CSE releases in Kolkata its latest study on the sponge iron sector

Finds the industry growing unsustainably in West Bengal and other parts of India

Says over 40 per cent of sponge iron factories in West Bengal violate environmental norms 

  • Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the New Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation, has been studying the sponge iron industry in the country. Finds large-scale environmental and social impacts and growing unrest among people in areas dominated by this industry

  • In its analysis of inspection reports of state pollution control boards, CSE has found increasing and consistent non-compliance with various environmental norms. In West Bengal for instance, 41 per cent of the inspection reports for the last three years show non-compliance

  • Enforcement action is not acting as deterrent. The present compliance and enforcement mechanism is unable to keep a check on pollution 

  • CSE advocates tightening of environmental norms and stringent enforcement

Kolkata, February 11, 2011: State pollution control boards in India are failing miserably in controlling pollution from sponge iron factories across the country – as the case of West Bengal amply demonstrates.

More than 40 per cent of the sponge iron factories in the state have been found to be violating environmental norms when inspected by the West Bengal state pollution control board. Action taken by the board – show cause and closure notices and even closure of factories in some cases – have not had the desired effect.

This is the main finding of a study on the sponge iron industry released by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) here today. The study also finds that repeated offense is a common practice amongst these factories. 

The CSE study has documented the environmental and social impacts of 15 sponge iron clusters spread across Odisha, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. These clusters have become the hub of protests owing to pollution from these factories destroying agricultural fields, associated impact on health and change in livelihood patterns.

Sponge iron: problems galore
The main environmental concern associated with the sponge iron industry is air pollution. This is largely attributed to non-installation or non-operation of pollution control equipment.

According to the study, in West Bengal, most of the sponge iron factories are found to be running with air pollution control equipment. But installation of pollution control equipment does not necessarily mean operating them and meeting emission standards. In West Bengal, 92 per cent of the inspection reports show abnormally high emissions from kiln and the night inspection reports show 100 per cent of the sponge iron factories bypassing pollution control equipment.

These non-compliance figures will go up further since the West Bengal pollution control board does not monitor these factories regularly. The study shows that the board did not carry out stack monitoring for one-fourth of the sponge iron factories in the state even once every year. Even then, 52 per cent of the factories failed to meet emission standards in the state.         

The study finds that solid waste disposal is another concern. Most of the sponge iron factories in the state are not disposing their solid waste properly, leading to air and water pollution and degradation of land.

The sponge iron sector is set to grow about seven times over the next two decades owing to the increasing steel demand. The steel sector will largely be driven by the sponge iron route. But our current pollution control norms are not sufficient to take care of such massive growth, says Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of CSE: “Our pollution control boards are weak and our enforcement actions too feeble to enforce compliance. In such a scenario, we need changes in the Environment Protection Act and strengthening of the pollution control boards to enable effective monitoring and enforcement.” 

The study recommends the following:

  • Kilns with capacity less than 300 tonne per day should be phased out and new kilns of such small capacities should not be allowed.

  • Only integrated plants should be allowed in future.

  • Mandatory standards for material handling, storage and transportation must be enacted.

  • New cluster-based standards should be introduced for sponge iron dominated areas.

  • Stricter enforcement tools and setting up of a civil administrative mechanism to impose heavy penalties is required.

For more details, please get in touch with Sugandh Juneja (sugandh@cseindia.org,
096502 82840).