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Industry at any cost

(This article first appeared in Down To Earth,
April 15, 2000)

Maharashtra and Gujarat. The brightest jewels in India’s 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.

Industrial survey statistics tell you that more than one-hird — 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, Maharashtra’s 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 impossibility.

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 year’s eve, the 50-year-old resident of Kolak quietly died. Four months ago, her elder sister had died of cancer.

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.

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 don’t 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 business.”

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.

A victim of throat cancer at Kolak village (above); and dead fish of Kolak river washed ashore. Fish kills occur when Vapi factories discharge untreated effluent

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.

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 pollution.”

At present, it’s all quiet on the western front. And dirty.

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Untreated effluents from Vatva factories blacken the Khari river near Lali village (above); and pink foamy effluents find their way to the Sabarmati river near Vatva


Industrial estates of Gujarat are cesspools of filth and environmental health hazards. Yet the government is blindly promoting industry

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 (GPCB).

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 industrialist’s 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).

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Government response, or the lack of it
“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.

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.”

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Blackened rivers
Gujarat’s 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. 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 facility

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.


Children from villages 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

“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 being defiled?

In Gujarat during the monsoon, effluents overflow from the rivulet and destroy farms
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The rise and fall of a people’s campaign
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.

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.

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. Mercury is an extremely toxic heavy metal and is known to cause damage to kidneys and the central nervous system.

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Failure of the courts
The most damaging aspect of Gujarat’s 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.

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.”

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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. 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 GIDC’s 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.

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.

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Systems that 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. “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. 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.

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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.”
A woman washes utensils in the contaminated water from her well at Navagram village

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.

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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.

“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 environmental norms.”

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.

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Contaminated Groundwater

Until the 1980s, Bharatbhai Bhagat, a farmer who lives a kilometre away from the Sarigam Industrial Estate (sie) in Valsad district of Gujarat, had 600 mango trees. He had been selling 10 truckloads of mangoes every year. “Today, we have to buy the fruit, even for our own consumption,” he says. Bhagat’s story is no different from those living in villages near sie. The 450-odd industrial units, including 50 chemical units, have in 12 years contaminated the groundwater. And if villagers are to be believed, some units even use borewells to pump untreated effluents into the ground.

A recent Greenpeace study shows that groundwater in Sarigam is contaminated with organic pollutants such as tri-chloroethane, benzene and several organochlorine compounds. Benzene is a known carcinogen and dichlorobenzene is a persistent organic pollutant, which remains in the environment for a very long period of time.

Groundwater is the only source of drinking water for the villagers. “But use of groundwater results in health problems, ruins our crops and the land as well,” says Prakash B Arekar, former sarpanch (head) of Sarigam village council. Arekar, along with fellow villagers, has been has been trying to bring to task industrial units responsible for contamination but without success.

A 1986-87 incident explains their failure. Seventy-year-old blind farmer Ganeshbhai Ambali’s 1.2-hectare land was completely destroyed after untreated effluents from Ami Chemicals spilled onto his fields. “The company official offered me money. He said that was all I would get. He also said that since he controlled 32 inspectors of the pollution control board, I was small fry,” recalls Ambali.

The current controversy over Sabero Organics, which deals with chemicals, is also a case in point. According to Rajendra Singh Jadeja, vice-president of the Sarigam Industrial Association, Sabero had been caught red-handed dumping untreated effluents in the open. The Gujarat Pollution Control Board served a closure notice to Sabero in 1999. The company is now seeking permission to set up a unit to manufacture the fungicide mancozeb. Anand Mazgaonkar of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, a non-governmental organisation, says production of this fungicide has been banned in several industrialised countries in view of the health risk it poses: “Its usage could adversely affect the central nervous system and is a suspected endocrine disrupter.”

In a public hearing held at the collector’s office in Valsad on March 31, 1999, 100-odd people protested against Sabero’s decision to set up the plant. However, some questioned the very idea of calling a public hearing when almost 60 per cent construction of the proposed plant had been completed.

“We have been cheated by our own representatives,” says Arekar. In 1983, the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (gidc) acquired land in Sarigam for setting up the industrial estate. “Politicians played mischief with us. They had said there would only be engineering units in the area,” says Bhagat. But they declared it a chemicals zone. “Now our area has become like a multi-storeyed building without any latrines and bathrooms,” says Arekar. “But we have to fight. Our future generation will curse us if we do not protect the environment now,” he adds.

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A river becomes an effluent channel

It has been a long struggle for the people living in the villages of Sajod, Pungam, Matiad and Haripura in Bharuch district of Gujarat. The Amlakhadi river — which was one of the sources of water for these villages — has today become an effluent channel.

For several years, more than 1,500 industrial units in Jhagadia, Ankleshwar, Panoli, Vilayat and Dahej of Bharuch district have been discharging effluents into the Amlakhadi. The river meets the Narmada river near Bharuch. More than half of them are chemical units that manufacture dyes, paints, fertilisers, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals, paper and pesticides.

The 1994-95 annual report of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (gpcb) says that the chemical oxygen demand (cod) level in the Amlakhadi river is 11,007 milligramme /litre (mg/l) when the prescribed gpcb level is only 250 mg/l. Even the biological oxygen demand (bod), which stands at 442 mg/l, far exceeds the gpcb limit of 30 mg/l. Moreover, a study conducted by environment pressure group, Greenpeace, has found toxic metals such as lead, mercury, chromium and zinc in the effluents released into the Amlakhadi. During monsoon, the effluents sometimes overflow and destroy the farmlands.

For many years the villagers have been protesting against the poisoning of the river. In December 1996, the Centre for Environment, Science and Community (cescom), a Vadodara-based non-governmental organisation (ngos), helped the villagers bring the struggle onto the negotiation table with the government. “We held a series of discussions with the district collector, officials from the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (gidc) and representatives from the industries. Later it was decided that no new units would be allowed in the Jhagadia Industrial Estate, except the existing four units unless an effluents pipeline was laid down for Ankleshwar, Panoli and Jhagadia estates. This pipeline was supposed to take effluents from these estates directly into the sea,” says Ashok Rathi, secretary, cescom.

But when the gidc allowed more industries to come up in Jhagadia even before the pipeline was laid, Jayesh Patel, a member of Narmada Pradushan Nivaran Samiti, an organisation associated with cescom, filed a public interest litigation (pil) in the Gujarat high court. The Ankleshwar Industrial Association (aia) estimates that its members generate between 250-270 million litres per day (mld) of effluents. Of this 58 per cent is generated from the manufacture of dyes and dye intermediates; 10 per cent from drugs and pharmaceuticals; and five per cent from inorganic chemicals, says a 1996 Central Pollution Control Board report.
However, many industrial units claim to have installed effluent treatment plants. There is a common effluent treatment plant (cetp), backed by United Phosphorus Limited (upl) which has nearly 192 members. The cetp has a capacity to treat around 1,000 cubic metres of effluents per day or 1 mld. The industrial units are also planning a 55-km long pipeline project that will discharge effluents from Ankleshwar, Panoli and Jagadia into the sea. This pipeline will take the effluents 14 km inside the sea.

“The high court had passed an interim order two years ago asking the industrial units to stop dumping effluents. However, the units have not stopped dumping,” says Rathi. “After this judgement, no new industry will be allowed in the area to discharge effluents in Amlakhadi until the gpcb develops norms in compliance with Section 17-1-K of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974, as laid down by the court,” adds Rathi.

“We had brought to the notice of the high court that the Water Act section 17-1-(K) allows consent to be given only subject to tolerance limits of the stream where discharge is to be made,” he says. Thus the decision of the high court upholding the stand taken by gidc in not allowing any other industry to discharge effluent before the pipeline is commissioned remained in force during full period of litigation, Rathi adds.

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Cost of industrial prosperity: Untreated industrial effluents flow into residential blocks at Dombivli
Eerie silence is all that is countering environmental pollution

“Industrialisation is a national priority and it has to take place. In Maharashtra we have demonstrated that industrialisation would bring prosperity,” says Sharad Pawar, former chief minister of Maharashtra who has been an important player in national politics as well. “We have been able to concentrate on industrialisation consistently and thus there is a mad rush among the industries to set up their plant in Maharashtra,” he says with a proud air. What he says is not untrue. But what Pawar’s statement hides is another story.

The state of the national economy can be gauged from Maharashtra. It generates the highest amount of tax revenue and has the highest gross domestic product (gdp) among all the states. A recent survey by a business magazine identified it as the most investment friendly state of the country. Even before India’s independence, it was the most industrialised state, accounting for half of national cotton and sugar production at the time. Its capital Mumbai — known as the business capital of India — hosts almost half of the industrial units in the state. The Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (midc) has created 265 industrial estates. Officials in the state industry department say that industrialists are more powerful here than the chief minister.

“Maharashtra’s coast has a well developed petroleum industry, which attracts different chemicals units. Besides, the state unofficially projected the sea as a free dumping ground for these hazardous industrial units,” says Rashmi Patil, professor at the Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai. “The state is well connected to the international market through air and sea. Chemicals industry, which thrives on the export market, is more interested in Maharashtra and Gujarat,” she adds. Maharashtra accounts for one-fourth of the national annual turnover of the chemicals sector.

All the industrial superlatives do not come without a cost. As industrialisation started resulting in high gdp and revenues, the state began paying a heavy cost in terms of environmental degradation, particularly due to the massive concentration of the chemicals industry. The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (mpcb) points out that the air of almost every major town of the state is unsuitable for breathing. The health costs due to this run into several crore rupees. The state has been reporting the highest number of accidents related to chemicals since 1985, followed by Gujarat, according to the Union ministry of environment and forests (mef). mpcb indicates that 80 per cent of the units in the state pollute water, while 15 per cent pollute the air. Of the 83,000 industrial units in the state, 50 per cent are in the chemicals, fertilisers and textiles sectors.

After using virtually every inch of space in cramped urban areas like Mumbai, the state government is now taking industrial development to rural areas. “That is industrialisation’s final assault on the state,” says Shanta Chatterji, an environmentalist working with Clean Air Island, an ngo working campaigning for clean air. “The industrial growth is based on outdated technology and without any respect to the environment. This had definitely resulted in environmental degradation,” says Rashmi Mayur of the International Institute for Sustainable Future, who is involved in many environmental cases in the Mumbai High Court.

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Recession increases pollution
The past two-three years. Its effects can be seen clearly in Maharashtra, the most industrialised state of the country. One would imagine that an economic slump would result in less pollution. Incorrect. In face of the economic recession, more and more industrial units are failing in pollution control norms. To save money and reduce the cost of production, industrialists are not investing in pollution control machinery.

mpcb carried out a survey from April 1995 to March 1999 to identify units without adequate pollution control devices. “Almost all industries on banks of rivers or drinking water sources were found inadequate in pollution control measures,” says an official involved with the survey. According to K H Mehta, member secretary of mpcb, industrialists are totally against pollution control norms as such and the economic recession has just provided the right excuse. “The economic recession has adversely affected the industrial sector and the government is trying hard to bring in more investments,” says T N Mahadevan, scientist with the Bhaba Atomic Research Centre and secretary of the Society for Clean Air, a Mumbai-based ngo.

Small-scale chemicals industrial units of Mumbai, the first to be hit by the economic recession, are now being used by big chemicals factories outside Mumbai for illegal discharge of their untreated effluents into the sea. It helps the sick small-scale industrial units earn some quick money. In recent years, it has been seen that chemicals factories in remote areas of Maharashtra, who do not want to spend much on effluent treatment, are selling their effluents as ‘chemicals’ to these sick units, which, in turn, dump the effluents into the sea. “This is a very organised crime and basically aimed at saving money on pollution control,” says Mehta. “There are reports of factories in Gujarat dumping their effluents in Mumbai through sick companies that earn around Rs 4,000-5,000 per tanker of effluent disposed,” says another mpcb official.

Though the state government has done precious little to control this, it is doing its best to further promote industrialisation. According to the state’s industry department, the financial allocation of midc has been increased and it is embarking on a major land acquisition drive in the backward areas of the state. It is rumoured that the corporation is acquiring 30,000 hectare of land. But there are no funds for pollution control. Six thermal power plants are yet to install pollution control measures. “We cannot blame them as the government does not provide the fund for pollution control machinery,” says Mehta. The state government has stopped fresh recruitment to the board. A mere 150 technical mpcb officers are responsible for monitoring some 80,000 industrial units.

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The Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation’s
defunct effluent treatment
plant at Dombivli
MIDC and industrial hell-holes
You go to any industrial estate of midc, you would find the same situation: either the river besides it is polluted or the residents of the area are suffering from several kinds of illnesses. Effluent flowing in open drains, careless dumping of hazardous waste and emission of poisonous gases are the common features of midc estates.

The Thane-Belarpur industrial area (tbia), the largest industrial estate in the country with a turnover of above Rs 4,000 crore, provides the real picture of industrialisation in Maharashtra. Situated along the Thane creek, its 40 per cent area is occupied by more than 1,200 industrial units. The effluents from these are drained into the creek after partial treatment. Some 25,000 cubic metre of wastewater from the factories is dumped into the sea everyday. The Ecology and Environment Inc of New York, usa, conducted a study on the tbia for the Maharashtra government in 1995. It points out that “some wastewater is discharged with minimal or no treatment”. The effluents score quite high on several pollution parameters, and studies have traced heavy metal like lead and cadmium in the Thane creek.

In Chembur, industrial units discharge some 500,000 cubic metre of industrial wastewater to the Thane lower creek. Sandip Rane, a cardiologist and the president of Chembur’s Smoke Affected Residents’ Forum, says, “While vehicular pollution has peaked in Mumbai, industrial pollution is adding to it. Chembur is simply hell. The health impact must be serious, though no comprehensive study has been done on this.” According to an estimate of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (igidr), poor air quality costs people living in Chembur as much as Rs 35 lakh each year. Moreover, they have to avail of free government services like hospitals and municipal services worth Rs 20 lakh. No wonder the property rates have fallen in Chembur.

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Solid waste: hazardous dilemma
Mumbai, with a population of about 10 million, produces more than 5,000 tonnes of solid waste per year. There are 40,000 small- and large-scale industrial units in the city, 523 of them in the chemicals sector, 531 in textiles and 9 deal with pesticides. One-fourth of the solid waste generated in Mumbai is toxic, according to the Environmental Status of Mumbai, a publication of the Greater Mumbai Municipality Corporation.

Maharashtra generates 195,000 tonnes of hazardous waste per year through 3,908 industrial units. This is supposed to be managed by midc. Though there has been a move to identify eight dumping sites, only one is operational. “Three years have passed since the government decided to allocate land for it. But we are yet to see any other sites except the one operating near the Thane-Belarpur estate,” says Mahadevan.

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Rivers: weeping black tears
mpcb says 75 per cent of the rivers in the state are polluted by industry. If you want to know the state of the Mulla river near Pune, speak to Rahim Muqbal Sheikh, a commercial painter. He spends his evenings on the bank of the Mulla. “I come here just to get a feel of the river,” he says. The 35-year-old Sheikh is a key witness to Mulla’s slow death. He has seen fish, the water crystal clear and its ferocity during monsoon. “The vibrant fishing community has disappeared with the fish,” says Prakash Gole of the ngo Ecological Society.

Since the 1970s, Pimpri, one of India’s premier industrial estates, has taken its toll. The river is so polluted that it is not even suitable for survival of crabs, considered some of the toughest creatures when it comes to surviving water pollution, says Gole. A 1997 study by the University of Pune observed that the water of the river just before entered Pimpri was potable, while at the point it left Pimpri, it was highly polluted.

The fate of Patalganga river is no better. The river flows besides the industrial area called Rasayani (which means chemicals in Hindi/Marathi) in Khapoli town of Raigad district. The Society for Clean Environment, a Mumbai-based ngo which has conducted a survey of the area, estimates that more than 15 million litres of highly polluted effluents are discharged into the river everyday. In January 1988, the executive engineers at Panvel examined the water at the intake point of the Chauna water supply scheme, which dams the river water for supply, and declared it unfit for human consumption, stripping 42 villages with 45,000 people of their only water source.

Since 1972, local residents have been protesting sporadically against the government and the industry. In 1988 the Bombay Environmental Action Group (beag) filed a public interest petition. In 1987 the villagers alleged that due to flushing of chemical residue into the river, the water had become acidic and it burnt crops in field. The state government and the pollution control board never gave any importance to this allegation. The Mumbai zonal laboratory of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (neeri) finally exposed the government’s ignorance. It after examination of the sample of water supplied from the Chauna water supply scheme observed that the water required proper disinfection and remarked that the water was unfit for drinking. The villagers reported large-scale mortality of fish in 1988.

The state government denied any pollution in the area and even defended the industrial units. The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board denied that the water of the Patalganga river had become wholly unfit for human consumption due to pollution. The court set up an expert committee to ascertain the truth. It said that the mpcb needs to be more vigilant in monitoring the industrial units. The case is still going on in the high court since. Though the Mehta of mpcb says that all the industrial units in the area are pollution free now, the river still looks ‘faint green’ and villagers protest saying that there is a nexus between the industrialists and pcb members.

What has aggravated the problem is the Tata Hydro Electric Power Station at Khopoli, which blocks the river flow to generate electricity for Mumbai. Some five years ago the flow in the river came to such a low that it was not even flushing away the effluents discharged by factories, turning it to an effluent drain. The petition of the beag said that “the peaking power requirement for Bombay city is not more important than drinking water for about 100,000 people”.

In Maharashtra, it is not only the rivers. Even the sea shore has been polluted

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Why isn’t there any attention?
The rivers are polluted. The sea is polluted up to five km. Agriculture has become less productive in many industrial areas. Yet there is hardly any notable movement or protest against industrial pollution. And if there is any, it either fizzles out in face of an insensitive government or people involved abandon it half way. “Except jeevan sanghrash (the battle to survive), there is no other battle in the state,” says Tulsidas Mishra, a resident of Mumbai. “In the past decade environment pollution cases are getting highlighted due to public interest litigation. But we are yet to boast of a major environmental movement,” says Debi Goenka.

One reason for it comes from Ashish Kothari of the Pune-based NGO Kalpavriksha: “The stagnation in agriculture and spread of drought encouraged industrialisation. The state is depending more on industry now. A large portion of the population is working in industries, so a sustained movement against it is really difficult.”

As part of its economic reformation, the state government has waived the mandatory permission of the district collector before converting agriculture land into industrial use. According to people of Marbad village in Thane, this has contributed to pollution. As agricultural lands in drought-prone areas are unproductive, many industrial houses are buying these lands at throwaway prices. “It’s easier to pollute in rural areas given the level of awareness among the village folk,” says Shanta Chatterjee.

In its annual review report, mpcb says: “On the industrial front, a licensing policy was pursued which prohibited industrial production of a large number of products beyond a particular capacity. This also prohibited the industries from achieving scale of economical production and setting up of pollution abatement plants with a zero pollution concept, these being unviable.”

But Mahadevan says the absence of public opinion on these issues is due to the ineffectiveness of the agencies concerned: “It is really very difficult to find any data on the environmental status. mpcb doesn’t come out with any study or survey on the state’s rivers or air pollution. So the people do not have strong base to contest the powerful industrial lobby.” On his part, Mehta defends mpcb: “We do not have that kind of resources to monitor.” Says Mahadevan: “There is no independent source of information and the credibility of mpcb is suspected due to government pressures.” Goenka, who is fighting the case against pollution of the Patalganga river, says, “Lack of information and the officials hesitation in giving you the available information are major hurdles that one would face while fighting pollution in the state. Apart from the court room, I was fighting a battle outside — for more information on the water quality.”

In Maharashtra, it is easier to pollute rural areas given the villager’s lack of awareness

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From here, whence?
Maharashtra was the first state in India to have water pollution control legislation in India in 1970. In the same year, mpcb was established. Although there are elaborate provisions in the law, factories continue polluting. “Implementation is zero,” says Goenka. In its review of all the cases pending in the courts, mpcb says there was no effective control on containing the pollution in the intervening period. To curb this, it has started asking for bank guarantee from the industrial units, which would enable the board to force the industries to adhere to pollution control norms within the stipulated time frame.

It said that the laws are based on a command and control regime with an emphasis on punitive rather than pro-active and preventive measures. Undue emphasis is placed on criminal procedure. “We cannot close a unit for more than a week or, say, for 15 days. Beyond that we get pressure from political leadership,” says Mehta. “Due to the nexus between politicians and industrialists, factories have been given unprecedented freedom; even the freedom of degrading our environment,” says Chatterjee. “Industrial houses appease politicians by giving them construction contracts and in return they get very little punishment for their crimes,” says Rashmi Mayur. “The process of taking industry to the court is torturous and drags on for years. We have cases which are pending since 20 years.”

Jyoti Parikh of IGIDR says, “The government has to now adopt the ‘polluters pay’ method apart from having a policy of encouraging environment friendly industry with economic incentives.” The most industrialised state of India direly needs an overhaul of the way it perceives environmental pollution. Otherwise its workers like Gokul Rao and Aniruddha Mohanty will continue to live a miserable life till a more miserable deaths relieves them. The chances of the politicians waking up to address this cause are quite faint, although they have the power. Now, it is up to the civil society to become more powerful. It can make a small beginning by compiling all the information available in the state on industrial pollution. Knowledge is the ultimate power. It is also the only tool for the civil society.

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Chemical rain

Dombivli is an industrial township in Thane district of Maharashtra. Any taxi driver can point it out to you from a distance. This small town with a big industrial estate, comprising some 50 chemicals units manufacturing dye intermediaries, is perpetually engulfed in smog. For the 100,000 residents, life is worse than hell. “The factories emit gases at night. They discharge effluents openly into the drain passing through our colony. Any complaint against them will only mean that we lose our jobs,” laments Saroj Panicker, a resident of Dombivli, whose father works in a chemicals factory.

Though the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) is supposed to establish a common effluent treatment plant (CETP) and the industrial units have to treat their effluents, visits to at least 15 units showed that they discharge effluents in open drains. Hazardous wastes in the shape of a sludge are dumped in open fields besides residential colonies.
“When it rains the rainwater brings these chemicals in our houses,” says Renuka Patil, whose house is next door to a factory manufacturing chemicals for a fertiliser plant. S P Ahire, a local physician who treats people from within the industrial area, says the most common problems are respiratory and skin disorders.

The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board says the air quality here is as poor as Chembur and central Mumbai. But pollution here is solely due to industries. “The town has become a huge dumping ground for chemicals units operating on obsolete technology,” says Rashmi Mayur, director of the International Institute for Sustainable Future, Mumbai, who recently conducted a survey in the area.

In the residential areas surrounding the industrial estates, people keep their windows and doors bolted at night. There is a fear that factories may discharge poisonous gases. “Once my husband fainted suddenly after opening the windows at night,” says Manisha Dubey, a resident. A senior scientific officer who does not want to be named says: “There are no official complaints from any residents. But we know for certain that some factories release gases like chlorine. As the area is densely populated this could be hazardous for human health, even fatal.” But all officials working in the plants only reiterated one line: “There is no pollution and the pollution control board has certified this.” The owner of a factory inside the estate says factories release gases at the same time, making it impossible for any official on inspection to identify the culprit.

In Dombivli, when it rains the rainwater brings chemical effluents into houses
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Industry at any cost

April 15, 2000
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