Activists in Andhra Pradesh have written to the state's Pollution Control Board (PCB), accusing it of turning a blind eye towards alleged violations by the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) at its uranium mine and processing plant set up at Tummalapalle.
Several locals from the region, including those belonging to the villages of Mabbuchintalapalli, Bhumayagaripalli and Kanumalavaripalli, have staged protests against the mine in the past.
Locals allege that the uranium mine’s tailing pond is prone to leaks. The tailing pond is a wet storage area where the by-products that are discharged from the mine are transported by a pipeline for containment. They say this slush then enters farms and other water sources, thereby affecting their livelihood.
"Unfortunately, APPCB has remained a mute spectator all these years. It has not even dared to identify the source of contamination and conclusively determine the violations by UCIL. APPCB appears to have forgotten that its primary responsibility is to protect the environment and the people and not shield the polluters. UCIL has simply ignored the presence of APPCB as a regulator and has been going ahead with whatever they want to do," the activists said in their representation to PCB Member Secretary and IAS officer Vivek Yadav.
Those who signed the letter to the PCB include retired Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) scientist Dr Babu Rao, Professor M Adinarayana from Osmania University and several others including Dr K Venkat Reddy, Dr A V Rao, Dr M Bapuji, Dr C R Panda, Dr JM Mohanty and Dr A Srinivasa Rao.
They pointed out that while the District Collector and the local MP, YS Avinash Reddy, had held meetings with the locals, the PCB representative was missing.
"Is the matter merely limited to paying compensation for loss of agriculture? Will the contamination continue without any measures to check and stop it? Now the contamination spread to mainly three villages and soon it will spread to larger area causing permanent poisoning of groundwater. We are distressed at APPCB being unable to even fix the responsibility for groundwater pollution and allowing the company to get away with blaming natural causes," the letter added.
"For whose development are the poor people of Kadapa being sacrificed?" the letter asked.
The activists also attached a letter written by Kadapa MP Y S Avinash Reddy last year, which was addressed to UCIL Chairman and Managing Director C K Asnani, which stated, "We are able to see an attempt by UCIL to cover up its lapses in a highly unprofessional and unethical manner."
Stating that "falsehoods are least expected from professional engineers and scientists", Avinash wrote, "I am having tough time pacifying the affected people to wait for justice. You cannot go on denying your responsibility for taking advantage of a meek regulatory system. You are hitting at the very livelihoods of the people and playing with their lives...I urge you to act at least now to correct the situation."
The UCIL meanwhile, has been denying the allegations and claiming that the higher salinity and Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) content in groundwater samples from the region could be linked to the operations of UCIL and said that 'scientific evidence' was yet to be found.
“On the basis of detailed scientific studies, no significant anomaly has been reported on the quality of groundwater collected from monitoring wells constructed around the tailing ponds in line with the international practices," a statement issued by them last year had said.