Carry on polluters

Some factories in Delhi are flouting a Supreme Court order to relocate polluting factories. Meanwhile, over 50,000 workers have been rendered jobless. Most have not been compensated

By Jamal
Published: Friday 15 January 1999

Carry on polluters

Front to back:the closed main< (Credit: Photographs: Kazimudding Ahmed)JAMAL KIDWAI

there is a notice in bold, red lettering on the gate of Super Leathers Industry, a tannery in the Nangloi area of Outer Delhi. It says that the factory has been closed following the July 8 , 1996, order by the Supreme Court ( sc ), which directed the closure and relocation of 168 polluting industrial units in Delhi by November 30, 1996. Take a walk around the boundary wall and there is another notice at the back of the premises which announces business as usual: A K Leathers. The name has changed. What has not changed is the dark grey sludge -- replete with dangerous chemicals -- that flows mockingly towards the Najafgarh nullah , which in turn will empty into the Yamuna.

There are other polluting units that flout the apex court with impunity. Some estimates say that about 50-60 per cent of the 168 units are still functioning. While this may be an exaggeration, A K Leathers is definitely not an isolated case. Moreover, the factories that have shut down in accordance with the order have created another problem: the workers feel cheated.

T he 168 units were found to be polluting or operating in non-conforming areas, violating the Delhi Master Plan-2001. The order was passed in response to a public interest petition by lawyer M C Mehta. Those factories which could not relocate and wanted to shut down were to pay one year's salary as compensation to the workers. The order rendered 50,000-odd workers jobless.

On December 4, 1996, the court made an amendment. Now, if the management decided to close the factory, it had to pay a compensation equal to six years' salary to the workers. If the factories were relocated within the National Capital Region ( ncr ), the workers had the option of shifting with the industry or taking a compensation equal to one year's salary.

On December 31 1996, two hours before his retirement, Justice Kuldeep Singh made a significant amendment to the December 4, 1996 order, extending the ncr region to five states: Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The court stated: "The land prices in Delhi have risen to such an extent that the vacated land if developed again will generate enough profit for the industrialist to build factories elsewhere." Some of the closed units have an enormous amount of land, making it more profitable to shut down than to relocate. Just three mills -- Swatantra Bharat Mill, Shri Ram Foods and Fertilisers, and Birla Textile Mill -- have a total of 9,60,000 sq metres of land, estimated to be worth Rs 4,000 crore.

Workers were shocked. On December 16, 1996, Seil Foods and Fertiliser Industries ( sff ) had already notified that it was shifting to Rajpura in Punjab. Till the December 31 order, Rajpura was outside ncr, which meant that the company would have had to pay six year's salary to the workers. Now, the workers were left with the only option of either taking one year's salary as compensation or going all the way to Rajpura. Manuji Rai, one of the workers who agreed to shift to Rajpura says he was not taken to the new factory by the management.

According to Arun Daur of Hind Mazdoor Sabha, a trade union with socialist affiliations: "Actually, the orders suited the industrialists. They have not only escaped paying the cost for the years of neglect of the environment but also stand to gain from the sale of land which they purchased at throw-away prices." Daur feels that this amounts to neglecting the workers who have been working in unhealthy conditions for years and have lost employment.

Two years after the court order was delivered, the only workers who have received compensation are those who worked at the Ayodhya Textile Mill, a government-owned industry. Hardwar Dubey of the Bandi Karkhana Sanyukt Samiti, a collective of workers formed in the aftermath of the judgement, alleges that the petition was filed in connivance with the industrialists.

There is another catch: 70 per cent of the workers do not figure in the muster rolls of the factories, according to The order that felled the city, a report published by the Delhi Janawadi Adhikar Manch, a collective of individuals and groups working on issues related to human rights in Delhi. The workers are either on contract or daily wages workers. They are not eligible for compensation. For example, Nova Steels Ltd of Loni Road employed 252 workers; none of them were permanent, the report says.

Some factories, such as sff , started sub-contracting -- getting their product manufactured in other units -- after they closed shop. In other words, they are sub-contracting the pollution.

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