Himachal Pradesh may soon have an industrial zone in each district, given the scale on which the state government is playing Santa Claus to investors. Industries are heading for this tax haven to grab the bundle of goodies: a 100 per cent income tax holiday for the first five years, 30 per cent for the next five and 25 per cent for the five years thereafter. Plus a 15 per cent capital subsidy for purchase of plots and machinery, a slew of exemptions on electricity duty and so on.
Already, in the last two years, the state government drew investments of Rs 8,869 crore. With these new sops, industrial activity will escalate further. But will Himachal be able to cope with the magnitude of further activity?
Dreams to disillusion In 1980, when 3,500 hectares of agricultural land was converted to an industrial town, the local people thought they'd reap the benefits of industrialisation. But hopes soured in Baddi-Barotiwala, one of Himachal's mega industrial zones. Now, the people rue the day they allowed in 400 units, of which 100 offload sludge, used oil and process residues into Baddi's Sarsa river.
The State Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board (seppcb)'s survey and audit report, 2002 puts the hazardous solid waste and municipal solid waste produced by the Baddi-Barotiwala industrial area at 44,000 tonnes annually. In the absence of secondary treatment plants, liquid wastes are directly released into rivers and solid wastes are incinerated on riverbanks.
Unbridled growth, with unregulated dumping of waste, is also choking the Sarsa river system. A paper mill and soap factory pollutes the Balad tributary, while thread mills choke the Upper Sandholi and Khera. The Chikni has a tanning unit. The Sarsa itself is black and full of fat. "I have lost more than 20 cattle that drank this water", says Kishan Dayal, elderly resident of Bhud Berian village. River fish have also died. "I showed dead fish to pollution board officials. They collected samples but took no action on industries", says Balkrishan Sharma, a local journalist.
They've stopped using its water, but people can't avoid the river. "It goes across our fields, schools, hospital and market, so we have to cross it", local resident Rehman told me. In the 18 km stretch, there is only one bridge, so people wade through the knee-deep dirty water every day, despite endemic skin disease in Kalyanpur, Sheetalpur, Landewal, Kheri Nar Singh, Dasu Majra, Bhud-Berian and Chundi. Tanning effluents in the Chikni rivulet in Chowkiwala have also caused skin disease in 12 villages. "If this is industrialisation, Baddi can do without it', says Balkrishan, a local resident.
Besides the river pollution, even the water table in Sarsa's catchment areas has reduced, thanks to illegal quarrying on the Sarsa riverbed. Most wells in nearby villages have also dried up.
Woes of waste To treat the water, three secondary state plants were planned in 2002, but are yet to take off. Rajeev Bindal, former chairperson, seppcb, says, "Sandholi, Baddi and Barotiwala tributaries of Sarsa were chosen. The Union government released Rs 3 crore, the state had to donate land, industry was to bear half the cost of the treatment plant. But nothing happened." Vidya Stokes, state power and environment minister counters, "The government is thinking of setting up a common effluent treatment plant in Baddi, but we cannot give a date. We'll take action against the units that are violating the norms".
The impact of industry is not in Baddi alone. Rules are flouted everywhere, even facilitating arc furnaces, drugs and tanning in non-industrial areas. An estimated 692 tonnes of sludge, 33.49 kilolitres used oil, 2978 empty containers of hazardous chemicals, 17. 44 tonnes of process residues and 1023.93 tonnes of incineration ash, slag, scrap, dust and flyash are dumped in Himachal each month by industries.
Perhaps it's the right time to review the 'development' model in the state, which Baddi-Barotiwala embodies.