Sponge Iron Factories in West Bengal, India


Spread over the districts of Bankura, Purulia, Midnapore, Burdwan, there are around 100 sponge iron factories. Most of these factories operate out of the coal-rich Burdwan district. To produce sponge iron, which steel plants use as feedstock, these units burn coal to heat iron ore. These factories are providing employment to around 11,000 workers. These workers are mostly working on contract basis, deprived of minimum wages, health and other social security benefits. In the adjoining areas, people’s lives have been greatly affected by the pollution caused by these factories. Most people are facing severe health troubles, mainly breathing problems. All water sources, including drinking water, in nearby areas are polluted. Sal leaves, which provide livelihood to thousands of people from collection and sale, have dried up. This is affecting their livelihood. Food crops in the nearby areas are also been greatly affected [1], as most of these units use coal with high ash content. The coal used in these factories are considered inferior in quality and sourced mostly from illegal private mines. Many of these factories even switch off pollution control devices to save power costs. The smoke typically contains a lot of harmful gases, such as oxides of carbon, sulphur and nitrogen, and substantial quantities of fine particles, mainly fly ash [2] In such difficult circumstances for the common people, Nagarik Mancha and other organisations have released a pamphlet in Bengali questioning government’s policies concerning environment and pollution, and also demanding that these factories should be closed immediately [1]. In the last couple of years, West Bengal State Pollution Control Board (WBSPCB) has issued closure notices to 50-60 units for not abiding by its norms.

Basic Data
NameSponge Iron Factories in West Bengal, India
ProvinceWest Bengal
SiteDistrict - Purulia, Bankura, Midnapore, Burdwan
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Mineral processing
Metal refineries
Specific CommoditiesIndustrial waste
Iron ore
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsTo assess the impact, the state Pollution Control Board has recently commissioned a study by the economics department of Kolkata’s Jadavpur University. It showed crops worth at least Rs 1.09 crore and livestock worth Rs3.89 crore a year were damaged by this menace; injury to human health was estimated to cost Rs5.2 crore a year [2]
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population50,000 
Relevant government actorsWest Bengal Pollution Control Board, Government of West Bengal
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersNagarik Mancha of Kolkata, West Bengal, Local Villagers
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Threats to use arms
The Left-wing extremists of West Bengal Communist Party of India (Maoist) set alight a sponge iron factory at Jhargram in West Midnapore district. Its top leader Koteshwar Rao told state environment secretary M.L. Meena on the phone that they gutted the factory because it was polluting the environment [2]
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseEnvironmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Institutional changes
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of AlternativesWest Bengal has suggested the sponge iron units in the State to set up solid waste-based captive power plants on a cooperative model. The initiative is expected to reduce carbon emission [5]
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.In places like Durgapur, Bankura, Purulia, Jhargram etc. smoke, gas, stone / coal dust and liquid effluent from sponge iron units is spreading pollutants like nickel, chromium, cadmium, arsenic, manganese on to the vegetation, agricultural fields, wells, rivers, water bodies and also affecting humans and domestic animals. Despite this the West Bengal Pollution Control Board has not taken any effective measures as The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981 and The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974.

During the public hearings in connection with the Environment Impact Assessment as per the Environment Protection Act, 1986 the concerns, apprehensions and oppositions of the local 2 inhabitants have not been given cognizance.

Hazardous (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989 is being flouted totally during transportation and storage of raw materials to and at the factories. Moreover during operation the solid and liquid effluents are polluting the surroundings. The State pollution Control Board is taking no action.

In the absence of appropriate measures the inhabitants, specially women and children, are suffering from multiple ailments. Cost of treatment is becoming a burden. Experts say that the nature of pollution is causing diseases of the lungs, kidney and skin. They also fear that child bearing capacity of women may also be adversely affected. Despite full knowledge the respective departments of the Government initiate no corrective measures.

Owing to pollution caused by sponge iron units the vegetation, water bodies, rivers, homestead, land, human population, birds, animals of the locality are being devastated. Domestic cows, buffaloes, goats, sheep, hens and ducks have become diseased and are perishing.

The smoke, gas, vapour, stone / coal dust and liquid effluent from these sponge iron units have polluted the water, air and land and thereby the productivity of crops, vegetables and fruits. Pollution of village commons have affected the grazing of domestic animals. The Government has done nothing to combat this crisis.

Laws concerning conservation of forest have been flouted at will and trees have been felled to create vast spaces for storage/dumping of raw materials required for sponge iron units. Such illegal activities are being ignored by the State.

In these sponge iron units laws concerning minimum wages, contract labour, factories are being consistently flouted. Social security laws are not being followed. However the concerned authority is taking no steps.

Most of these highly polluting sponge iron units are taking advantage of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and declaring that they are controlling/combating the effects of pollution. Consequently they are getting involved in Carbon trading under pretty dubious circumstances and reaping huge profit unscrupulously. Instead of restraining them the concerned authority is patronising such nefarious activities [4].
Sources and Materials

Act, 1974 Relevant provisions.pdf
[click to view]

The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981
[click to view]

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974


[4] Citizens Charge Sheet Chargesheet on Sponge Iron.pdf
[click to view]

[2] West Bengal grapples with polluting sponge iron units
[click to view]

[3] Spong Iron Industry
[click to view]

[5] Sponge iron factories in State using green options: W. Bengal pollution board
[click to view]

Sponge iron’s dirty growth
[click to view]

Sponge iron industries are killing fields
[click to view]

Sponge iron industry’s dirty dossier
[click to view]

CSE dialogue on sponge iron in Kolkata
[click to view]

Iron-West Bengal-2009.pdf
[click to view]

[1] West Bengal – More than fifty polluting sponge iron factories
[click to view]

Survey Of Indian Sponge Iron Industry
[click to view]

[6] Pamphlet on pollution by sponge iron factories – Nagarik Mancha and other organisations (in Bengali) -
[click to view]


Sponge iron’s dirty growth
[click to view]

Sponge iron industries are killing fields
[click to view]

Sponge iron units asked to set up green power plants
[click to view]

West Bengal- First in pollution
[click to view]

Media Links

Loha Garam Hai Part 1
[click to view]

Loha Garam Hai Part 2
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorSwapan Kumar Patra
Last update14/07/2014