EIA analysis of Utkal Alumina refinery project | Centre for Science and Environment


EIA analysis of Utkal Alumina refinery project

A representative of Vasundhra, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working in the state of Orissa on various social and environmental issues, requested us, on behalf of the local communities and NGOs of Kashipur Block in Raygada district of Orissa, to technically evaluate the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) document of:

1. The Utkal Alumina Project, located at Doragurhavillage of Kashipur Block in Rayagada district of Orissa state.

2. Captive bauxite mines of Utkal Alumina Project located at Baphlimali hills of Kashipur block in Rayagada district of Orissa state.

The above mentioned EIA reports are proposed for expanding the production capacity of alumina refinery plant from 1.0 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) to 3.0 MTPA; increasing the power generation capacity of the captive power plant from 50 MW to 90 MW; and for expanding the mine output of the captive bauxite mining from 3.0 MTPA to 8.5 MTPA.

Utkal Alumina International Limited (UAIL) (also called as Utkal Alumina Project) is a joint venture company of M/s. Hindalco (India ) and Alcan Aluminium (Canada ) with the shareholding pattern of 55% and 45% respectively.

Project location: The Alumina refinery plant is located at Doragurha village which is around 13 km from Kashipur block in Raygada district of Orissa.

The plant will meet its entire bauxite requirement from captive Baphlimali hills, which is about 16 km (aerial distance) from the plant site (Doragurha village). The captive mines are connected to the plant by 19.5 kms conveyor belt to transfer the bauxite. The company has a lease area of 1388.74 Ha and the nearest village is of Baphlimali.

The basic objective of the project is to:

  •  Mine bauxite for downstream processing and third party sales;
  •  Produce alumina for captive smelter system and sales to third party smelters; and,
  •  Produce and markets specialty aluminas

The project is a 100% export oriented and will export both Bauxite and Alumina.

Legal and procedural status of the project The Utkal Alumina Project had obtained the Environmental Clearance (EC) from Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to produce 1.0 MTPA alumina and 50-MW captive power in 1995 vide letter numbers 14356/SPCB/BBSR/IND/II/NOC/355 dated 19th June 1995 and J-11011/76/94-IA.II(I) dated 27th September 1995 respectively.

Similar environment clearance was obtained for Utkal Bauxite mines from MoEF to extract 3.0 MTPA Bauxite in September 1995 vide letter number J-11015/149/94-IA,II(M)dt. 25.09.1995.

However, inspite of receiving the required clearances almost 11 years ago, both the alumina refinery project and the bauxite mines have not yet become operational. In fact, not even the construction of the plant has been initiated.

As per the rules under the EIA Notification s.o.60(e), dated 27/01/1994, it is clearly stipulated that the clearance granted to any project is valid only for a period of five years within which the construction or operation of the project should be commenced. It is clear from the site that till 2000, no construction activity had started. There is therefore, a legitimate question mark on the status of environmental clearance of the project.

This is also substantiated by a number of communications of UAIL, MoEF and the Orissa Pollution Control Board (OPCB). These are listed as follows:

  • Number of letter were written by UAIL to MoEF in September 2000, June 2001, November 2002, March 2003 and June 2003 requesting for revalidation of the environmental clearance obtained in 1995. From these letters, it is quite clear that UAIL understood that the 1995 EC for both the refinery and the bauxite mines had lapsed.
  • The Union Ministry of Environment and Forest sent a letter (ref. no. J-11015/149/94-IA.II (M) dated 23 October 2003) to the Chief Conservator of Forest, Eastern Region, and copied the same to the Chief General Manager, UAIL, regarding the status of the environmental clearance granted to Baphlimali Bauxite Mines of M/s UAIL. This letter clearly indicates that as per the EIA notification, the EC granted in 1995 has lapsed and the company (UAIL) must initiate the entire process of EC with MoEF again to obtain fresh environmental clearance.
  • Orissa Pollution Control Board (OPCB) issued a show cause notice in 2005 (Letter ref no. 22305/Ind-II-NOC 1123 dated 23.07.2005) to UAIL for illegal construction as the environmental clearance granted by MoEF in 1995 had lapsed.

From the legal point of view, it is quite clear that:

1. The environmental clearance granted to the Utkal Alumina Project and the Utkal Bauxite mines, lapsed in the year 2000. The project therefore, has to take fresh environmental clearance, even for the initial project (1.0 MTPA alumina refinery, 50 MW captive power plant and 3.0 MTPA bauxite mines).

2. Since the initial project has not yet been operationalised or even constructed, the current proposal of expansion is not valid. The EIA notification clearly states that expansion is only applicable to an existing operational project and not to a proposed non-operational project.

3. The process initiated by the OPCB to conduct public hearing on 17th October 2006 for the expansion of UAIL alumina refinery and bauxite mining is therefore illegal.

Environmental impact of the project and the analysis of the EIA report Besides, an obvious question mark on the legal status of the environment clearance of the alumna refinery and the captive mines, there are also several drawbacks in the quality of the EIA reports. The report not only contains factual mistakes but is also poor in terms of assessing the environmental impacts of the project. Some of these drawbacks/lapses are presented below:

1. To start with, a rapid EIA is just not sufficient to assess the overall impact of the project. For instance, one of the major impacts of the mining at Baphlimali will be reduction in water flowing into theIndravati River from various streams and an increase in sedimentation load in the runoff. To assess this impact, monitoring in monsoon season is essential. However, the EIA report does not have any monitoring conducted during the monsoon season. Similarly, the data on river flow given for five months does not allow for proper estimation of the impact of the water consumption and wastewater discharge on the river flow, river ecology and impact on people dependent on the river. In nutshell, a comprehensive EIA is must for a project of this scale especially as it is located in an ecologically fragile and stressed area.

2. Cumulative impact on environment not assessed: Considering the location of the project and the geographical contiguity of the refinery and mining sites, it is clear that there will be a cumulative environmental impact of both the mines and the refinery. However, the EIA reports for both refinery and mines have failed to assess the cumulative impact of the total project on the region.

The EIA report has completely missed out on addressing the issue of cumulative impact on theIndravati River Basin and its resultant impact on people and habitat dependent on this river. There is no analysis on the reduction in flow ofIndravati River due to disappearance of streams originating in Baphlimali hills or the loss of catchment area for setting of the plant. It is clear from the report that mining in Baphlimali will significantly impact Khandabinda nallah on north or San nallah on the south, both of which are major tributaries to theIndravati River.

Indravati River is the lifeline of Bastar and Dantewar district and forms an important link within the conservation areas in the vast forest belt extending into Chhattaisgarh,Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. For instance, Indravati Tiger Reserve is highly dependent on the Indravati river. In such a scenario, the impact of this project will not only be local but will be regional. This impact has not been captured in the entire EIA report.

3. Impact of siltation onUpper Indravati Reservoir: The EIA report has completely failed to address the issue of increase in siltation in the Upper Indravati Reservoir. This reservoir supplies water to the water-scarce Kalahandi district of Orissa.

Even if a broad estimation is done to assess the amount of sediments mobilised due to the bauxite mines, it is quite evident that the project will significantly silt-up the reservoir. The EIA report has completely failed to address the silt and sludge deposition in the Indravati reservoir.

Similar siltation of reservoirs due to mining has already happened in the past. Mining of iron ore by the Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Limited (KIOCL) is one of the best-known examples of reservoir siltation due to mining. In Kudermukh, the mines are located in a fragile ecosystem and in a region naturally prone to high sedimentation because of high rainfall and a hilly terrain. The climatic and geological setting of Baphlimali hills is very similar to Kudremukh and it also has reasonably high rainfall.

Similar to the UAIL EIA report, the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), which prepared the EIA report for KIOCL, did not consider the impact of sediment discharge on the reservoir. The result was that the reservoir silted-up in 20 years and in 2002 the Supreme Court had to stop the mining operation of KIOCL.

 

We must learn from the past and UAIL project should not allowed without a detailed study of its impact on theUpper Indravati Reservoir.

4. Impact of water consumption by the plant on local resources and needs: The EIA report has completely undervalued the impact of water consumption which the alumina refinery and mine will have on the people dependent on Barha Nadi and San Nadi. It is clear from the data given in EIA report of the Alumina Refinery (Table 4.2 & 4.3 on page C4-3), that both these are heavily used rivers by the people, which is clear from the fact that:

  • In Barha Nadi, the flow reduces by as much as 40-45% between Dangasil and Nauparha, even though the aerial distance between Dangasil and Nauparha is less than 10 km. Therefore, Barha Nadi is currently so extensively used that within a distance of 10 km it losses 40-45% of its flow.
  • Similarly, the San Nadi is also extensively used. In between Panjara and Kathkal, this river losses again 40-46% of its flow.

With livelihood of people dependent on these rivers to such great extent, any additional usage of water of these two rivers will completely kill the river. Simply stated, there isn’t enough water in these two rivers to support such a massive and water-intensive project. This is also clearly substantiated by the analysis of the impact of water consumption by the plant on the Barha Nadi and San Nadi:

 

Barha Nadi: UAIL proposes to use about 4600 m3 water per day from Barha Nadi during the construction phase by sourcing it through a 2-m high weir near Doragurha village. The very fact that to source this relatively small amount of water (4600 m3 per day), a weir has to be constructed means that there is very little flow in Barha Nadi. This is also substantiated by the data on dependable flow given in the EIA report (Table 4.3 on page C4-3). Even if take the 50 percentile flow (which is an overestimation), Barha Nadi flow at Tikarparha is just 39,500 m3/day in January and this reduces to 21,600 m3/day by the month of May. The 50 percentile flow of Barha Nadi at Nauparha is just 28,100 m3/day in January and this reduces to 16,600 m3/day by the month of May.

Now a weir constructed at Doragurha to extract 4600 m3/day means that Nauparha will have 50 percentile dependable flow of just 23500 m3/day in January and this flow reduces to 12,000 m3/day by the month of May - a reduction in flow by 20-30%. In a minor river, a flow reduction by 20-30% essentially means that, with the coming up of the weir, in lean months of March, April and May, this perennial source of water supply to Naurparha and the downstream villages will disappear forever.

But the EIA report, surprisingly states that the tapping of Barha Nadi for constructional activities is not expected to have any adverse impacts on the requirement of local people or the ecology of the Barha Nadi, as the total requirement of water is only about 17% of the lean season flow of Nadi” (page c4-13). The EIA report has concluded after estimating that the water requirement of downstream villagers is just 12,100 m3/day. But how has it estimated this is not part of the EIA report. The data on flow reduction however, states the opposite (see above).

San Nadi: The plant proposes to use 26000 m3/day in plant and 2000 m3/day in mines from San Nadi, near Kathkhal, during its operation. Thus, the plant will extract 28000 m3/day of water from this river every day. The fact that the flow in this river is not sufficient to supply water to the plant round the year can be ascertained by the fact that during the lean months, UAIL plans to withdraw water from the Upper Indravati Reservoir, when the flow in San Nadi reduces to 44,100 m3/day. The 90 percentile flow of San Nadi at KathKhal clearly indicates that in the month of April and May, there isn’t enough water to support the plant. Even if we take the average flow at Kathkhal between January and May, this single project will alone take up approximate 25-30% of the total flow of the river. This is a highly unsustainable developmental model. In years of low rainfall, which this region has suffered during 2004 and 2005, an appropriation of 30% of the total flow will cause great hardship to the downstream population.

4. Impact of water withdrawal from the Upper Indravati Reservoir: Upper Indravati Reservoir not only supplies water to Kalahandi district, it also houses a power plant. In the entire EIA report, no mention has been made about the impact of water withdrawal from the reservoir during the lean months on either the power plant or the water availability to Kalahandi district.

5. Impact of wastewater discharge on Barha Nadi: During the operation phase, Barha Nadi will also get heavily polluted. It will be because, UAIL will take water fromSan River and dispose its wastewater in Barha Nadi during the operation phase.

The pollution impact on Barha Nadi can be gauged by the fact that from January to May the dilution ratio available in the Nadi will be less than 5, even with most optimistic assumption.

Based on our estimation, the Barha Nadi does not have sufficient flow to assimilate the pollution load generated by the plant. The 50 percentile flow (which is an overestimation) of Barha Nadi at Tikarparha between January to May is just 28,920 m3/day. On the other hand, we estimate that the plant would discharge around 8160 m3 of effluent every day. Therefore, the dilution ratio available is less than four on an average during January to May. In January, the dilution ratio would be around 4.5 and in May it would be around 2.5. We do not expect the dilution ratio to go beyond 10 even during the peak flood level. Therefore, the Bharha Nadi has little assimilative capacity to take the wastewater discharge of UAIL.

Considering the BOD, COD and TDS of the treated effluent (the EIA report states that it will meet the standards) and the BOD, COD and TDS in the Barha Nadi downstream of Daragurha, the impact of discharge of 8160 m3 of effluent every day on the Barha Nadi would be:

The BOD level in Barha Nadi after the discharge point (downstream of Daragurha) will increase from less than 3 mg/l to 9 mg/l – an increase in BOD levels by three times. The COD level in Barha Nadi after the discharge point will increase from less than 10 mg/l to 63 mg/l – an increase in COD levels by more than 6 times The TDS level in Barha Nadi after the discharge point will increase from 72.5 mg/l to 520 mg/l – an increase in TDS levels by about 8 times. Essentially, if wastewater discharge is allowed in Barha Nadi, this river will get converted into a sewer.

It is important to mention that in the entire EIA report the amount of wastewater discharged has not been disclosed. The location of the wastewater discharge point has also not been disclosed.

6. Impact of red mud disposal site and flyash disposal site on Barha Nadi: The red mud disposal site and flyash disposal site is proposed to be constructed on Barah Nadi catchment area as well. This will significantly affect the river flow and the water quality. But this entire issue has not been discussed in the EIA report.

7. Impact on air: The plant will have a significant impact on the air quality of the region. A large scale refinery project will not only lead to dust generation from both point source as well as non-point sources but will also significantly increase the SOx emissions. The detailed analysis on the impact of the plant on the air quality is represented below

  • Fugitive dust: Bauxite and coal, which constitutes more than 95% (9.9 million tones annual consumption) of the total raw material for this project are proposed to be stored in open. They will contribute greatly to the fugitive dust emissions from the plant. Our estimation shows that annually about 10,000-20,000 tonnes of fugitive dust can be released from coal and bauxite storage site alone to the surrounding environment. This is very significant amount and can have severe impact on the health of the workers and community if not properly controlled. The EIA report has completely failed to addressed this issue or suggest sound mitigation option for controlling the fugitive dust from open storage site. Water spraying is just not sufficient.
  • Similarly, huge amount of fugitive dust will be generated from the red mud disposal site and flyash disposal site. Again water spraying is just not sufficient to control fugitive dust from these two disposal site during dry period. This becomes more pertinent when we consider that there is not enough water during lean period to run this plant.
  • Dust load from point sources: If the SPM emission as reported in the EIA report is considered, the total dust load from the project is around 86 tonnes per annum.
  • SO2 emissions: The EIA report has estimated the SO2 emission due to the operation of the plant. However, the value given in the EIA report is significantly underreported.

According to the EIA report, based on the emission rate of SO2 from the various stacks, the total SO2 load from the plant in a year would be only 7931 tonnes per annum.

 

However, if SO2 is estimated on the basis of the amount of coal and furnace oil consumed at the plant and the respective sulphur content in these two fuels, the total amount of SO2 is as much as 25,656 tonnes per annum. This is more than 3 times than what has been estimated in the EIA report.

 Pollution prevention and control is always given a high priority for any development project. However, in this project only suggested control equipment is for dust control. There are other pollutants, which are quite significant to this project i.e. gaseous pollutants but these have not been considered for mitigation.

8. Impact of mining: Mining of bauxite would have significant environmental impact such as fugitive dust, reduction in flow of various nallah originating from the hills and increase in siltation in Indravati river.

There is very high potential for generation of fugitive dust as well as siltaion in the first three years of excavation. This is because during this period, around 8 million tonnes of overburden and bauxite is proposed to be stored in open at the mine. Assuming that 0.5 % of the total stored material escapes in the atmosphere, it will add around 40,650 tonnes of dust as fugitive dust. Similarly, these stored materials may also run into two main nallahs originating from the hills which would increase the siltation in river Indravati as these are its two main tributaries.

Though the EIA report mentions that there is a reserve forest within 0.5 km from the lease area, however, the report has failed to quantify the impact or loss of biodiversity.

9. Social impacts: Most of the social related issues are not addressed properly in the EIA report and has been assessed based on secondary data. Being a high magnitude environmental project, people have not been involved nor have their concerns been taken into account.

10. Impact on land: In this project, site alternative was never considered for locating the waste disposal site. Therefore, a large junk of fertile agricultural land and some portion of forest land will be used for disposing ash and red mud. As we know, topsoil formation takes million of year and its loss is never been compensated by any means. Being such an important natural resource, EIA report fails to quantify the quantity of top soil which will be lost due to setting of the waste disposal site and its environmental consequences.

11. Biodiversity: The watershed of Barah Nadi andIndravati River will be significantly affected due to the siting of plant. Moreover, proposed refinery has acquired about 1015 ha (2508.81-acre) of land of which more than 17% of its acquired land falls in government village forestland. Inspite of this the EIA report has failed to quantify the impact on surrounding biodiversity due to the plant.

12. Poor representation of data: Some of the impact which has been touched upon in the report is inadequately addressed. The EIA report has mentioned that there are only two main streams originating in the Baphlimali hills. However, according to the field survey conducted by the local NGO Agarmee, there are 56 streams in the Baphlimali hills.

13. Poor quality of EIA report: Interestingly, Vimta lab has lapsed in preparing this EIA report. There is instances where portion of the EIA report has been lifted from other EIA report. A case of copy and paste job. For example, in the Environmental Management Plan of mine, the EIA developer (Vimta lab) has copied the EMP of limestone mining. In chapter 5 on Environment Management Plan, the EIA report quotes in section on Occupational Safety and Health Management that “The main factors of occupational health in limestone mine are fugitive dust and noise” (refer page C5-26, section 5.14). The consultants have forgotten to replace limestone mining with bauxite mining, which clearly indicates the quality of the EIA report.

 

 

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