Traditional Indian organic components blended with Japanese afforestation techniques
A drive through Angul near the Dhenkanal region of Odisha reveals vast stretches of green canopy and vegetation on what were once industrial dumpsites. The green transformation is the Midas touch of the Post Mining Mine Site Restoration group of the department of mining engineering at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur through a project supported by Tata Steel BSL.
The researchers afforested over 32,000 square feet in the region following a rapid forest regeneration technique in a unique mix of the traditional resource of Panchagavya and the Miyawaki plantation technique of ecologist Akira Miyawaki from Japan.
The dumping of blast furnace slag by steel plants has been a perennial challenge in India and even in some developed countries in the world. These steel slag dumps contribute to the generation of airborne particles causing air pollution and also to groundwater and surface-water contamination through different pathways. The slag-covered land is unsuitable for vegetation and associated problems can ruin vegetation and pose health hazards to both humans and animals. Researchers at IIT Kharagpur have devised a bioremediation method to reduce the concentration of these polluting slags to an innocuous state.
A research team led by Khanindra Pathak from the department of mining engineering at IIT Kharagpur has turned this slag suitable for plant growth by mixing it with topsoil, cow dung and other organic enhancers. Plants carefully chosen for the Miyawaki technique and 22 native species were grown on the mix with a 30cm layer of topsoil over it administering them with Panchagavya.
“Periodic administration of Panchagavya checked the problem of nutrient scarcity while mulching helped retention of water and nutrients. In a span of one year, we witnessed the growth of a self-sustaining mini-forest, dominated by plants belonging to the family Fabaceae and Sesbania grandiflora. The plants with long root systems could utilise the steel slag with their roots, penetrating up to a depth of 2m from the ground surface, thus reducing the effects of groundwater contamination and surface runoff of water in the monsoons,” Pathak said.
The process led an unsupportive steel slag dump to a self-sustaining primary succession over it. “Vetiver grass was used as a boundary for the plantation to check migration of nutrients. This grass, if grown over the slopes of the slag dumps, will further check fugitive emission and reduce air pollution and erosion of slag onto adjacent habitations,” he added.
The success of the present project has helped the industry to not only comply with the mandate of the ministry of environment but protect neighbouring villages from airborne dust to a certain degree in addition to the usefulness of the vegetation developed to the villagers. Pathak earlier demonstrated stabilisation of dump slope and prevention of erosion at the Joda Mines in the Barbil region, which witnessed regeneration of thick vegetation cover. In another demonstration, a horticulture field was developed at Sonepur Bazari waste dump under a CSR project.
The demonstrated methodology also has the possibility of eliminating the need for expensive geotextiles developed in the country using imported technology, Pathak said.
The process can be replicated for municipality waste dumps as well. “Development of a vetiver grass field could be beneficial for urban wastewater management as well as municipality solid waste dump sites. We had also demonstrated hydroponic vetiver for the containment of oil in refinery wastewater through an IIT Kharagpur and IOCL collaborative project at the Bongaigaon refinery,” he said.
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