Industry at any
(This article first appeared in Down
April 15, 2000)
Gujarat. The brightest jewels in Indias industrial crown.
But impressive industrial growth figures fail to hide the
grim realities of environmental pollution. While, the state
governments are only bothered about industrial growth, the
civil society is struggling to draw public attention to the
impending danger to the environmental and public health.
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, Maharashtras largest solid
waste dumping ground. In violation of a Mumbai High Court
order, prohibiting burning of wastes, wastes are still burnt
in Deonar. For Aniruddha, clean air is an 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 years 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 dont get fish catch in the seashore areas.
So, only those fisherfolk who can afford to go as far as 12
km inside the sea are continuing in this 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
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, its all quiet on the western front. And
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
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,
Nowhere more so than in the nearly 400-km stretch between
Vapi in southern Gujarat and Vatva in northern Gujarat, called
the golden corridor, an industrialists dream come true.
This stretch has become a hot bed of pollution. In the
golden corridor, we have created a number of potential disasters
similar to the Bhopal gas tragedy. The time-bomb is ticking
very fast, says Achyutbhai Yagnik, secretary of Setu,
an Ahmedabad-based ngo. Another example of an environmental
nightmare is Alang, the largest shipbreaking yard of the world,
situated 50 km from Bhavnagar. The 11-km coastline of the
yard has been severely polluted due to scrapping of hazardous
ships.(see Bare Facts; Down To Earth, Vol 6, No
20; March 15, 1998).
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.
Gujarats rivers are bearing the brunt of industrial pollution,
as are the people living on the banks of these rivers. All the
major rivers and streams of Gujarat are in a bad state due to
effluent discharged by industry, be it the Kolak, the Mahi,
the Daman Ganga or the Amlakhadi. 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.
Take the case of the farmers from 11 villages between Lali
and Navagam, who irrigate their fields with untreated effluents
released into the Khari river. Nearly 100 tubewells and borewells
have been contaminated. When factories were prevented
from dumping effluents in the Mini river, they resorted to
reverse boring, pumping untreated effluents straight into
underground aquifers, says Sahabsinh Darbar, 73, a farmer
from Sherkhi village in Vadodara district.
We do not require any study to confirm that channels
and rivers in Gujarat are polluted. You can see that from
the colour of the water, says Mayur Pandya, a noted
lawyer who chaired a committee set up to investigate pollution
of Khari river near Ahmedabad by the Gujarat High Court in
1995. So, what have the people done to prevent their land
and rivers from being defiled?
The rise and
fall of a peoples campaign
In Gujarat during the monsoon, effluents
overflow from the rivulet and destroy farms
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
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
Failure of the
The most damaging aspect of Gujarats struggle against
industrial pollution has been the failure of the courts to deliver.
There was a phase in 1995 when the Gujarat High Court was cracking
down on polluters, giving an impetus to the environmental movement
in the state. Hundreds of cases were filed in the court. This
continued for two to three years. As long Justice B N Kirpal
was the chief justice of the high court, he took stern action
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.
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 GIDCs Nandesari Industrial Estate
north of Vadodara. Plans of a site to dump toxic wastes are
severely flawed and there are fears of a major ecological disaster.
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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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
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.
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. Bhagats 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
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 Ambalis
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
collectors office in Valsad on March 31, 1999,
100-odd people protested against Saberos 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,
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
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,
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 Pawars
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
Indias 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.
Maharashtras 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 industrialisations
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.
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
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 states 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.
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 Chemburs 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.
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
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 Mullas 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 Indias 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
governments 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
Why isnt 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
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.
Its 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 doesnt come out with any study or survey
on the states 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 villagers lack of awareness
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
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.
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
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