12 May 2020
In early April, two barges carrying flyash from thermal power plants in West Bengal to Bangladesh capsized on the Hoogly river in West Bengal .The increasing incident of accidents involving barges carrying flyash is a cause of concern specially because the transport takes place through the Sundarbans . The areas involve a large number of fishing communities. The shipping route to Bangladesh passes through the Sundarbans, almost bordering the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve which is also a World Heritage Site. The Fisheries Organistaion and experts raise their concern as it is a threat to the ecology of the river and Sunderbans. Flyash from Indian thermal plants is transported to Bangladesh for the manufacture of cement.
Point of Concern:
- Fly ash which gets dumped in the river is injurious to aquatic biodiversity including the Gangetic Dolphins.
- This in turn affects the livelihood of fishing communities.
What is fly ash?
Fly ash is produced when coal is burnt. Flyash is highly toxic substance and contains arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury and radioactive substances. According to studies, coal ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste.
Reasons for the capsizing of barges:
- One of the possible reasons for such frequent sinking of barges is that most of them seem to be old and overloaded.
- There seems to be no monitoring mechanism in place to ascertain as to whether the barges are safe for transporting such huge quantities of flyash through ecologically sensitive areas.
- The shipping route involves prime habitat of the Gangetic Dolphin and is in close proximity to Sundarban tiger reserve.
- There is no record that an environmental impact assessment has been done to ascertain the environmental and social risk involved in transporting flyash through the Sundarbans.
- There is also no record to show that any community consultation has taken place with fishing communities to inform them about the nature of goods being transported and its likely impact.
- The recurring incidences of ships capsizing on the Hoogly require an immediate review of the policy of allowing the export of flyash to Bangladesh using such a sensitive route.
- No Immediate action such as quick clean-up of oil, other spills is undertaken in any of the above instances