JSW Steel stops operations after Pollution Control Board(PCB) order

12 October 2015

JSW Steel's plant in Macheri, in Salem district, shut operations since Monday after Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) ordered its closure recently.

The order was issued after 20 JSW Steel workers suffered from asphyxiation on September 27. TNPCB officials had inspected the plant and found many irregularities in its operations and thus issued the direction which comes at a time when discontent has been brewing among residents living in the plant's vicinity.

"We visited the plant and inspected it completely after we heard about the asphyxiation incident. We detected many irregularities and so we asked the company to stop operations," said K Kamaraj, environmental engineer (in-charge) of TNPCB's Salem division. The pollution control body has mentioned several irregularities in the closure order issued to JSW Steel.

People have been complaining of pollution-related problems for long. Twenty-three-year-old Sudhamani moved to Macheri a year ago after she married Arulmani. Since then she's been hit with several health problems including respiratory issues and skin irritations. She lives just 200ft from the steel plant. "I sometimes see smoke emanating from the chimney like fires balls," she said.

"Residents had no idea that this plant would have such a negative impact on their health. Many employees of the plant have lost their lives due to work-related health issues," said Poomozhi, state president of Tamil Nadu People Rights Movement (TPRM).

According to Poomozhi, on September 27, 20 contract labourers of JSW Steel fainted after they inhaled carbon monoxide that leaked from a pipeline. "The workers were on duty near the furnace when the incident took place," he said. Poomozhi alleged that the effluents from the plant were being disposed off on the fertile lands. Since their wastes contain iron ore, the land has become very arid, he added.

JSW Steel is the country's largest producer of special steel in the long products category. It mainly caters to the automotive sector. JSW acquired the sick SISCOL plant in Salem in 2004. While SISCOL recorded only 0.3mt of production on average annually, JSW increased it to 1mt in addition to manufacturing other value added products.

Farmers in Macheri say that compared to 10 years ago, their harvest has decreased substantially. "I used to get at least 400 coconuts per tree every year. But now the count has come down to 150 per tree," said M Ramachandran, a farmer.

When contacted by TOI, associate vice-president (HR) of JSW Steel, B E Rajendran, admitted to the asphyxiation incident, but countered by saying that the plant was environmental-friendly. "Yes, 20 contract labourers suffered asphyxiation. They were taken to a private hospital for treatment. Except for one victim, the others returned home the same day," he said. He also confirmed that the plant had stopped its production after TNPCB issued the closure order. "A team of officials from TNPCB visited the plant and prepared the report. We are looking into this issue and will open the plant shortly," he said.

"The plant has to rectify all irregularities at the earliest. If they make the necessary arrangements, TNPCB will reconsider the closure order," K Kamraj said.