Another Bhopal in the mak­ing?

In­dus­tries from far and near dump un­treated toxic ef­flu­ents near Ul­has­na­gar, chok­ing a river and sick­en­ing peo­ple


In­dus­tries from far and near

dump toxic ef­flu­ents near Ma­ha­rash­tra's Ul­has­na­gar city,

sick­en­ing peo­ple

Ire­minder of the Bhopal T WAS A RUDE gas tragedy. In the early hours of Novem­ber 29, res­i­dents of Vadol vil­lage near Ma­ha­rash­tra’s Am­ber­nath in­dus­trial area woke up to a strong stench. More than 300 peo­ple liv­ing around a nul­lah started throw­ing up, felt dizzy and com­plained of un­easi­ness, breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties and headache. Some had to be im­me­di­ately rushed to the Cen­tral Hos­pi­tal in nearby Ul­has­na­gar city,while many oth­ers were evac­u­ated from the area. The stench was com­ing from the nul­lah, which joins a trib­u­tary of the Ul­has river. A tanker had dumped un­treated in­dus­trial ef­flu­ents into the nul­lah the pre­vi­ous night.

The in­ci­dent made it to na­tional news and prompted the state sec­re­tariat to call a closed-door meet­ing on De­cem­ber 1. Of­fi­cials present at the meet­ing did ad­mit that such in­ci­dences are be­com­ing fre­quent in all the three in­dus­trial ar­eas—Am­ber­nath, Dom­bivli and Bad­la­pur—along the Ul­haas and its trib­u­taries. But there was no con­sen­sus be­tween the po­lice and the pol­lu­tion con­trol of­fi­cials on who should guard against such hap­pen­ings. Fol­low­ing the meet­ing, Medha Gadgil, prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary (en­vi­ron­ment) of the state, told the me­dia that the gov­ern­ment plans to track and doc­u­ment all tankers pass­ing through the state. This gives cre­dence to an old al­le­ga­tion that in­dus­tries in Gu­jarat, par­tic­u­larly in Vapi, send ef­flu­ents to be dumped in Ma­ha­rash­tra.

Peo­ple liv­ing in and around the in­dus­trial ar­eas have, how­ever, lit­tle hope from the Ma­ha­rash­tra gov­ern­ment.

The three in­dus­trial ar­eas, set up by the Ma­ha­rash­tra In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (midc),are home to some 1,200 in­dus­tries; most of them are highly pol­lut­ing chem­i­cal and tex­tile units. “Peo­ple in and around th­ese ar­eas, young or old, reg­u­larly suf­fer from throat and eye ir­ri­ta­tion, var­i­ous in­fec­tions, fever and headache. It has be­come a way of life for us,” says Rashmi Ye­ole, pres­i­dent of midc Ni­wasi Ma­hasangha, a res­i­dents’ wel­fare as­so­ci­a­tion.

For the past two decades, the as­so­ci­a­tion has been re­quest­ing Ma­ha­rash­tra Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board (mpcb) to con­tain leak­ages from pipes that pass through their colonies car­ry­ing in­dus­trial ef­flu­ents and to pre­vent in­dus­tries from dump­ing waste in the river and its trib­u­taries. “But our re­peated pleas have fallen on deaf ears,” says Ra­jeev Nalawade, a re­tired midc worker who lives in Dom­bivli in­dus­trial area.

Tony Sir­wani,a cor­po­ra­tor from the area, told the me­dia that almost ev­ery day at late night res­i­dents would get the strong stench, which alerts them of tankers dump­ing in­dus­trial ef­flu­ents in nearby ar­eas. Lately, they have formed groups to guard the area. One such group, ac­cord­ing to Sir­wani, has iden­ti­fied a spot in Vadol, where the tanker mafia have in­stalled a pipe to di­rectly re­lease in­dus­trial ef­flu­ents into the river. A cou­ple of days prior to the in­ci­dent in which 300 peo­ple fell ill, another group of res­i­dents ap­pre­hended a tanker as it was dump­ing ef­flu­ents.But the po­lice al­legedly asked them not to de­tain or film the tanker. Though deputy com­mis­sioner of po­lice Vas­ant Jadhav de­nies such me­dia re­ports, a lo­cal tabloid pub­lished the images of the tanker.

MPCB shuts eyes

Both res­i­dents of the in­dus­trial es­tates and so­cial or­gan­i­sa­tions blame mpcb for the highly pol­luted state of the Ul­has. A study pub­lished in In­ter­na­tional Let­ters of Chem­istry Physics and As­tron­omy early this year states that tex­tile and dy­ing in­dus­tries are pol­lut­ing the Ul­has in a se­ri­ous way. Re­searcher P U Shin­gare of Chem­istry

Depart­ment of Bha­van’s Col­lege in Mumbai, has found dis­turbingly high lev­els of heavy met­als, cyanide, phos­phate, and very low dis­solved oxy­gen in the river.

Ac­cord­ing to non-profit Vanashakti, which analy­ses wa­ter qual­ity of the river once in ev­ery few months, the chem­i­cal oxy­gen de­mand (cod) of the river varies be­tween 50,000 mg per litre (mg/l) and 90,000 mg/l, against the max­i­mum per­mis­si­ble limit of 250 mg/l. cod in­di­cates the to­tal amount of chem­i­cals present in wa­ter. Bio­chem­i­cal oxy­gen de­mand (bod), which in­di­cates or­ganic pol­lu­tants, is more than dou­ble the per­mis­si­ble limit. “We sent the re­ports to mpcb sev­eral times, de­mand­ing that wa­ter qual­ity be as­sessed by an in­de­pen­dent agency.But it ig­nored our re­quest,” says Ash­win Aghor, project of­fi­cer with Vanashakti.

In Novem­ber 2013, Vanashakti moved the Na­tional Green Tri­bunal (ngt),ac­cus­ing mpcb of al­low­ing pol­lut­ing in­dus­tries to op­er­ate.ngt in its or­der asked mpcb to iden­tify and close down all pol­lut­ing in­dus­tries in midc. “But mpcb over­ruled ngt rul­ing and al­lowed the erring units to re­sume op­er­a­tions within 25 days,” says D Stalin, di­rec­tor (projects) of Vanashakti.

In Septem­ber this year ngt asked mpcb about its ini­tia­tives to clean up the river. mpcb, in­stead of pro­vid­ing de­tails of its per­for­mance, tried to put the blame for the pol- lu­tion on Ul­has­na­gar Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion (umc). In its af­fi­davit, mpcb in­formed that of the 90 mil­lion litres a day (mld) sewage gen­er­ated by the mu­nic­i­pal area,umc dis­charges 10 mld with­out treat­ment through Khe­mani nul­lah into the drink­ing wa­ter zone of the Ul­has.The re­main­ing sewage is di­rectly dis­charged through a nul­lah into the Waldhuni,a trib­u­tary of the Ul­has.

At the same time, al­leges Stalin, mpcb worked over­time to stall ngt’s ac­tion against the in­dus­tries. “Ef­flu­ents treated at cetp have the cod of 250 mg/l, bod of 100 mg/l and a neu­tral pH. But mpcb im­posed th­ese stan­dards on in­dus­trial units. Th­ese units can never achieve the stan­dard with the help of their pri­mary wa­ter treat­ment plants.So they went to the high court and stayed the ngt or­der,” Stalin in­forms. He adds that no mpcb of­fi­cial or coun­sel present in the court ob­jected to the stay, which sug­gests that the move was chore­ographed to favour in­dus­tries. Stalin has writ­ten to Chief Min­is­ter Deven­dra Fad­navis, de­mand­ing sus­pen­sion of mpcb mem­ber sec­re­tary Ra­jeev Mit­tal and all of­fi­cials of its re­gional of­fice at Kalyan.

Nitin Shinde, sub re­gional of­fi­cer of mpcb-Kalyan, ad­mits that tankers re­lease in­dus­trial ef­flu­ents into the wa­ter­ways, but says midc in­dus­tries are not re­spon­si­ble for this.

Dump yard for all

“Th­ese tankers come from out­side,” says Shinde.“All 38 ef­flu­ent-gen­er­at­ing plants in Am­bar­nath in­dus­trial es­tate have pri­mary wa­ter treat­ment plants,and the cetp is func­tional.So they have no need to re­sort to th­ese tac­tics.”Shinde adds that il­le­gal denim wash­ing units are pol­lut­ing the river. mpcb is go­ing to ini­ti­ate ac­tion against them.

Res­i­dents around the in­dus­trial ar­eas in­form that an well-or­gan­ised tanker mafia is in­volved in bring­ing in­dus­trial ef­flu­ents from far away ar­eas, such as Vapi in Gu­jarat and Ma­had and Khopoli in Raigad, Ma­ha­rash­tra, and dump­ing it in Ul­has­na­gar. They, how­ever, trash midc’s claim that the lo­cal in­dus­tries are not at fault. “None of the cetps in the three in­dus­trial es­tates are func­tion­ing prop­erly. Th­ese in­dus­tries dump the un­treated ef­flu­ents quite openly,” says Ye­ole, “You have to visit nullahs near the in­dus­trial ar­eas to see this—the stench is un­bear­able.”

It is al­leged that a well-or­gan­ised tanker mafia brings ef­flu­ent from in­dus­tries in far away places like Raigad in Ma­ha­rash­tra and Vapi in Gu­jarat and dumps it in in­dus­trial ar­eas around Ul­has­na­gar

Tests show that the wa­ter of the Ul­has river has high lev­els of heavy met­als, cyanide and very low dis­solved oxy­gen

Mumbai Vapi Gu­jarat Ul­has­na­gar Ma­ha­rash­tra


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