by Ashish Senapati
Many villagers allege that quarry mafias in a clear nexus with ruling party leaders have been illegally lifting stones from the hillocks without getting any environmental clearance.
Neuli Pradhan, a 65-five-year-old mother of two from Jajpur’s Dankunia village in Dharmasala block of Odisha is inconsolable. She has lost both her sons to kidney ailments in the past two years.
Kailash Pradhan, who passed away three months ago at age 26, used to work in a stone quarry one kilometre away from Dankunia village. Residents allege that due to stone quarries – many of them illegal – kidney diseases have become part and parcel of everyday life for them.
“I have been spending sleepless nights for the past two years. Now, the cruel hand of fate has also snatched my younger son Kailash away,” says Neuli, clutching a photograph of Kailash.
Like Neuli, life came crashing down for 30-year-old Susama Dhir, whose 38-year-old husband Kusasan Dhir from Anjiragada village died two months ago from kidney failure. A traumatised Susama now has to look after their 14-year-old son by herself.
In 2017, 42-year-old Nrisingh Chakra from the same village had succumbed to kidney ailment. His wife, Madhu, blames the stone crusher units for the rise in kidney diseases in their village. “The air and water in our village are too polluted due to mushrooming of illegal stone crushers nearby. My husband was the victim of pollution. I am very worried over the fate of my two sons,” said Madhu.
In the past two years, around 50 locals from Anjira, Anjiragada, Gambharia, Muralipur, Bausadola, Balisahi, Patia, Bhojigotha, Shyamsundarpur, Kotasahi and Dhankunia villages in Anjira gram panchayat have died of kidney ailments, says Prahallad Mallick, a Panchayat samiti member.
“At least 200 people out of a population of 9,000 are suffering from kidney disease,” he says. “Although I fail to understand why the disease is so rampant in our gram panchayat, mostly villages near stone quarries are being affected,” adds Mallick.
Recently, the district administration directed the Chief District Medical Officer to inquire into the matter, says Ambika Dash, block development officer, Dharmasala. A medical team recently visited Anjira gram panchayat. “Fine stone particles are polluting the water bodies. Villagers consuming this water are falling prey to kidney diseases. Many locals are reluctant to undergo treatment,” said Kanhu Charana Nayak, the district public health officer, Jajpur.
“At present, government hospitals have no facility to treat kidney patients. Many villagers are undergoing treatment at SCB Medical College and Hospital, Cuttack,” he added.
However, for 42-year-old Umesh Bhyan’s family, the treatment came at a huge cost. The resident from Annjiragada had to sell two acres of his land for treatment at SCB. Some like Bishnu Paika, 45, from Dankunia village wait for death as they are unable to afford the treatment.
Many villagers allege that quarry mafias in a clear nexus with ruling party leaders have been illegally lifting stones from the hillocks without getting any environmental clearance. The quarry mafias also damage the village roads as each day hundreds of stone-laden trucks, trackers and other vehicles move on the roads,” says Jagnnath Behera from Dankunia village.
Ashok Jena from Shymasundarpur village says that many hillocks were the source of water for locals till a decade back but due to flattening of the hillocks by lifting stones, we are facing water shortages.
Ranjan Kumar Das, the district collector of Jajpur told this reporter, “The district administration formed a squad comprising all the tehsildars, BDOs, labour officials and police to check all the quarry units. We have recently sealed around 260 illegal stone quarries and crushers in the district. I directed all the tehsildars to take action against illegal quarry works.”
Article first published on DownToEarth.org.in
Ashish Senapati is a regular writer and contributor for downtoearth.org.in.