What goes down must
It is a crime.
Numerous factories deliberately inject untreated effluents
directly into the ground, contaminating underground aquifers.
Samples of groundwater were collected from eight places in
three states and tested for concentrations of some known pollutants.
All samples had high levels of the heavy metal mercury, which
caused the Minamata disaster in Japan in the 1950s. One sample
had more than 268 times the mercury than is considered safe.
Groundwater in the industrial areas of India is unfit even
In february 1999, a Delhi newspaper reported that a tubewell
sunk to a depth of about 200 feet (61 metres) by Suruchi Dyeing
Udyog, a factory south of the G T Road in Ghaziabad, Uttar
Pradesh, was yielding yellow-coloured water. Arun Agarwal,
the factorys owner, was quoted in the report as saying:
Initially, we thought it was surface impurities that
came up with the water. But then we found it was the groundwater
itself. It is pure poison. The Central Ground Water
Authority (CGWA) found para-nitrophenol, an organic compound,
in the water in a concentration of 0.54 milligrammes per litre
(mg/l). The permissible limit of the compound is 0.001 mg/l.
Obviously, some factory in the area that was pumping untreated
effluent into the groundwater.
Earlier, in January 1994, the Central Pollution Control Board
(CPCB), Delhi, had undertaken the first major groundwater
quality monitoring exercise. The report published in December
1995 identified 22 places in 16 states of India as critical
sites of groundwater pollution. cpcb found industrial effluents
to be the primary reason for groundwater pollution.
Considering that 80 per cent of the countrys drinking
water needs are met by groundwater, Down To Earth sent
its reporters to some areas where groundwater contamination
has been reported. They brought back samples from eight places
in three states: Haryana, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. The
samples were analysed at the Facility for Ecological and Analytical
Testing (FEAT) of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT),
Kanpur. The results were shocking. There were traces of heavy
metals like iron and zinc in all the samples, cadmium in five
samples and lead in three. But all the samples had one striking
similarity: the levels of mercury were dangerously high.
Mercury is implicated in a range of health problems, including
Minamata disease (characterised by impairment of brain functions),
neurological disorders, retardation of growth in children,
abortion, disruption of the endocrine system (which controls
hormone levels in the blood stream) and weakening of the immune
system. High levels of mercury in drinking water can
severely impair the nervous system, causing neuropathy. Moreover,
it affects lever and kidney functions, says S K Wangnoo,
senior consultant and endocrinologist at the Apollo hospital,
The concentration of mercury in the sample taken from a tubewell
near an industrial area in Panipat was 0.2683 mg/l, more than
268 times the permissible limit of 0.001 milligrammes per
litre (mg/l) set by the World Health Organisation for drinking
water. The chemical oxygen demand (cod, which is the amount
of oxygen required by chemicals in the water to oxidise
and stabilise themselves) of the water was 360 mg/l. The maximum
permissible cod level even for industrial effluents is 250
mg/l. The groundwater is as bad or worse than untreated industrial
Wellwater from Lali village, about 15 km from Vatva in Gujarat,
showed 0.211 mg/l of mercury, again more than 200 times the
permissible limit. And the residents of the village drink
this water besides using it for irrigation. The COD level
of the sample taken from a borewell in Chiri village of Vapi,
Gujarat was 263 mg/l, indicating the overbearing presence
of chemicals. Among other sources, mercury can enter the environment
from units dealing with smelting, pharmaceuticals, fertilisers,
chemicals and petrochemicals.
Of all the commonly occurring metal pollutants, mercury
is the most toxic, writes Padma S Vankar of feat, Kanpur.
The indiscriminate discharge of mercury along with industrial
pollutants... may result into significant build-up of the
metal in the aquatic environment, she points out. No
guideline exists for mercury in irrigation water. A nationwide
approach to solve mercury pollution needs to be taken up.
A balanced strategy which integrates end-of-pipe control technologies
with material substitution and separation, design-for-environment,
and fundamental changes in approach, she notes. She
suggests that more tests should be conducted on groundwater
to find out the extent of pollution, especially with regard
to cyanide, arsenic and banned amines.
In all the places visited by the Down To Earth reporters,
residents of the surrounding areas were unaware of the danger
in groundwater, though they could see that something was wrong.
As for the government authorities, the pollution control boards
are either unwilling to deal with the offenders or are simply
ineffective at implementing the anti-pollution laws. Then
there are the all-too-familiar complaints of connivance with
On December 10, 1996, the Supreme Court directed the Union
ministry of environment and forests (MEF) to empower the Central
Ground Water Board (CGWB) under the ministry of water resources
to initiate penal action under the Environment Protection
Act, 1986, against overexploitation of groundwater. This led
to the creation of cgwa. But in the past three years, cgwa
has invited a lot of criticism. It is quite clear from the
Down To Earth case studies that pollution control authorities
are not capable of dealing with the groundwater crisis.
The only solution is to involve the local people and civil
society in checking further pollution of our groundwater as
they are the most important stakeholders of the countrys
natural resources and are the worst affected by pollution.
This is all the more important in light of the fact that once
polluted, cleaning up groundwater is next to impossible. It
is a tough task for our bureaucratic establishment, which
completely lacks transparency. The case studies are presented
here with the hope that policymakers and the general public
alike awaken to the crisis
Disasters in the
Groundwater contamination in India
is verging on disastrous proportions, especially with regard
Down To Earth reporters met the pollution control authorities
in some industrial areas of the country, spoke to the local
people about the effects of pollution and met representatives
of the civil society to gauge the extent of the problem on the
socio-economic level. They also got in touch with industrialists,
but this exercise was largely fruitless as industry is very
wary of coming out in the open to discuss its problems, all
the while proceeding with irresponsible practices. Some case
studies are presented here.
Paks Trade, a Patancheru-based company,
was apprehended for pumping arsenic-laced effluent into
the ground through borewells
The DTE/IIT test conducted on a water sample from a handpump
in Pocharam village of Patancheru Industrial Area (PIA) in Medak
district of Andhra Pradesh showed that the level of mercury
was 115 times the permissible limit. A study conducted by National
Geophysical Research Institute, (NGRI), Hyderabad, found that
arsenic levels in villages in and around PIA are as high as
700 parts per billion (PPB, as against the permissible 10 PPB
recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The study
also found that the manganese level in the groundwater sample
from Bandalguda area was 15 times the permissible limit, whereas
the concentration of nickel was 4-20 times the permissible limit.
We caught Paks Trade, a Patancheru-based company, for
pumping arsenic-laced effluents into borewells, says Tishya
Chatterjee, member secretary, AP Pollution Control Board (APPCB).
We have also found high levels of cadmium in the groundwater
samples in APs industrial areas, he adds. It is
common knowledge in Patancheru that most of the 400 industrial
units cannot treat effluents properly and that they dump them
in the open or inject them directly into the ground. Chatterjee
points out that there are several other industrial units that
also indulge in such practices, but there are no clear-cut rules
to stop such polluters (see box: Killers
ITW Signode, another Patancheru-based company, was discharging
toxic, strontium-laced effluents into a nearby drain. An NGRI
study found high levels of strontium in the groundwater. We
located this industry and closed it, says Chatterjee.
A study by the groundwater department of the state government
confirms that the pollution level is very high and has endangered
human lives, animals and agricultural activity.
The NGRI study says that most of the industrial units deal
with pharmaceuticals, paints, pigments, metal treatment and
steel rolling. They use inorganic and organic chemicals as
raw materials, which are reflected in appreciable amounts
in the effluents. Units in Patancheru and Bollaram discharge
about five million litres of effluents everyday. A major part
of the untreated effluents ultimately goes into nearby tanks
and streams. A certain part is clandestinely disposed of in
K Subrahmanyam, scientist at NGRI, says the total dissolved
solid (TDS) levels in groundwater have been reported to be
as high as 2,310 mg/l in Patancheru borewells. The permissible
limit for TDS is 500 mg/l, and the TDS concentration in the
natural groundwater (from aquifers that have not been affected
by human activity) in the area is 300-350 mg/l. The characteristics
of these effluents are alarming. Independent studies show
that various parameters, such as COD levels, are exceeding
the prescribed limits. The common effluent treatment
plants (CETPs) at Patancheru and Bollaram do not work up to
the required efficiency. So, effluents with TDS levels of
more than 20,000 mg/l are only treated up to 8,000-9,000 mg/l
levels. And many a time, these CETPs discharge the effluents
in the nearby streams without treatment, Chatterjee
The state governments assessment observes that between
1984 and 1989, total land affected due to industrial effluents
in terms of crop loss is 560 hectares in Patancheru and Bollaram.
A 1991 survey by National Environmental Engineering Research
Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, estimated the affected land area
at 695 hectares belonging to 581 farmers. The survey revealed
some unusual signs. People of the area complained of a plethora
of diseases such as epilepsy, skin and throat problems, respiratory
diseases, cancer and paraplegia (paralysis of both the legs),
while pregnant women are giving birth to still-born children,
says the NEERI expert.
N Ramdas Goud, 46, of Pocharam, says: The colour of
the groundwater became yellow 7-8 years ago. Our crops started
getting damaged whenever we used water from the borewell.
Cattle have died in the past after drinking the effluent water
from a stream flowing near the village. This is why we launched
an agitation against pollution and took the matter to the
Supreme Court (SC). Goud says that in its interim order,
SC directed supply of clean drinking water and compensation
to affected farmers (see box: Tankers from hell). But,
even today, many industrial units comply neither with judicial
directives nor with administrative orders in establishing
ETPs, says K Purushotham Reddy, who heads the department
of political science at the Osmania University, Hyderabad.
He is the president of Citizens Against Pollution, an environmental
An employee at a dyeing unit in Panipat
says the factory has built a toilet above the mouth
of a borewell to inject effluent into the
When IIT, Kanpur, tested a sample of groundwater from Panipat,
the mercury level was found to be 268 times the permissible
limit. The presence of chemicals was found to be more than what
is permitted for industrial effluents. Groundwater in
Panipat stinks, sours milk, corrodes containers and can take
life instead of giving it, says a housewife living in
the Tehsil Camp area of the town, describing the water from
her tubewell. There are numerous dyeing industries in the surrounding
areas. Chemical effluents pumped into a borewell by some
of these industrial units mixes with our tubewell water,
explains Janak Singh, her husband. Although the family stopped
drinking the water from the tubewell some four years ago after
complaints of stomach disorders, the Singhs still use the water
for washing and bathing.
However, J C Yadav, administrator of the Haryana Pollution Control
Board (HPCB), Chandigarh, says the practice has been discontinued:
Earlier, say a decade ago, it was widespread. And that
industries were doing it was public knowledge. But it
is common knowledge in Panipat that the industrial units involved
in dyeing and dye-related operations pump effluents into the
In 1994, R H Siddique of the environment study project at the
Aligarh Muslim University, on behalf of dte, tested effluents
being dumped into the aquifer. According to his findings, effluents
with cod levels as high as 2,400 mg/l were pumped into the aquifer.
M C Gupta, director of the states groundwater directorate,
says the effluents already pumped in would definitely show up
in the quality of the water. In fact, it has already shown up.
M Mehta, regional director, CGWB, Chandigarh, says: Water
samples we collected are coloured. It implies that the quality
is no more fit for drinking. CGWB is now testing the samples
and one of its scientists says, Preliminary studies show
that the water is not even fit for agriculture, forget about
drinking purposes. But Yadav defends his point, saying,
Though the injection of effluents into the aquifer has
stopped, the groundwater remains vulnerable to the highly toxic
effluents that run through a open channel through the city.
This toxic water can percolate and pollute the groundwater.
Till 1994 it was common practice among industrial units to pump
effluents into the ground. But in 1994, HPCB started enforcing
pollution control measures. But nothing has changed. These
industrial units still pump in effluents, though clandestinely,
says Anil Kumar, a laboratory assistant in a local college,
adding that the groundwater of Panipat was clear and fit for
drinking a decade ago. His handpump, hardly half-a-kilometre
away from a cluster of dyeing units, gives pink- and yellow-coloured
The field visit of the Down To Earth reporter to some
industrial areas belies the claim that factories have stopped
injecting effluents into underground aquifers. Dyeing units
are pumping their effluents into the aquifers through bore wells
in Tehsil Camp, Jattal Road and the Sector 29 industrial areas
even today. An employee of a dyeing unit in Tehsil Camp points
out, This unit has been doing it for 15 years. Earlier,
it was public knowledge. But now it does the same thing in a
rather clever manner. Three years ago the owner of the unit
built a toilet just above the borewell. In place of the commode,
you have the mouth of the borewell. Nobody would doubt it.
It is not easy to believe that hpcb does not know this.
Local residents confirm that the designs of industrial premises
have been altered to cover up the nefarious practice. More factories
have built huge concrete walls around the premises and entry
is restricted. Even for us it is very difficult to enter
the factory. We know they have clandestine mechanisms to pump
in the effluents, says a scientific officer of hpcb in
Ludhiana citys groundwater
is just short of poison
M Mehta, regional director, Central Ground Water Board,
Before making any mention of the status of groundwater in
this industrial nerve centre known as Manchester of
India, it is important to remember that groundwater
is Ludhianas only source of water. The largest city
in Punjab with about one million people, its annual drinking
water requirement is 44 million cubic metres (cum), against
an estimated annual replenishable groundwater of 23 million
cum. So, to meet the demand-supply balance, deeper aquifers
are being accessed and overexploitation is rampant. In order
to provide assured water supply, the municipal corporation
is exploiting groundwater resources through 80 extraction
points. Besides most residents and industrial units also extract
groundwater. And no prizes for guessing the status of the
Ludhiana citys groundwater is just short of poison,
says M Mehta, regional director, cgwb, Chandigarh. The culprits
are 1,311 thriving industrial units that are engaged in producing
cycles and textiles, among other things, and include foundries.
According to a CGWB report, the units are discharging about
50,000 cum of industrial effluents mostly of toxic
contents each day into the Budha Nala, a stream that
recharges the groundwater of the city. The stream travels
through the city to the point of its confluence with the Satluj
river 20 km downstream.
The pollution of groundwater reached such a proportion in
1993 that the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) wrote
to the state government asking for signboards to be put around
shallow tube wells stating water unfit for drinking.
However, six years down the line, you can go round the city
and not find a single signboard. Rather, people are still
using water from shallow aquifers. The first aquifer
is already polluted. If not checked it would percolate down
to the deeper aquifers, says R Nath, who was professor
of biochemistry at Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences,
Chandigarh, before he retired.
To identify the industrial units pumping effluents directly
into aquifers, the ppcb put a series of advertisements in
newspaper declaring a cash award to informants. Not
a single person informed us about it though there have been
reports that some industries are doing it for years,
says D K Dua, member secretary, ppcb, Patiala. Yet, Dua insists,
that pollution is reducing: The pollution level in the
groundwater is declining, as our studies show.
But studies by CPCB, and more recently by CGWB, contradict
Duas statement. CGWBs report on Ludhianas
groundwater status affirms that many industrial units are
deliberately pumping effluents into the aquifers. The groundwater
is a cocktail of heavy metals, cyanide, alkaline content and
pesticides. The groundwater board found that levels of heavy
metals such as cadmium, cyanide, lead and chromium were all
above permissible limits in the shallow aquifers, while traces
of arsenic were within the permissible limit. Small quantities
of these heavy metals were also traced in the deeper aquifers.
It has been a common practice
in Gujarat to pump effluents into the ground
A Gujarat-based environmental activist
During heavy rains, production
levels increase greatly in Gujarat as effluent is dumped
to be washed away with the water
VATVA: It has been a
common practice in Gujarat to pump effluents into the ground
directly through borewells, a deliberate attempt to kill people,
says Rohit Prajapati, an activist of the Paryavaran Suraksha
Samiti (PSS), a network of activists working in Bharuch, Vadodara,
Surat and Valsad districts. Groundwater within a range of 30-35
km of the Vatva Industrial Estate (VIE) in Ahmedabad district
have been contaminated. In the absence of suitable modes of
disposal, indiscriminate discharge of effluents has caused serious
pollution of groundwater.
The DTE/IIT test on a sample of groundwater taken from Lali
village, about 15 km from Vatva, showed that the mercury level
was 211 times the permissible limit. The concentration of the
heavy metal in a sample from Machua village near Vatva was more
than 70 times the permissible limit. Residents of Lali are forced
to drink contaminated water and use it for irrigation. The village
is adjacent to a seasonal river Khari, which comes through Vatva
and has been reduced to a sewer and only carries industrial
effluent. Other villages along the bank of the stream face similar
problems. People suspect leaching of effluents into the groundwater
for the contamination.
The groundwater has become so polluted that we get red-coloured
water even at a depth of 400 feet (122 metres). Crop production
has been gradually reduced to half of what we used to get 30
years ago. Earlier, we used to produce around 1,200 kg of paddy
in one bigha. But now, we can grow only 600-800 kg in the same
land, says Kantibhai N Patel, 75, a farmer from Lali.
All our attempts to report the groundwater pollution to
the authorities have been in vain, says K K Patel, 68,
another farmer from Lali. Recently, two young people lost
their lives after entering my well. It shows how polluted the
groundwater is in the area, he adds.
For years, about 1,500 industrial units in Vatva, manufacturing
chemicals such as H-acid, dyes, sulphonic acid and vinyl sulphones,
have dumped chemical wastes on their premises or by the roadside.
We cannot use the groundwater even for washing as it causes
skin problems. We are completely at the mercy of the local industry
for drinking water, says Kalosinh Bihala, 29, of Machu
Nagar in Vatva.
ANKLESHWAR: The DTE/IIT
test conducted on water from a well in Sarangpur village in
Ankleshwar Industrial Estate (AIE), Bharuch district, revealed
that the mercury level was more than 100 times the permissible
limit. Water from a borewell in Bapunagar village near Ankleshwar
had 170 times more mercury than is considered safe. The 1,605-hectare
aie has about 1,500 industrial units, which manufacture dyes,
paints and pigments, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and pesticides,
among other things. Effluents from these units have severely
contaminated the underground aquifers.
When the Down To Earth reporter visited a well in Sarangpur
village, the colour of the water from a tubewell was red.
We are using this water for the past six years to cultivate
wheat and cotton crops in around 2.5 hectares of land. We
do not have any option, says P T Patel, the owner of
the well. In Bapunagar village, water from a tubewell is yellow
in colour. This borewell draws water from 150 feet (46 metres).
In the past seven years, the water has become so polluted
that we cannot even wash our clothes with it, says Samar
B Yadav, who owns the borewell. Gujarat Pollution Control
Board (GPCB) officials have taken the water samples many times
but have not taken any action so far, he complains. Villagers
say GPCB officials have acknowledged the extreme toxicity
of groundwater. But we think they are as helpless as
we are, he adds. The state and central governments
are silently watching our pitiable conditions, says
Ziya Pathan, 39, of the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties
(PUCL), a non-governmental organisation (NGO).
PSS has found that of the 65 handpumps and borewells in the
slums of Shantinagar, Bapunagar and Miranagar on the fringes
of aie, 55 yield coloured water. The colour varies from red
to yellow to brown. As most borewells have been closed due
to toxicity, there is little water for irrigation. Farmers
in villages such as Dhanturia, Pungaman and Amboli use effluents
for irrigation. My entire crop was destroyed when I
used water from the Piraman nala (a nearby stream that carries
untreated effluents from aie to the Narmada river),
says J M Patel, 75, a farmer from Dhanturia, which is about
20 km away from gidc, Ankleshwar. He lost Rs 2,00,000 in the
VAPI: The situation in
Vapi Industrial Estate (VIE) in Valsad district is no better
than other industrial estates of Gujarat. More than 1,900
industrial units have jeopardised the groundwater resources
of the area mainly by indiscriminate disposal of hazardous
wastes and effluents. A fair share of the effluents is also
being dumped into the ground. The DTE/IIT test conducted on
a sample of water from a borewell in Chiri village near Vapi
showed that the cod level was even more than the permissible
limit for industrial effluent, and the mercury level was about
90 times the prescribed limit.
Factories in vie deal with some very hazardous chemicals,
including pesticides and other agrochemicals, organochlorine
chemicals, dyes, acids like H-acid, liquid chlorine and chlorine
gas. Most of these substances have been banned in developed
countries. In fact, a ban in the industrialised countries
is accompanied by a rise in manufacturing capacities of such
chemicals in countries like India, says Michael Mazgaonkar
Gulab B Patel, a local leader in Chiri, says residents of
the village are using red-coloured water for the past seven-eight
years. We have been drinking this water till recently.
But we launched a major agitation against gidc and forced
them to supply drinking water, he says. For most other
purposes, people in villages near vie use contaminated groundwater.
Nearly 32 handpumps and 65 wells in the area reveal the presence
of chemicals, Patel observes.
Local people say the major source of groundwater pollution
is Rata Khadi, a seasonal stream near Chiri that carries effluent
from Vapi to a CETP. The effluents carry organochlorines,
heavy metals and other toxic chemicals. Patel says the colour
of the groundwater is the same as that of the effluents. In
1996, the villagers fought a case against gidc in the Gujarat
High Court, Ahmedabad, on the issue of groundwater pollution.
The verdict went in favour of the villagers. But, till today,
the situation remains the same, says Patel. In the past 15
years, CPCB and GPCB have taken groundwater samples from these
villages on several occasions. But no action has been taken
NANDESARI: The Nandesari
Industrial Estate (NIE) near Vadodara is a major production
centre for highly toxic chemicals, like h-acid, which are
not easily biodegradable. Disposal of untreated mercury-contaminated
effluent from caustic manufacturers has heavily contaminated
groundwater in the Nandesari, says a report submitted
by the Union ministry of environment and forests to the World
NIE is situated along the Mini river, and has about 250 industrial
units dealing with chemicals, pharmaceuticals, dyes, pesticides
and plastics, among other things. A recent environment impact
assessment conducted by the National Productivity Council
(NPC) in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, says the groundwater has been
severely contaminated down to a depth of about 60 metres.
Water samples from a borewell dug by GIDC in Nandesari show
14.82 mg/l of lead, whereas water near the GIDC dump in the
area had 38.25 mg/l of lead. The permissible limit for lead
in drinking water is a mere 0.05 mg/l.
Reckless dumping of effluent and hazardous waste is as common
here as in other industrial areas of the state. About 80 companies
send their effluents for secondary treatment at the cetp in
Nandesari. Says a chemist employed at the plant: Whenever
we find that effluents are not as per the required standards,
we do not allow them to discharge the effluents into the CETP.
But there are more than 267 industrial units in the area.
The chemist says he does not know where other companies send
Kiritsinh M Gohil, sarpanch (head of the village council)
of Nandesari village, says: Bad government policies
have made the area hell for the poor villagers. In the past,
several animals have died after drinking the polluted water,
whereas people have faced serious health problems. Udaysinh
R Gohil, a resident of Nandesari, recalls that in 1965, GIDC
told farmers that once the industrial area is set up, their
earnings will increase by leaps and bounds as they will get
jobs and other benefits. But soon after a few chemical industries
were set up, crop production started decreasing, says Udaysinh
R Gohil, adding that most of the land in Nandesari is barren
now. He recalls that in 1982, severe water contamination was
reported in the area for the first time. But no effective
steps have been taken so far.
Ironically, instead of solving the pollution problems in the
region now, there are plans to increase the number of units
in the industrial area. Authorities from the industrial
area have approached us several times to buy our lands,
says the sarpanch of Nandesari. Pollution is bound to increase
in the absence of effective pollution control measures.
There are several industrial units in Medak district of
Andhra Pradesh (AP) that have directly or indirectly polluted
groundwater. AP Pollution Control Board (APPCB) officials
reveal that Reliance Cellulose is releasing effluents
with very high chemical oxygen demand levels into a nearby
stream. Standard Organics of Patancheru used to pump untreated
effluents into a nearby stream. Birchow, a pharmaceutical
company, was dumping sulphomethazole in the open. Today,
say APPCB officials, all these companies are meeting environmental
norms. In fact, Birchow has acquired ISO 14001 certification,
they point out.
Durichan Textile Mills was dumping untreated effluents
with high levels of sulphuric acid in an open stream 1.5
km away through a pipe. On July 17, 1999, APPCB found
hexa-valent chromate dumped alongside the roads in Patancheru.
After seeping into the groundwater, such pollutants can
be lethal to those who drink the water. There are five
units in the area that produce this waste, out of which
three have internal landfill sites. Tishya Chatterjee,
member secretary of APPCB, assures that the board will
soon catch the culprit.
APPCB officials also reveal names of some other rogue
units. They include Vantech Pesticides, Borin Laboratories,
Kaikule and Reddy Labs. Two companies, Global Drugs and
Saraka, were caught pumping effluents into a pond in Kazipally.
Saraka is still sending effluent tankers to a nearby pond.
Another company, Hetero Drugs, was caught dumping effluents
near a pond.
did it go wrong?
and inefficient among pollution control authorities have
surrendered Indias groundwater to unscrupulous industrial
Industrialists believe it is cheaper to purchase
the regulators than abide by the regulations, says
K Purushotham Reddy of the Hyderabad-based ngo Citizens
Against Pollution. If I am not wrong, more than
90 per cent of gpcb officials are corrupt. In the present
circumstances, only God can save Gujarat from environmental
disasters, says a cpcb official at Vadodara, adding
that this is the reason why polluting industries are operating
without a care for the environment.
While hearing a case against some h-acid manufacturing
units that had polluted the groundwater of villages near
Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh (MP), the mp High Court came down
heavily on the state pollution control board (SPCB): The
interpretation put by the board... shows the collusion
of these officers. It was not expected of the MP Pollution
Control Board to have pleaded like this. It leaves a strong
suspicion that the pollution control board is not operating
objectively. The chairman should change all the officers
working in that area. We have strong reservation on their
working objectively and fairly.
While all factories do not inject effluent directly into
the ground, they love to break the rules. In Gujarat,
several companies wait for heavy rains, when the production
levels of most companies increase to a great extent. The
reason is simple. It becomes easy for them to dump
their effluents and wastes
anywhere they want. The effluents and wastes mix with
the rainwater and nobody raises any objection, says
a CPCB official at Vadodara who did not want to be named.
If officials know this, what stops them from booking the
polluters? Undue pressures from the political circle,
says the official, pointing out that in the past seven
years, the board has not closed any industry in Gujarat
for polluting the environment.
Though it is very difficult to get senior officials to
speak openly about this, there is a growing realisation
of this fact among them. Says a senior scientist of PPCB,
There are instances when some industrialists landed
up in our office to complain that the board officials
were demanding impossible amounts as bribe. The
extent of pollution problems in different states clearly
indicates that pcb officials are either not willing to
take action or they have connived with the polluters,
says Rohit Prajapati. There are wild allegations
against the pcb officials, and the way they tackle an
issue sometimes lends credence to such allegations,
says M Mehta of CGWB, Chandigarh. I C Gupta, head of the
natural resources and development division of the Central
Arid Zone Research Institute, Jodhpur, who has studied
groundwater pollution in Rajasthan, says, Our state
PCB is a dead body. Definitely, there is truth in the
allegation that the board officials are getting monthly
hafta (protection money) from the industries.
Says D K Dua of PPCB: Whether our officials are
corrupt or not it is to be confirmed, but as these officials
are from the state public health engineering department
on deputation, they are not really involved in their work.
This definitely affects the functioning of the board.
Tishya Chatterjee of APPCB concedes his inability in booking
all the culprits. The board requires more power than what
it has at present, he says. All 25 state PCBs in
India function as scapegoats for all concerned, being,
by default, the state-level repositories of all knowledge,
technologies, expertise and responsibilities, says
Chatterjee. In the environmental management, government
regulatory agencies are weak at the impact level and decision
making is centralised. The victims of pollution have no
say at the decision-making levels, he adds. However, R
Rajamani, former secretary to mef, differs: This
is not a matter of lacking powers, it is a matter of will,
which most pollution control board officials do not have.
So, does India need another Bhopal disaster, which affected
600,000 people in 1984, to wake up the slumbering bureaucracy?
It is quite clear that pcbs have failed. Even if disaster
strikes, their reaction is nothing beyond knee-jerk reactions
like imposing a ban. Hence the onus of saving the countrys
groundwater resources rests in the hands of the people
of the country and the civil society. It is time for the
victims to become proactive.
civil society pollution police?
The reason why local people and civil society can succeed
where pcbs have failed is that they are stakeholders in
groundwater resources. It is not the PCBs who are
really affected by groundwater pollution but the people
of that particular region. So, the most effective strategy
would be to let the local people and the civil society
play a more active role in prevention of pollution,
says Rajat Banerji, researcher at the New Delhi-based
Centre for Science and Environment.
Shalu Puri, programme officer at Voluntary Health Association
of India (VHAI), Delhi, underscores the need for public
pressure groups that can force industry to comply with
environmental norms. Today, no pollution control
board can manage the problem unless the local people are
for it. They have to take interest in protection of their
environment and utilise the infrastructure provided by
the government for sustainable development, she
says. But the civil society can only be successful if
the government ensures their right to information. We
will have to push for political lobbying in order to formulate
acts so that the civil society can also be involved in
pollution control measures, says Ravi Agarwal, director
of Srishti, a Delhi-based NGO.
Prajapati points out that most of the industrial units
in Gujarat are in rural areas where authorities cannot
constantly keep vigil. He says people are gradually losing
patience regarding increasing pollution levels. They are
already keeping a close watch on illegal dumping of wastes
in some industrial areas in Gujarat, which they are reporting
to gpcb, Prajapati observes. For example, a few factories
in Gorwa village of Vadodara district have been dumping
effluents in a sewer. The local people organised themselves
to catch the culprits. They take photographs and
collect other evidence and hand these over to GPCB. People
are basically fed up with the approach of the industry
and pcbs. So they want to take action on their own in
order to control pollution. Such initiatives will prevent
GPCB from making excuses, he says.
In Western countries, the public boycotts products
from an industry which is found to pollute the environment.
In India, too, the civil society can not only pressurise
the pcbs but also force industries to abide by environmental
norms, says A K Saxena, director, environmental
division, National Productivity Council, New Delhi. After
the 20th amendment to the Indian Factories Act in 1987,
the law makes it mandatory for every industry owner to
pass on information to common people regarding the use
of raw materials, types of pollutants coming out of the
industry and dumping of effluents, among other things.
And if any industrial unit does not comply with the norms,
the owner can face a sentence of seven years of imprisonment
under Section 92 of the Factories Act, 1948.
But there is one problem with the civil society,
too. At many places, peoples groups and ngos raise
their voice against defaulting industries but withdraw
later after taking money, says Sagar Dhara of M
Venkatarangaiya Foundation in Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh.
In Patancheru, for instance, the local people raised objections
during a public hearing against the setting up of an 18-megawatt
power project, he notes. But the sarpanchs
withdrew their objections later. Such steps put the government
and investigating agencies in a quandary, says Dhara.
This aspect should also be considered before advocating
the civil societys role in pollution control measures,
But how do local people in industrial areas silent
victims of pollution for years take up the task
is the biggest challenge for the civil society. The voluntary
and non-profit sector has to mobilise people to shed their
fear and inhibitions. To convince them that their very
future is at stake. To convince them that it is now or
never. That without clean water, there is no agriculture,
no prosperity, no life.
Adulteration of milk is not a new
problem in the town of Bulandshahar in western Uttar Pradesh
(UP). However, it is leading to another type of slow poisoning.
Local people complain that dairies pump their effluents
containing urea and other chemical additives into the
Some workers from a dairy came to me one day and
told me that they want to file a case against the particular
dairy as the owner threw them out without any reason.
In course of the conversation, they revealed that the
dairy is adulterating milk with urea and caustic soda
and all the effluents that are thereby produced are pumped
into the ground. They also named a couple of dairies nearby
who are doing the same, says Anil Vats, a lawyer
The dairies use a lot of water in cleaning the equipment,
leaving large amounts of effluents, which are even more
dangerous in the case of dairies engaged in adulteration
and contain urea, caustic powder and colour additives,
among other things. With the towns milk production
nearing one million litres, reports in the media say that
hundreds of litres of effluents are pumped into the ground
everyday. According to G S Yadav, regional officer of
the UP Pollution Control Board, Ghaziabad, the board has
closed down four milk-processing units as they did not
have effluent treatment plants.
Yadav acknowledges that the effluents can contaminate
groundwater as their biological oxygen demand is as high
as 800-1,000 milligrammes per litre (mg/l), while the
permissible limit for effluents is 30 mg/l. He adds that
the chemical oxygen demand and pH levels of effluents
are also considerably higher than is considered safe.
need a different approach
D K Biswas, chairperson, Central
Pollution Control Board, interviewed about the seriousness
of groundwater pollution. Excerpts:
serious is the groundwater pollution problem in India?
Groundwater pollution is very
difficult to evaluate as till now, there is no nationwide
survey or study of it except the few studies done by
CPCB. On that basis I can say that it is very serious
and needs special attention.
groundwater pollution not got its due attention?
It is partly due to lack of awareness
among people and policymakers and partly due to the
backlog of inaction in averting this pollution. Till
now the general belief among people is that groundwater
is pure and can be consumed straight. The reality is
totally the reverse of it groundwater is now
not fit for drinking without any treatment. This is
also causing lots of health problems.
It is the same problem with the policymakers. Recently,
when I was talking to a senior Union minister regarding
pollution of the Ganga, his reaction was: Ganga
is sacred and cannot be polluted. This is the
attitude towards surface waterbodies, when we can all
actually see how polluted are they. So, groundwater
considered to be polluted, though most of the groundwater
is affected by pollution, both natural and human-made.
Only in the past five-six years have we started paying
attention to groundwater pollution. To begin with, we
have earmarked 22 critical sites all over the country.
The result is frightening, and it is my belief that
we will get more shocks in the future.
the reasons for groundwater pollution?
The primary reasons are industrial
pollution and extensive farming leading to agrochemical
pollution of the groundwater. In case of industries,
it is due to lack of treatment of effluents that are
pumped into rivers and streams leading to groundwater
if there is facility for treating effluent, industries
do not have the proper drainage systems for treated
effluents, which again leach into the ground. It may
be noted that treated effluents also carry toxic contents.
You see the Gujarat belt; thousands of industrial units
have been polluting groundwater for years.
Similarly extensive farming has caused agrochemical
pollution of the groundwater. Nitrates and DDT are two
major hazardous chemicals that farming adds to groundwater.
Besides this, there is natural pollution, like fluoride
and arsenic contamination due to overexploitation of
groundwater. Delhi has a high level of fluorides due
to overexploitation, while it is natural arsenic contamination
of groundwater in West Bengal.
you going to penalise the groundwater polluters more
than those who pollute the air?
laws do not differentiate between surface and groundwater.
And CPCB and the state pollution control boards do not
have the power to penalise the polluting industries.
We need a different approach to groundwater pollution.
Are you suggesting
different rules and regulation for groundwater pollution?
Yes. Even the Central Ground Water
Authority (CGWA) has
suggested a new legislation to deal with groundwater.
We have suggested to the ministry of environment and
forests to give more powers to CGWA as suggested by
the Supreme Court. Even so, CGWA has enough power to
stop extraction of groundwater, which can help curb
the spread of polluted water.
| No way
Once polluted by industry, groundwater
is very difficult to clean up. This is the lesson learnt
from the Bichhri experience. Situated about 12 km from
Udaipur, the groundwater of Bichhri, spread over an
area of 300 hectares, is stark red. And as the groundwater
moves naturally to other aquifers, it pollutes that
water as well. Seventy wells used by some 10,000 residents
have been rendered completely useless, and the 22 villages
are without any drinking water now. In 1983, an H-acid
manufacturing unit ruined the groundwater seemingly
After a 1996 order from the Supreme Court (SC), officials
of the Union ministry of environment and forest (MEF)
and other state departments concerned have tried hard
to clean up the water. But it seems virtually impossible,
mainly for two reasons: firstly, cleaning groundwater
is very difficult, and, secondly, even if it is possible,
the cost is prohibitive. The cost of cleaning the polluted
water of Bichhri is estimated at Rs 40 crore. SC ordered
the clean-up of groundwater after auctioning the factorys
property. This came to a miserable Rs 5,00,000.
Cleaning the water of Bichhri is just impossible.
Like the H-acid (which is used in dyeing and does not
allow the colour to fade), the groundwater polluted
by it also refuses to its shed colour, says Kishore
Saint of the Udaipur-based non-governmental organisation
Ubeshwar Vikas Mandal, which helped in bringing the
Bichhri case into the limelight.
In 1990, SC ordered de-watering of the affected wells
to clean them. The Rajasthan Pollution Control Board
opposed this on two grounds. Firstly, after de-watering,
the wells had to be filled with freshwater, which was
unavailable. Secondly there was no feasible method to
clean the polluted water, which, if dumped, could pollute
further. Till now, we have not decided exactly
how to clean the polluted water, says Tapan Chakravarty,
deputy director of the National Environmental Engineering
Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, which has been assigned
the task of cleaning the water. It is going to
be a very difficult affair. That is why pollution of
groundwater is serious, says Chakravarty.
What goes down must come up
August 31, 1999