SITA Ram Yadav's woes know no bounds. "They had promised to make the area as fertile as Punjab, but they have reduced my field to a total wasteland," fumes the lanky farmer from Ajahara village, Phulpur, Uttar Pradesh. His ire is directed against Asia's largest fertiliser cooperative, the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Ltd (IFFCO). All around him are stretches of brown, barren land, meagerly interspersed with patches of green. In the background looms the fertiliser Phulpur factory, 30 kms from Allahabad.
The cooperative will turn into a global giant by ad 2000 by doubling its existing installed capacity. Last year, IFFCO won the Best Environmental Protection Award given by Fertiliser Association of India (FAI). Says T R Chaudhury, general manager of the Phulpur unit, "We, as a farmers' company, are naturally committed to environmental protection." But angry farmers in the region, affected by the discharge of the unit's effluents into the 5 km IFFCO canal, which runs through their fields, are unimpressed by its green credentials. On March 21, 5000 of them protested at the factory gates.
Hundreds of farmers in Ajahara and 20 other villages of the Phulpur tehsil of Allahabad district have lost their lands adjacent to the iffco canal. Some lands are directly submerged, others are saline. Nothing but elephant grass grows here.
Residents of Birkazi claim that the canal's water and the grass is killing their cattle. Kairam Kailash says he lost 8 buffaloes 2 years ago. Vijay Bahadur's jersey cow, bought recently, is suffering from acute diarrhoea and Banni's only pair of oxen are too weak to plough the field. Houses and fields are coated white with lona (efflorescent salts). Children and adults scratch away at their skin rashes.
The 700-household IFFCO township is also discharging its sewage into another canal only a kilometer from the village. The sewage is only treated with water hyacinth before it is let off into this canal. On March 12, the irate farmers began blocking the canal with basketfuls of mud and date-palm trunks. "Since its establishment in 1980, IFFCO has been discharging polluted water into the canal. When our pleas fell on deaf ears, we started the campaign for filling the canal ourselves," says Masuria Din Yadav, the leader of the movement. The canal still contains knee deep murky water.
"The farmers charges are baseless and motivated," says Chaudhury, "The effluents discharge was stopped in May 1994. We now recycle the water and use it entirely within the plant. Thirty per cent is used for irrigation and the rest for treating fly ash from our thermal power plant. He adds, "As far as domestic sewage is concerned, what comes out of the human body is organic matter and is not harmful. One can even drink it."
But IFFCO's claims about having stopped effluents may not be true. Clearly, the goings on are as murky as the water in the canal. The farmers say that iffco stopped spewing effluents only after the Villagers gave the call for an agitation on February 24. The IFFCO management justifies spewing effluents on the ground that Sukhdev had requested to do so in writing. Bunkum! says Sukhdev. "I cannot read or write. They duped me by getting my signature on that paper without telling me its contents."
Villagers in Sandalpur and Thithauli, with their farms at a higher elevation, says they are forced to use the polluted water, or face starvation. And they throw out the claims of IFFCO about increasing fertility. "We are loosing up to 50 per cent of our crops, thanks to IFFCO," says Dina Nath of Malthua.
The Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCH) has given IFFCO a certificte that almost seems too good to be true. All the parametres in the discharged water, like total suspended solids, biological and chemical oxygen demand and oil and grease are well within the tolerance limits.
The IFFCO management shows off the healthy wheat crop in the company's 42 ha farm, the verdant lawns in the township and the lush orchard, irrigated by recycled water. But then, IFFCO has a battery of agricultural scientists and an elaborate, well-drained irrigation system; facilities that the farmers can only dream of.
The latter are not taken in by such measures of the IFFCO as sandbagging of the canal mouth. They are now rigid: IFFCO has to be thwarted, or else, they will immolate themselves, led by the weary, angry villagers of Ajahara.