Unable to bear pollution any longer, people in Kotdwar force Uttarakhand to commission an independent assessment of steel factories in the region
It is a classic case of people losing faith in the capacity of the administration when it comes to nailing the erring industries.
After years of inaction by the Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board (UEPPCB) to check pollution from the mini steel factories in Jasodharpur Industrial Area, residents from adjoining villages blocked the entrance to the area and staged dharna for a month in November last year. They lifted the blockade only after the district administration of Kotdwar agreed to their main demand that the Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) should be given the responsibility of conducting an environmental assessment of the industrial area. UEPPCB should take action based on the assessment, they demanded (see ‘Up against scrap’).
| UP AGAINST SCRAP
Apart from an independent environmental impact assessment by the Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based non-profit, residents from the adjoining villages of Jasodharpur Industrial Area had also demanded that the sub-divisonal magistrate (SDM) of Kotdwar should inspect the factories and shut down the ones found flouting environmental norms. The factories should remain shut till the Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board (UEPPCB) submits its report. The communities also demanded that the factories using coal in reheating furnace instead of furnace oil, without permission should be shut down. Using coal adds to the air pollution. Since the industrial area is in close proximity to densely populated area, they demand it be shifted.
The SDM inspected the factories and issued show-cause notices to seven factories, including those using reheating furance. But the factories are still operational. The demand to move the industrial estate away from the residential area is far from being met. The factories claim the residential area has grown in size only after the industrial cluster was established in 1996-97.
The Uttarakhand government says it is helpless as the industrial area was granted permission before the state was carved out from Uttar Pradesh in 2000.
Till 2008, the area was under the Uttar Pradesh State Industrial Development Corporation. It got transferred to the State Industrial Development Corporation of Uttarakhand Limited in December 2011 following the protests.
Established some 15 years ago, the industrial area spreads over 36.4 hectares and is home to 18 mini steel factories. The factories use scrap as the raw material to produce ingots and bars. Together, they produce 167,000 tonnes of ingots per annum and 101,000 tonnes of bar. Residents have been complaining of health problems and low crop yield due to pollution from these factories for the past four years. They also staged protests several times. In December 2008, the Kissan Mahasabha Sangharsh Samiti of Kotdwar (KMSSK), a people’s organisation, filed a complaint with UEPPCB. The officials in February 2009 served show-cause notices to 13 factories but chose not to pursue further action. The administration says it is helpless.
CSE, on the invitation of UEPPCB, inspected the factories and found blatant violation of laws. Its report, released at a public meeting in Maganpur village on June 11, says, “The factories in Jasodharpur Industrial Area are operating without a Consent to Operate and hence are operating illegally. UEPPCB is not granting consents to these factories saying they do not meet the environmental norms, but still allowing them to operate which is beyond our understanding. This situation is clearly untenable.”
Besides, the CSE report reveals, the pollution control equipment in the factories is highly inadequate. Disposal of slag, the solid waste generated by the factories, is another major problem. Following the protests in November, the sub-divisonal magistrate of Kotdwar has designated a site on the bank of the river Sigaddi Srot at Sigaddi for dumping slag.
The Sigaddi is a seasonal river and is the tributary of the Ganga. But the site is unscientific and will lead to huge water and land pollution during the rainy season, says the CSE report (see ‘What CSE found’). Industry representatives present at the meeting have accepted the observations made in the report and publicly stated their willingness to improve. But the communities are not hopeful. With CSE’s report as a weapon in their hand, they now plan to drag the factories to the court.
Deteriorating living conditions
“Cases of asthma and other respiratory disorders have gone up in the region,” says Surendra Singh Rawat from Jasodharpur village. Singh in his 50s was diagnosed with asthma a year ago. As potentially toxic slag produced by factories lies dumped in the open, it gets washed away by the rain and contaminates farmland. Asha Devi of Haldukhata says yield from her farm has reduced by one-fourth in the past few years.
Some residents allege children with deformities are being born in villages adjoining the industrial area due to unchecked pollution. “My six-year-old daughter is 70 per cent handicapped,” says Mahendra Singh of Jasodharpur. Seven children in Mahendra’s lane have deformed limbs or mental disorders. There are others who are rendered disabled by speeding trucks moving in and out the factories. Early this year, a slag-carrying truck mowed down the four-year-old daughter of Suresh Chandra from Jaidevpur village, bordering the industrial area. She lost her leg. Nine-year-old Ramesh of Lokmanipur also lost his foot after he was hit by a truck three years ago. “The factory owners promised compensation and free education to my son. But we have not received a penny so far,” says Dharmanand Satti. A small farmer, Satti has already spent Rs 2 lakh on Ramesh’s treatment. Satti alleges he was threatened when he demanded compensation.
Compensation to Ramesh seems remote in the face of allegations that at least 50 labourers have lost their lives in different accidents in factories in the past five years. But their families are yet to be compensated. One example of this negligence survives in Lokmanipur. Three years ago, he (the person refused to be named or mention the name of the company) lost his leg in a factory accident. The company has kept him waiting for the insurance money. He now works as a security guard at one of the factories, which requires him to stand for hours at a stretch.
Residents acknowledge that because of the industrial area, many of them have got employment or are earning a steady income by setting up milk vending, vegetable and grocery shops. But the village residents can benefit only if the factories adhere to the environental standards. “Else, we want the factories shut or moved from here,” says Surendra Singh Rawat of KMSSK.
Chandra Bhushan, deputy director of CSE, assures that the non-profit’s recommendations, if implemented, would go a long way in improving the environmental status of the area (see ‘What needs to be done’). CSE will visit the area after six months to check the status of its recommendations.
| REALITY CHECK
What cse found:
Operating illegally: All the factories in the industrial area are operating without a consent to operate, a mandatory permission from the state pollution control board. This means they are operating illegally.
Polluting: Site visits and information analysis by CSE showed huge air and land pollution. The atmosphere remains hazy even in summer mornings. Huge mounds of slag are dumped inside the industrial area as well as in surrounding areas. Air pollution is more pronounced during night hours.
Inadequate pollution control equipment: Air pollution control equipment installed in the factories is inadequate and non-operational. This results in fugitive emissions that fill the factory atmosphere. In the absence of an effective suction duct to capture emissions released from the induction furnace, most of the emissions escape through the roof. Some factories operate without even a stack. This leads to higher level of pollution.
Poor raw material quality: Most of the factories use scrap as raw material. The scrap is usually of poor quality and unseggragted, which adds to the air pollution.
Unscientific slag disposal: Until November last year the factories were dumping slag in the open in and around the industrial area. Now, following the sub-magistrate’s order, they dump slag on the banks of the Sigaddi Srot, a tributary of the Ganga. In addition to land pollution, such unplanned disposal will lead to water pollution during rainy season.
Lack of capacity: There is no technical staff and the factories are usually looked after by an accounts person or linesman. They do not maintain proper accounts of production and of water and electricity consumption. Workers’ health is compromised as there is no provision of sanitation facilities, nor are protective gears used during operations.
What needs to be done :
Shut down illegal factories: All factories that are functioning without a consent to operate should be shut down with immediate effect till they meet environmental norms and UEPPCB grants them the consent.
Upgrade pollution control equipment: UEPPCB should ask the factories to upgrade their pollution control equipment within three months. It may provide technical assistance.
Set up facilities to prevent water, air pollution: Jasodharpur Industrial Area should install a common effluent treatment plant to treat effluents from wet scrubbers installed in factories. A facility to monitor ambient air quality in and around the industrial area should also be set up. All these should be done within three months
Regular monitoring: UEPPCB should conduct a regular and rigorous monitoring. To monitor water and electricity consumption, water meters should be installed at each factory, and separate electricity meters should be installed at all pollution control equipment. The meters should be monitored by UEPPCB. Surprise night inspections are a must. Those found flouting norms should be severely punished.
Dispose slag scientifically: The solid waste, or slag, generated by the factories should be reused for constructing roads or manufacturing cement. For the rest of the slag, a scientific landfill site needs to be designated within six months.
Transparency: Pollution status of the area should be made public, be it quarterly inspection reports of UEPPCB, ambient air quality data or electricity consumption data. uality of the scrap used as raw material should be controlled.
Resource management: Unpaved roads in the industrial area should be black-topped to check fugitive emissions. Proper sanitation facilities should be provided to workers.