Maharashtra and Gujarat. The brightest
jewels in Indias industrial crown. But impressive industrial growth figures fail to
hide the grim realities of environmental pollution. While, the state governments are only
bothered about industrial growth, the civil society is struggling to draw public attention
to the impending danger to the environmental and public health. A report by Manish Tiwari
from Gujarat and Richard Mahapatra from Maharashtra
remains of the day: these treated effluents flowing into the Daman Ganga river
of Gujarat have are from the common effluent treatment plant at Vapi
Industrial survey statistics tell you that more than one-third 36.3 per cent
of the total value added by to the raw materials through manufacture in the factory sector
of the country comes from Maharashtra (23.66 per cent) and Gujarat (12.64 per cent).
Easily, the two most industrialised states of India. Governments of both the states claim
they have created immense prosperity in the region. But statistics do not tell you the
real story of thousands of workers and farmers. Aniruddha Mohanty is one of them.
Mohanty has been working in the Daru Khana shipbreaking yard of Chembur for the past 15
years. It is a life without any dignity due to a living being. Everyday for 8-10 hours he
inhales toxic fumes from the abandoned ships that he breaks. The fear of explosion looms
large. His best friend died last month in an explosion while breaking a ship. "In the
past 15 years, I have got tuberculosis three times. The doctors say I have to quit this
job and to shift to a cleaner place," he says. He stays in Deonar, Maharashtras
largest solid waste dumping ground. In violation of a Mumbai High Court order, prohibiting
burning of wastes, wastes are still burnt in Deonar. For Aniruddha, clean air is an
Drive down the Mumbai-Pune highway and you will witness the horrible truth of
industrialisation. Hundreds of industrial units dealing with chemicals and fertilisers
dump their sludge along the roadside. Chimneys emit gases that make breathing difficult.
"Industrial units never stop polluting, and people cannot stop working for them. So,
it is a treadmill that ends only with a painful death," says Rajesh Panicker, an
industrial worker of Panvel in Maharashtra.
A few hours of travelling northwards of Mumbai will take you to the Vapi Industrial
Estate of southern Gujarat. At Kolak village, about 15 km away from the estate, you will
get statistics of a very different kind. "Sixty people have died of cancer in the
village in the past 10 years, while 20 others are fighting a losing battle," says
Ganpat B Tandel, former sarpanch (head) of the village council, who has been
vehemently opposing pollution of the Kolak river by the industrial estate. Nearly 20 years
ago, cancer cases were not so rampant. But factories of the estate, which produce
pesticides, agrochemicals, organochlorines dyes and dye intermediates, have been dumping
untreated effluents in the river. Most residents of the village are fisherfolk who eat
fish from the river.
"The organochlorines and other persistent organic pollutants (POPS) in the
industrial effluents are known carcinogens," says Michael Mazgaonkar of the
Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS), a Gujarat-based non-governmental organisation. Take the
case of Deviben Tandel, who had cancer. On December 31, 1999, when thousands of people who
use products manufactured at Vapi would have been celebrating new years eve, the
50-year-old resident of Kolak quietly died. Four months ago, her elder sister had died of
credible data is crippling the fight against industrial pollution
As per a Central Pollution Control Board (cpcb) action plan for Vapi, factories cannot
dump effluent in the rivulet Bhil Khadi but have to send it to a common effluent treatment
plant (CETP). "But hundreds of industrial units do not treat their wastes as per the
inlet parameters of the CETP, and are releasing untreated effluents into the Bhil Khadi.
It ultimately meets and pollutes the Kolak river and the sea," says a CPCB official.
Tanker s wait at a
Gujarat industrial estate. The cost of industrialisation is borne by the poor and the
Nainabhen Tandel, sarpanch of the village
council, says: "On many occasions, we have caught tankers directly dumping effluents
in the river." The fish catch in the coastal areas has gone down considerably. Says K
H Makrani, vice-president of the Daman Fishermen Association in Valsad district of
Gujarat, "We dont get fish catch in the seashore areas. So, only those
fisherfolk who can afford to go as far as 12 km inside the sea are continuing in this
There are innumerable stories like these that go
unheard. Invariably, those worst hit by industrial pollution are either rural folk who are
unaware of its effects or workers who earn their living from the polluting factories. But
more than the polluting industrial units, the blame goes to regulatory agencies
state pollution control boards (SPCBS) and state industrial development corporations
that were created to control and monitor industrialisation. Instead, these agencies
have been reduced to mere rubber stamps to promote industrialisation at a frenzied pace.
The industrial system has been reduced to a state wherein it makes better business sense
for industrialists to carelessly dump hazardous waste rather than set up mechanisms to
deal with it.
So, what are the people doing to save themselves?
Actually, not much right now. But, not too long ago, there was hope of battling out the
pollution juggernaut through the courts and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Finding
out that there was absolutely no point in knocking at the doors of government agencies
there is a clear bias in favour of the industry throughout the government machinery
those affected by pollution rallied behind NGOs. A spate of public interest
litigation (PIL) saw the polluters being dragged to court.
But the lack of initiative on the part of the
implementing agencies tired out the public spirit. In 1995, the Gujarat High Court ordered
the closure of 756 industrial units in Vatva, Narol, Naroda, and Odhav, asking them to
compensate the villages affected by pollution through discharge of untreated effluents.
Many of these units are operating even today and are still polluting. "The failure of
the court had an extremely damaging effect as even the last institution of democracy
failed to check pollution in Gujarat," laments Girish Patel, an advocate in the
Gujarat High Court.
A victim of
throat cancer at Kolak village (left); and dead fish of Kolak river washed ashore. Fish
kills occur when Vapi factories discharge untreated effluent (right)
In Maharashtra, the problem is componded by the
absence of credible data. "It is difficult to find any data on the environmental
status. The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board does not come out with any study on
pollution. So the people do not have strong baseline data to contest the powerful industry
lobby," says T N Mahadevan, a scientist who is also the secretary of Society for
Clean Air, a Mumbai-based NGO. "Lack of information paralyses the battle against
At present, its all quiet on the western
front. And dirty.
G U J A R A T
Industry at any cost
Industrial estates of Gujarat are cesspools of filth
and environmental health hazards. Yet the government is blindly promoting industry
not to Scale
Gujarat has more than 90,000 industrial units,
according to the state government. About 8,000 of these units are polluting, also says the
state government. Major polluting industries are located in the Vadodara Petrochemical
Complex, Nandesari, Ankleshwar, Vapi, Vatva and Hazira near Surat. The Gujarat Industrial
Development Corporation (GIDC) was managing 270 industrial estates as on March 1996, and
its activity plan for the year 1998-99 included sanctioning of eight new ones. "About
70 per cent of the investment in Gujarat since the 1970s has been in the chemicals
sector," says R C Trivedi, former chairperson of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board
He says that in the 1970s, the state government
was encouraging small-scale units in the chemicals sector through financial incentives.
"These industrial units came up in huge numbers. But the government gave a very low
priority to the environment. This is why environmental problems cropped up in
Gujarat," says Trivedi.
Nowhere more so than in the nearly 400-km stretch
between Vapi in southern Gujarat and Vatva in northern Gujarat, called the golden
corridor, an industrialists dream come true. This stretch has become a hot bed of
pollution. "In the golden corridor, we have created a number of potential disasters
similar to the Bhopal gas tragedy. The time-bomb is ticking very fast," says
Achyutbhai Yagnik, secretary of Setu, an Ahmedabad-based NGO. Another example of an
environmental nightmare is Alang, the largest shipbreaking yard of the world, situated 50
km from Bhavnagar. The 11-km coastline of the yard has been severely polluted due to
scrapping of hazardous ships (see Bare Facts; Down To Earth, Vol 6, No
20; March 15, 1998).
Government response, or the lack of
"We are suffering because of the lack of proper planning in the past.
But it is now a futile exercise to blame anyone for that. The situation is in front of
everybody. We have to come out of it," says Suresh Mehta, industry minister of
Gujarat. Optimistic words. But what is the state government doing to deal with the growing
pollution problems? Well, it is trying its best to set up more industries.
Untreated effluents from Vatva factories blacken the Khari river near
Lali village (left); and pink foamy effluents find their way to the Sabarmati river near
The state government has planned the
Infrastructure Vision 2010, which hardly lays any focus on environment. In a
meeting organised by GEC in Ahmedabad on October 29, 1999, K V Bhanujan, principal
secretary of finance to the state government, had observed: "The Vision
2010 is a focused and comprehensive document on infrastructure. But environmental
concerns in general or anticipated as a consequence of the implementations of the vision
have not been even touched upon anywhere."
Gujarats rivers are bearing the brunt of industrial pollution, as are
the people living on the banks of these rivers. All the major rivers and streams of
Gujarat are in a bad state due to effluent discharged by industry, be it the Kolak, the
Mahi, the Daman Ganga or the Amlakhadi (see p35: Fighting against pollution). One
can see red water flowing in the Sabarmati, released by the common effluent treatment
plant (CETP) in Vatva. Several times, drug factories in Vapi dump spoilt batches in the
open. These contain chemicals that are highly toxic.
A tractor unloads
hazardous industrial waste brought from the factories in Nandesari to the disposal
Take the case of the farmers from 11 villages
between Lali and Navagam, who irrigate their fields with untreated effluents released into
the Khari river. Nearly 100 tubewells and borewells have been contaminated. "When
factories were prevented from dumping effluents in the Mini river, they resorted to
reverse boring, pumping untreated effluents straight into underground aquifers," says
Sahabsinh Darbar, 73, a farmer from Sherkhi village in Vadodara district. "We do not
require any study to confirm that channels and rivers in Gujarat are polluted. You can see
that from the colour of the water," says Mayur Pandya, a noted lawyer who chaired a
committee set up to investigate pollution of Khari river near Ahmedabad by the Gujarat
High Court in 1995. So, what have the people done to prevent their land and rivers from
The rise and fall of a
On June 19, 1987, two people who had climbed down to do repair work in a
well in Lali village died. The villagers knew the cause of death. Effluents carried by the
neighbouring Khari river, better described as an effluent channel, had leached into the
groundwater. The reaction had produced poisonous gases, which lead to asphyxiation. The
river has been carrying industrial wastes for the past 20 years, says Pravinbhai Jashbhai
Patel, a farmer from Navagram village.
|Childern from village near Nandesari
learn their lessons in colour from the water they drink. In this particular case, the
water is yellow. But mostly it is red
A public outcry followed. "But as usual, the
government chose to remain silent," says Patel. Finally, on February 16, 1995, the 11
villages filed a public interest petition in the Gujarat High Court. The bench comprising
chief justice B N Kirpal and justice H L Gokhale set up the Pandya Committee to look into
the matter. The committee reported that water samples taken from the Khari river, where it
flows through Lali, had pH levels as low as 2, showing that the water was highly acidic.
The biological oxygen demand was about 14 times the permissible limit and the chemical
oxygen demand was much more than 16 times the limit, says Jashbhai Patel.
On the basis of the report, on August 5, 1995,
the court ordered that 756 industrial units, which were regarded as highly polluting, pay
up 1 per cent of their gross turnover of the year 1993-94 or 1995-96, whichever was
higher. The court ruled: "The amount be utilised for the works of socio-economic
uplift in the villages and on educational, medical and veterinary facilities and the
betterment of the agriculture and livestock in the said villages."
"But even today, farmers use waters from the
polluted Khari river when water is released from the upstream Kadana dam," says
Girish Patel, a lawyer based in Ahmedabad. As for compensation, sources point out that
while some industrial units have paid up, others are still in the process of doing so.
Several units have started production again. The situation has not changed at all.
Untreated effluents still flow in the river.
A tubewell tells the state
of groundwater pollution by factoies in the
Water in the 100-odd wells near Khari is still a
distinct red. Kanubhai Patel, a farmer, says the paddy yield has gone down by half. The
villagers find a difference in milk quality, too, which they attribute to cattle grazing
in contaminated areas.
In August 1999, Down To Earth got a sample
of groundwater from Lali village analysed at the Facility for Ecological and Analytical
Testing (FEAT) of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. It had a mercury
concentration that was 211 times the permissible limit (see What goes down must come
up; Down To Earth,
August 31, 1999). Mercury is an extremely toxic heavy metal and is known to
cause damage to kidneys and the central nervous system.
Failure of the courts
The most damaging aspect of Gujarats struggle against industrial
pollution has been the failure of the courts to deliver. There was a phase in 1995 when
the Gujarat High Court was cracking down on polluters, giving an impetus to the
environmental movement in the state. Hundreds of cases were filed in the court. This
continued for two to three years. As long Justice B N Kirpal was the chief justice of the
high court, he took stern action against polluters.
"Public hearing has become a joke Many of these and held after construction of
factories has already begum, when it is a useless exercise'
-R C TRIVEDI
former chairperson of GPCB
After this period, the court got bogged down in
dealing with applications to reopen industrial units after a closure order given by
justice Kirpal. But the implementing and regulatory agencies remained lackadaisical. Soon,
people handling these cases lost interest as the exercise could not yield the desired
results. "In Gujarat, industry controls politicians, rather than the other way round.
The situation does not look like it will improve," says Mayur Pandya. "If we try
to find out how many industrialists have been put behind bars under the Water Act or the
Air Act, we will hardly find any. So they are not scared at all," adds Girish Patel.
"The courts usually go by the the findings
of GPCB. This is not acceptable at all. The court should stop relying on GPCB information
if it wants better results," says Anand Mazgaonkar of PSS. He says GPCB annual
reports look like primary school books: "These are not the kind of reports needed in
a state where so many industries produce extremely toxic chemicals."
Waste: solid and hazardous
Factories have been dumping thousands of tonnes of hazardous wastes in the
open. Not only has this polluted the groundwater but it has also damaged fertile lands.
Take the case of Bajwa, a village in Vadodara district where industrial waste has been
accumulating for the past 30 years and there is barely any agricultural land to be proud
of in terms of productivity (see Toxic trail; Down
To Earth, Vol 7, No 7; August 31, 1998). Now, industries are constructing landfill
sites. But even in the construction and planning of these, environmental health has not
been kept in mind. One example is GIDCs Nandesari Industrial Estate north of
Vadodara. Plans of a site to dump toxic wastes are severely flawed and there are fears of
a major ecological disaster (see Hell-hole; Down
To Earth, Vol 7, No 14; December 15, 1998).
state machinery to control industrial pollution has ailed
From Vapi to Mehsana, several units dealing with pharmaceuticals, dyes and dye
intermediaries are constructing landfills sites to dump their hazardous wastes. However,
Mazgaonkar cites a 1977 study conducted for the us Environmental Protection Agency,
conducted on 50 landfills, showed that 86 per cent had contaminated underground water
supplies beyond the boundaries of the landfill.
Environment impact assessments by the National Productivity Council, Gandhinagar, in
1997-98 and 1997-98 showed high levels of lead contamination in the groundwater of
Nandesari. Samples taken nearby the GIDC dump contained 38.25 milligramme per litre (mg/l)
of lead, whereas the permissible limit is a mere 0.05 mg/l for drinking water. The
groundwater has been severely contaminated to a depth of about 60 metres, the study says.
"Disposal of untreated mercury-contaminated effluent from caustic manufacturers
has contaminated large tracks of land in Nandesari in Gujarat," says a draft Sectoral
Environment Report submitted in 1997 by the Union ministry of environment and forests to
the World Bank.
do not work
"The entire machinery to control pollution in the state has
failed," says Girish Patel. "The view of the ruling party is that environmental
problems are just a problem of the elite. They do not accept that the poor people are the
most severely affected because it is they who live in a polluted environment and drink
contaminated water," he adds.
"GPCB is the one of the worst pollution control boards in India. It has mainly
political appointees or bureaucrats at senior positions, who lack knowledge of
environmental issues," rues Trivedi (see box: Polluting
on legal grounds).
The Gujarat Pollution Control Board
(GPCB) has issued zero discharge certificates to some chemical and dye
manufacturing units in Sanand industrial area, nearly 20-km away from Ahmedabad. But the
factories are polluting the area with impunity. "After it failed to control
pollution, the board has started legalising it," says Rohit Prajapati of Paryavaran
Surakha Samiti, a Gujarat-based non-governmental organisation.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has
caught two industries dumping toxic effluents in nearby drains. Sources point out that
CPCB has sent a letter to GPCB, asking it to take action against both the units. GPCB is
in dilemma. If it issues closure notices to these units, it would mean that the board is
questioning its own criteria of issuing zero discharge certificates. But if it does not do
so, it would mean that the board allows pollution even after knowing the culprits.
R C Trivedi, former chairperson of GPCB, says:
"Zero discharge means the effluents should not go out of the boundary of the factory.
But it is not even feasible for the developed countries to achieve zero discharge level in
dye manufacturing sectors, leave aside India." A PCB official says there are no
receiving sources to dump effluents, so the GPCB issued zero discharge
certificates to industrial units in Sanand to ensure that they are set up anyhow in
the area. According to the environmental norms, no such industry can be set up in an area
where there is no receiving source to take away the effluents.
"It is an irony that only the first two
chairpersons of GPCB had any background in the field of the environment. I was the second
chairperson during 1980-82. After me, either bureaucrats or the political appointees have
been appointed. A former chairperson of GPCB was allegedly forced to leave because he did
not work as the politicians wanted him to," says Trivedi.
"There is no pressure from the implementing agencies over industrialists. They do not
have an initiative to meet the environmental norms," he adds. This has certainly
helped big industries find ways to flout environmental norms (see box: Bypass for filth).
Bypass for filth
The common effluent treatment plants (CETPs), set
to deal with industrial effluents, have two problems: they are overloaded and incapable of
dealing with the toxins in the effluents. Most CEPTs in Gujarat work like the one in Vapi.
Untreated effluents simply bypass the plant and reach the Daman Ganga river. C Sengappa,
chief executive officer of the CETP at Vapi, says that the CETP was commissioned in
January 1997 and has a capacity to handle 55,000 cubic metres of effluents per day. There
are 625 members of the CETP of the 1,400 industrial units in Vapi. But the CPCB found that
the design parameters of the CETP were wrong. So, whenever effluents reach the inlet with
higher concentration or quantity, the officials are forced to let the effluents into the
Daman Ganga without any treatment.
"This is a crime. We have heard of fish
kills on several occasions. The release of untreated effluents in the river is one of the
reasons," says Michael Mazgaonkar of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, a
non-governmental organisation working to conserve the environment. According to a study
conducted by the environmental group Greenpeace, the effluents released by the CETP are
heavily contaminated with organochlorine compounds and chlorinated benzenamines. It also
contains high levels of cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel and
zinc. The pollutants indicate that the CETP is ineffective in removing a wide range of
toxic, persistent and bio-accumulative compounds, the study points out.
Even after the CPCB reviewed the working of the
plant and suggested changes, the CETP was not functioning properly. It is currently being
upgraded. A PCB official says that the CETP will work only if all the industrial units
cooperate and discharge the effluents as per the inlet parameters. Units can send their
effluents to the plant only after primary treatment. Only then can the CETP treat the
effluents. The official points out that most units do not observe this rule.
Today, industrialists first invest money in a
project and then plead in the court that they cannot stop the work on environmental
grounds as they have already made the investment. "In most of the cases, the court
relaxes some of the norms. As a result, what happens is that the pollution remains, but
the conditions disappear," comments Patel.
A fatigued civil society
"The NGOs that are working in this field do not have the support to do
anything concrete. So, by and large, there is no strong voice against pollution problems
in Gujarat today," says Girish Patel. D S Ker, president of Gramya Vikas Trust, an
NGO based in Dwarka, says: "NGOs here have not been able to mobilise grassroots-level
support. The voice of NGOs in the state mainly comes from the middle class. But these
people have not been able to carry together the grassroots level people."
"We fear that factories are reverse-boring untreated effluents into underground
VIKRAMSINH D VAGHELA
Although people of Gujarat are gradually
realising that pollution is becoming a serious problem, they are not reacting the way they
should, considering that their very lives are at stake. The spirit of public good that saw
numerous people going to court against polluting industry has been snuffed out after
implementing agencies failed to enact the orders of the courts.
NGOs and people
of Gujarat are a fatigued lot today
A way out?
Michael Mazgaonkar says the only way out of the present situation is to
have a very democratic system of permitting industries: "If we can ensure this along
with easy access to information, we can reduce the problem to a great extent. We have
adequate environmental rules that, if implemented properly, can control most of the
industrial hazards. But the industries have found ways to circumvent these rules. So even
if all these rules are implemented and the decision-making is not democratic, the problem
is likely to continue," he feels.
A woman washes
utensils in the contaminated water from her well at Navagram village
"The problem can only be dealt with if good
NGOs and people take up the issue seriously. If community-based organisations come up,
then some improvement can be made in the present situation," says Trivedi. C J Jose,
member secretary of GEC, has another view: "To protect their trade at the
international level, these industries will be forced to comply with international
Gujarat clearly needs direction today when it
comes to environmental governance. The civil society is faced with a huge task. The first
thing to do, however, is to involve rural communities and industrial workers in the
struggle against pollution. That being done, solutions will emerge. But if that is not
done, then the cesspool is only going to worsen.
FIGHTING AGAINST POLLUTION
MAHARASHTRA Western tragedy
SURVIVAL IN A CHEMICAL DUSTBIN
rest of the article please refer to the printed copy of Down To Earth April 15, 2000 or SUBSCRIBE HERE.
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