Jharkhand Filmmaker Duo win National Film Award

On 9th September, 2011, Jharkhandi filmmaker-duo Meghnath Banerjee and Biju Toppo were awarded prestigious National Film Award by the President Pratibha Patil at a glittering ceremony held at Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan.

Bijju Toppo, noted filmmaker based in Ranchi
Biju Toppo, noted filmmaker based in Ranchi

It was proud moment not only for the Ranchi-based filmmakers, but our entire Jharkhand state.

Meghnath Banerjee, noted filmaker based in Ranchi
Meghnath Banerjee, noted filmmaker based in Ranchi

Also, Kolkata-based Nilanjan Bhattacharya received the award for best narration for his documentary Johar: Welcome to Our World, based on Jharkhand. This Hindi and English bilingual film tells a story about the symbiotic and intricate relationship the Adivasis (tribals) have with the forests. National Award winning director A.K. Bir headed the jury that had judged these documentaries in the non-feature film category. The filmmaker-duo won the National Film Award in the following categories:

1. Best Promotional Film: Ek Ropa Dhan (Hindi)

Producer: Megnath Banerjee

Director: Biju Toppo and Meghnath Bhattacharjee

Award: Rajat Kamal and Rs. 50,000

The Award Citation said: A succinct and well researched film looking closely at an innovation applied effectively in the farming of rice. The film engages successfully with the issue and makes a strong case for the promotion of the practice called Ek Ropa Dhan.

This Hindi film narrates a story about a system of rice intensification that was introduced by a priest Fr Henri de Laulanie in Madagascar. The remarkable feature about the method is that it requires much fewer seeds, fertilisers, insecticides and around one-third of the water required in conventional farming.

2. Best Environmental Film: Iron is Hot (English)

Producer: Megnath Banerjee

Director: Biju Toppo and Meghnath Bhattacharjee

Award: Rajat Kamal and Rs. 50,000

The Award Citation said: The film is well documented with a forthright exposition of the grievous impact of pollution due to sponge iron industry on the inhabitants dwelling around that area. With clarity and veracity, the film maker is able to express empathy and concern on the acute prevailing problem over human existence.

The 43-minute long English film ‘Iron is Hot’ narrates a story about how common people fight their daily battles for survival, living and working in area dominated by the highly polluting India’s sponge iron industry located in the neighbourhood.

But what option do the poor really have?

The film uses pertinent data and interviews with the affected people and rebel leaders of Sundargarh, Rajgangpur, Siltara, etc. to drive home the point of on-going mindless industrialization being carried out in the mineral rich rural (tribal) hinterland located in Orissa, Jharkhand, Chattishgarh, West Bengal, Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

According to film-maker, the sponge iron industry had a modest beginning with just 3 plants in 1985; however in the twenty years period the industry has seen tremendous growth, in 2005 it boasts of 206 plants. The prospect of high profitability and the fact that the return on the investment can be achieved within a short-span of 18 months is driving many industrialists to set up the plant. After recovering their initial cost, in years to come these sponge-irons plant owners simply see their bottom-line fattening.

No doubt, sponge-iron industry has experienced heavy rush in the last couple of decades.

With the active or passive help of Government Machinery, most of these highly polluting sponge iron plants (about 80%) continue their operations sidestepping the issue of pollution, despite being placed in highly hazardous ‘red-category’. Most of these coal-based 100-tonne plant needs 160 tonnes of iron-ore, 125 tonnes of coal, 3.5 tonnes of dolomite and 150 tonnes of water every day. This means that an input of 350 tonnes of raw material will produce 100 tonnes of sponge iron, while generating 250 tons of waste material daily. Still, these polluting industries are allowed to flourish at the great cost to the humans, other living beings, surrounding natural environment and inflicting irreparable damage to the agricultural fields and livestock of the local farmers of the area.

The relevant point to be noted here is that in other parts of world, the sponge-iron plants are gas-based; thereby they are relatively less polluting and less harmful to its surroundings than the usually preferred coal-based sponge-iron plants in India.

A study by the Agricultural University of Raipur is tells us in the film that about 25,000 hectares of land in the vicinity of Siltara near Raipur has turned barren because of the sponge iron industry. Many sponge iron factories are in areas known for rice cultivation. But due to improper methods of waste disposal, all fields within a 5 km radius of a factory site are adversely affected because of air and water pollution. The cattle population has come down and milk production had reduced because the cows live off leaves and grass-covered with layers of poisonous black dust from the smoke of the factories. People are forced to consume polluted food grains leading to diseases. The health hazards are silicosis, cancer, particles of lead and mercury that affect the brains of growing children, wound the kidneys and damage the digestive system. Particles of heavy metals cause skin burning and skin diseases. Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide cause cough, bronchitis, asthma, eye inflammation and throat irritation. These are only few of the perils caused by the industry.

But what does our laws on pollution stipulates for this industry?

Firstly, it is mandatory for sponge iron factories to maintain a minimum distance of 5 kilometres between 2 factories, but the real story is very different. In Siltara, that is 10 kms away from Raipur, there are more than 30 factories. More than 5 factories are installed within a distance of 1 kilometre of each other.

Secondly, the distance between a village and a sponge iron factory must be at least 1 km. But in places like Sundargarh and Raipur, factories have come up adjacent to residential areas and continue to spew venom.

Not surprisingly, the local people have renamed the corrupt “Pollution Control Board” as simple “Pay and Pollute Board”.

Tribal Areas bear the Consequences

Another interesting fact is that, many of these areas lie in the Scheduled Areas to be governed under Panchayat Extension in Rural Area Act (PESA). The PESA Act was passed in 1996 to safeguard the interest of the tribal (Adivasi) communities. According to its provisions, the consent of the Gram Sabhas is mandatory prior to installation of any industry in the Scheduled Areas. However, this act is openly violated.

Towards the end of the film, Dr.Ramdayal Munda, a scholar, says, “This is like Abhimanyu’s Chakravyuha, from where there is no exit.”

Bandhana Bedei, a protesting local, calls these “blood factories taking away the land of us adivasis.”

A woman in the film says, “There is a saying that goes – strike while the iron is hot. The heat of the people’s anger in Chauranga village struck down the powers-that-be and cooled down the chimneys of the iron factory in the district of Raipur.”

Iron is Hot ends on a optimistic note.

It shows how in some other places, anti-pollution movements have met with some success.

In October 2006, the Goa High Court issued a stay order in favour of the closure of major sponge iron factories in the state. The Goa Government ensured that no new sponge iron factory would be set up in Goa. In Palakkad District, Kerala, the Malampuza Sponge Iron Company already poised to get into production, was denied licence by the local panchayat to begin production and the government of Kerala backed the decision of the panchayat.

We congratulate and praise the filmmaker-duo, Biju Toppo and Meghnath Bhattacharjee for highlighting the socially relevant issues.

But, their real reward would come only when our country moves away from “greedy-industrialization” to “socially-responsible-industrialization” and also when our elaborate government machinery would start taking remedial steps to punish the polluting industrial units. These polluting industrial units shouldn’t be allowed to break the law of our land, so blatantly for last so many years.

But, that may never-ever happen. Do they?

Team Focus

Team Focus

We are bunch of commoners and our bloggers' e-magazine focuses on the AlterNative Voices from Jharkhand, India.
Team Focus
Team Focus

Written by

We are bunch of commoners and our bloggers' e-magazine focuses on the AlterNative Voices from Jharkhand, India.

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