April 2022)

Ash pond breach in Bokaro floods Rautdih village again A large portion of the embankment of the ash pond of Bokaro Steel Plant (BSL)’s power plant —BPSCL — located near Gate No-3 under Harla police station limits breached on Saturday (Oct. 8), flooding Rautdih village. This is the second time in the six months that the village has become inundated. The incident happened on a day when Union steel secretary Sanjay Singh was on a visit to BSL plant.

Fly ash sludge flood in Rautdih villag. ToI

Villagers blamed the BPSCL for negligence in handling fly ash disposal. Sources said no help reached the villagers from BSL or BPSCL till 7 pm. “The contaminated water has also entered the 13 wells in the village,” said a villager, adding that about 22 families live at Rautdih. Suresh Kumar, a resident, said, “The incident happened at 3 pm. All were at home when the water containing fly ash started entering the village with full force. By the time we could understand, houses were flooded with black water.” Kavita Kumari, a class seven student said, “The situation was frightening. I have an exam next month. All my books got damaged.”

There are six compartments in ash pond in which the fly ash falls through the pipeline. Fly ash from each compartment is then transported and dumped in the adjoining mound. A compartment of the pond got filled and the water did not drain out due to which the accident happened. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ranchi/ash-pond-breach-in-bokaro-floods-rautdih-village/articleshow/94733937.cms  (09 Oct. 2022)

The breach in the embankment for the second time in six months, has put both the company as well as the SPCB in a difficult spot over non-compliance of safety parameters. The local residents also alleged that neither the pollution board nor the BPSCL are concerned about their safety. About 22 families, mostly displaced, who suffered losses of their properties and valuables due to the recent flooding, are gradually returning to the village after the flood water receded. However, many rued about the BPSCL’s apathy towards the problem. They are afraid that similar incident might happen again.

The locals alleged that the BPSCL was never serious about removing ashes that were dumped in ash ponds every day. ToI

After the first incident in May this year, the SPCB issued a show cause to the BPSCL but didn’t take any further action. “Had the JSPCB taken stern action against the BPSCL, such recurrence may not have taken place,” said a villager. The locals alleged that the BPSCL was never serious about removing ashes that were dumped in ash ponds every day. Sheetal Kumari, a resident of Rautdih, said, “This flood has again spoilt our houses.”

BPSCL chief executive officer K K Thakur said they have requested the administration’s help in rehabilitating the families to another site. He denied any lapses on their side. BPSCL management also pointed finger at the contractors who excavate cenosphere from fly ash pond stating that they (contractors) sometimes unlawfully heighten the embankment to collect more cenosphere. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ranchi/bokaro-ash-pond-breach-villagers-rue-bpscl-pollution-board-apathy/articleshow/94799605.cms  (12 Oct. 2022)

BPSCL, IIT Delhi tie up to curb ash pond breach in Rautdih Two months after the fly ash mixed water flooded Rautdih village in Bokaro following a breach in the embankment of the ash pond, the BPSCL has now joined hands with the IIT, Delhi to devise a detailed plan to prevent such recurrence in future. A K Das, chief general manager, BPSCL on Tuesday (Nov. 29) said, “The inspection of ash pond by the experts of IIT, Delhi has been completed and on the basis of their report, the next step will be taken by BPSCL. “BPSCL has also put up safety warning board at the site to warn local residents to not do any kind of activities there. Ash pond is a restricted area now and living, bathing or doing any other work there can prove fatal,” Das said.

Breach in DVC fly ash embankment in Bokaro thermal in Sept. 2019. Dainik Jagran

On the suggestion of JSPCB, the BPSCL has started work of bio-stabilisation in ash pond in a phased manner. Its first phase has been successfully completed. The second phase of bio-stabilisation has also started. With it, the amount of atmospheric dust in the pond area will decrease as well as the stability of the ash pond will increase and the area will look green.

Non-use of fly ash is becoming a major issue in BPSCL, which is the power generation unit of BSL. BPSCL a 338 MW capacity power plant is a joint venture of Steel Authority of India Limited and Damodar Valley Corporation. It is situated inside BSL plant boundary. Vikram Mahto, a resident of a village situated on the periphery of the BSL plant, said fly ash causes huge pollution. “The people of half a dozen villages around the ash pond are suffering. During summer, fly ash blows in the air, while floods due to breaches in embankments are major concerns and affect people,” he said. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ranchi/bpscl-iit-delhi-tie-up-to-curb-ash-pond-breach-in-rautdih/articleshow/95870690.cms  (30 Nov. 2022)

Odisha Thelkoloi: another tailings failure Dave Petley on Mining waste storage dam breach on January 20, 2022 in a slurry pond from the JSW Bhushan Power and Steel Limited works in Sambalpur district. 

Farmland submerged in iron ore slurry in Banjhiberana village. (Photo. EPS)

It seems that a tailings pond wall was breached, releasing tailings that inundated 20-30 acres (8-12 hectares) of farmland near to the village of Banjhiberana in Rengali block. The lat long of the location is likely to be 21.753, 84.036. https://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/2022/01/24/thelkoloi/  (24 Jan. 2022)

Chhattisgarh NGT order on Korba NGT on Sept. 19 noted that there was an urgent need to augment the utilisation and disposal of fly ash in Chhattisgarh. The NGT order was in response to an application filed on April 25 regarding fly ash disposal by the management of Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd (BALCO) in Korba district. The application alleged that the fly ash disposal was in violation of rules and was causing adverse effects on human health and agriculture fields. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/environment/ngt-order-on-korba-can-it-improve-fly-ash-disposal-utilisation-in-india-85056  (21 Sept. 2022)

Madhya Pradesh Chachai fly ash dam burst The fly ash dam of 210 Mw Amarkantak Thermal Power Station located in Chachai, Jabalpur suddenly burst in intervening night of Feb. 10-11. As a result hundreds of acres of surrounding land were covered with ash sludge. The reason for the dam burst is believed to be the negligence of the plant officials. It is said that the Executive Director VK Kailasia, had inspected this ash dam on Feb. 10 evening itself. But soon after he left, a part of the ash dam burst and flowed away.

Chachai fly ash dam after breach. Nai Duniya

Around 3500 to 4000 tonnes of coal is burnt per day at the plant and fly ash is collected in Chachai dam built near Kelhaaur village some 5 km away from the plant. The sludge floods has affected about half a dozen nearby villages including Kelhori, Bargawan, Deori. The fields of a dozen of farmers were filled with sludge and crops were damaged. The sludge also entered and polluted nearby water bodies, streams.

There were some repair work carried only a month back at the fly ash dam site. Experts say that generally the age of ash dams is 40 to 50 years. But this dam of Kelhauri is barely five years old. A lot of expenditure is also being incurred in the name of its maintenance, but this incident shows how seriously the maintenance is actually being done. https://www.naidunia.com/madhya-pradesh/jabalpur-the-shore-of-fly-s-dam-burst-in-anuppur-the-ashes-reached-the-fields-7292598  (11 Feb. 2022)

NGT increases compensation for kin of deceased to Rs 15 lakh  NGT has increased from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 15 lakh the compensation for the families of those who died in the fly ash dyke breach incident in Singrauli. A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice A K Goel directed that the remaining amount be paid within a month. The breach took place in the fly ash dyke of Reliance’s Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project in Singrauli on April 10, 2020.

The statutory regulators may take further remedial action in terms of recommendations of the committee (formed by NGT) for the restoration of the environment and preventing such incidents, the tribunal said. It also ordered the constitution of a fly ash management and utilisation mission that will be jointly headed by the secretaries of ministries of environment and forest, coal, and power, and chief secretaries of UP and MP. The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by advocate Ashwani Kumar Dubey seeking closure and cancellation of the environmental clearance of the power project for deliberately throwing industrial waste in the Rihand reservoir. It termed the fly ash dyke breach incident a “negligent act” by the unit.

The plea claimed that due to the breach, fly ash spread all over agricultural land and allegedly resulted in the death of six innocent villagers (including three children) and cattle were swept away with the ash slurry in the Rihand reservoir. Dubey alleged that the breach has led to excessive fluoride concentration in the water, causing tumours and other health hazards to the residents in the vicinity. District officials had said the sludge had affected crops spread over an area of 25 acres. https://theprint.in/india/mp-fly-ash-dyke-breach-incident-ngt-increases-compensation-for-kin-of-deceased-to-rs-15-lakh/810908/  (23 Jan. 2022)

Flooded Rautdih village after breach in BSPCL’s fly ash dam in first week of May 2022. ToI

NGT’s new fly ash order is first of its kind in environmental jurisprudence Dharmesh Shah; LIFE On January 18, the NGT decided to club 8 ongoing cases on fly ash mismanagement and accidents filed between 2013 and 2020. There are several significant directives in the NGT’s order on guidelines for ash pond siting, design and engineering standards and the need for public health and risk impact assessments. In particular, the tribunal’s order is perhaps the first time the courts have recognised the public health costs of fly ash mismanagement in India.

From 2010 to 2020 alone, 76 coal ash pond incidents were reported across the country. Ash ponds are significantly compromised by weak foundations, often constructed using waste coal ash. It is in addition to the 1.6 billion tonnes of unutilised ‘legacy’ ash already accumulated in large unplanned coal ash ponds across India. The Union environment ministry estimates that such ash disposal sites occupy nearly 1 lakh acres of land.

The NGT’s direction for a fly ash mission is a welcome move. However, the jurisdiction of the mission is currently limited to MP and UP – it should be expanded to states like Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu as well, which have reported the most incidents of ash pond failure.

The judgement also emphasised the need to restore deteriorated ecosystems by bringing down the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI) scores in these areas, restoring damaged or degraded areas, and arranging for public health facilities, including proper water supply.

Interestingly, the tribunal also noted that project proponents were to be held accountable for past violations and were obligated to remedy the violations. The tribunal bench noted that the lack of standards on fly ash ponds has resulted in “great disasters”. To remedy the situation, the tribunal directed the government to issue guidelines on siting, design and engineering standards for the location, disposal, maintenance and regulation of ash ponds.

The bench also directed the government to carry out ‘public health and risk impact assessment’ in areas where such facilities operate. The NGT also emphasised the development of on-site and off-site crisis management plans regarding fly ash ponds and dykes.

The Union environment ministry should take this opportunity to develop a robust set of policies to investigate the public health impact of fly ash disposal and develop standards on construction of ash ponds. The seriousness of India’s fly ash crisis makes new regulation for coal ash ponds, with clear and enforceable requirements and implementation deadlines, the urgent first step to addressing the issue. https://science.thewire.in/law/national-green-tribunal-fly-ash-management-and-utilisation-mission-public-health-crisis/  (10 Feb. 2022)

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

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