Gadi Srirampur (Jharkhand) : Four-year-olds Kaushal Kaul and Priti Kumari are unlike the chirpy children one would expect them to be — both have been blind since birth. Perhaps it is for the better, locals say bitterly, as the two will not have to witness the destruction of their once beautiful village in Giridih due to industrial pollution.
It is hard to imagine that in the 1970s Giridih, then in Bihar but now part of Jharkhand, was popularly known as a ‘health resort’ due to its salubrious climate. With its Usri river waterfall, Parasnath Hills and picnic garden at Khandoli Dam, it was among the most scenic places of the state.
A visit to this village now reveals that over two dozen children have been born here with various deformities from 2002-09. Locals say the culprits are around 60 factories, most of them iron and steel producing units, in and around the area.
The scene is a rustic Indian equivalent of the bleak Dickensian world — leaves and grass which have turned blackish due to smoke, trees which have stopped bearing fruit, and animals dying after drinking polluted water.
“The situation is so bad that since 2009, as soon as a woman of this village becomes pregnant, we have been sending her to her relatives’ place outside the village so that there is a chance that the baby born is healthy,” Bhukhan Kaul, Kaushal’s grandfather, said .
Giridih was once among the nurseries of Bengal Renaissance. Rabindranath Tagore wrote several chapters of his Nobel Prize-winning “Gitanjali” at famous statistician P.C. Mahalanobis’ house in the district. Scientist J.C. Bose invented the crescograph — which proved plants have life — while living here.
Satyajit Ray, who spent his childhood here, created a science fiction character called Professor Shonku, who used to live beside the Usri river.
But today all these are mere stories.
Locals say the brunt of the pollution is borne by Gadi Srirampur and surrounding villages — home to around 50,000 people.
“Several people from these areas come to me for treatment. I can safely say that pollution could be a major factor which is causing blindness among the children,” eye specialist Prabhat Kumar said.
In Kalhamanjho village, just two iron ore processing factories have generated so much dust that there is a mini-hill in the area and the waste is spread around 20 acres of land.
While factory owners purchased a small piece of land to dump the waste, villagers claim that it also polluted large swathes of surrounding forest land.
The Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board has no office in Giridih and monitors the situation from Hazaribagh.
Giridih Deputy Commissioner D. Lakra told IANS: “Since I have joined, I have taken the issue seriously and not only held a meeting with officials concerned but gave them orders to control the pollution as well as labour law violations in these factories.”
Many officials IANS spoke to refused to be quoted. Villagers say this is because a majority of the factories are owned by legislators, politicians and other influential people.
“Everyone made money from such plants but never cared about the thousands of people who are affected. We have lost all hope and have surrendered to fate,” said Ram Ratan Rai, a villager here.
Jharkhand Chamber of Commerce’s Giridih unit president Gunwant Singh, who also owns a factory here, said: “Deformed babies were born till 2009, and that too due to other factors. The situation is fine now.”
What would Kaushal and Priti would have to say to that?