Industrial units illegally dump hazardous waste in remote fields, often crossing state borders, to dodge the law and cut costs. ravleen kaur travels to Tumkur and Chamrajnagar in Karnataka to find out how untreated waste from neighbouring states ends up there
Interstate dirty dumpers
Seventy kilometres from Bangalore, a lorry veered off the main road and headed in an unusual direction towards groundnut fields in Yadagere village of Karnataka's Tumkur district. It stopped at an unsown field in the middle of nowhere. Torches were flashing in the dark. A flurry of activities followed, disturbing the midnight quiet. Some people jumped out of the lorry and began offloading barrels after barrels. Others with spades and shovels emptied them into 10-foot-deep pits in the field. They covered the pits with soil and disappeared in the darkness.
They always came at night. And this had been going on for the past one year. But no one knew who they were and where they came from. When a stinking, tarry liquid oozed to the surface last summer, people discovered that the lorries had been dumping hazardous waste oil. The land, twice the size of a football field, belongs to Thimmaiha, who does not stay in the village anymore.He had leased it out to Riyaz, a scrap dealer from a nearby village.
Fearing that the sludge would destroy the surrounding farms, the villagers complained to the police several times, but each time the police turned them away. Their fears were not unfounded. About six months ago, water in a borewell near Thimmaiha's field started turning yellow. "We knew where the filth was coming from. Even while tilling I fear some poisonous substance will turn up," says Narasappa, who owns the borewell. Now the well pumps up nothing but sludgy, black water that cannot be used for irrigating his half-a-hectare of groundnut field. Five other borewells in the area risk contamination.
Lab tests done at the Department of Mines and Geology, Bangalore, described the water in Narasappa's borewell as having a "strong acid smell" and revealed that it contained lead and aluminium, which affect the nervous system. "Groundwater in this area is 150 feet below, therefore, it took a long time for it to be contaminated. Otherwise by now the oil would have percolated to more borewells in the surrounding fields," says Ramesh D Nayak, regional environment officer, Tumkur.
Yadagere is a water-scarce area, so the farmers formed a group called Jala Samavardhana Yojana Sangha to tackle the threat. In July this year they approached the regional branch of the state pollution control board (pcb). Investigation began. And what it revealed is a game of clever deception, a shockingly callous handling of hazardous waste and a criminal circumventing of laws. The origin of the waste oil was traced to the sipcot industrial complex in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu. The consignments changed so many hands before reaching Thimmaiha's field that the authorities have no direct evidence to nail the culprits who sent the waste to Yadagere.
It all began in 2004 when waste dealer Sheikh Afroze contacted Riyaz with the proposal of dumping industrial waste on the leased field. Riyaz agreed because he thought he could make money by selling the barrels. About a year ago the activity picked up. "They dug six pits, all 10 feet deep, and dumped waste in them," says Narasappa. pcb figures show that 47 barrels of waste were dumped at the site. One barrel contains 80-100 litres of waste. But the villagers say four-five lorries came in the past one year alone. Considering that one truck contains a minimum of 35 barrels, at least 140 barrels must have been dumped in the area. Six bald patches in the field, covered with solidified tar, stand testimony to that.
Afroze bought the waste from various factories in and around Karnataka to dump it in Tumkur. Investigation revealed that most of the waste came from two factories, Tagross Chemicals India Ltd and Shasun Drugs and Chemicals in sipcot industrial area. Apart from this, Afroze said, he bought waste from Somasundaram Polish Works in Puducherry and Super Petroleum Products in Taloja Industrial Estate, Raigad, Maharashtra. Curiously, Taloja--a good 850 km from Tumkur--has its own hazardous-waste-treatment facility. To corroborate Afroze's statement, Nayak visited the factories in Cuddalore and found that their waste was indeed very similar to that dumped in Yadagere. "As per the consent letter given to Tagross, it is supposed to store the waste in closed sheds on its premises until it developed a secured landfill for disposal. All the stored waste has to be entered into the logbooks," says Nayak, adding, "When we asked them for the record, they could not furnish any for 2004-05."
Riyaz and Afroze were arrested and some more links were uncovered. This is how the racket operated the two companies in Tamil Nadu gave the sludge to Senthil Velan of Sun Chemicals in Cuddalore to dispose it of Velan in turn sold it to Afroze in Karnataka, who tied up with Riyaz to dump the waste in the field. To cover his tracks, Afroze operated under a "waste handling" company, Shakthi Enterprises, registered in Goa. And this is how the economy of dumping worked Afroze took the waste from Velan at Rs 350 a barrel and sold it to Riyaz for Rs 500, who cleaned and sold each barrel for Rs 700.
pcb seized a document from the arrested dealers, showing that Super Petroleum Products in Taloja had recommended Afroze to Shasun Drugs and Chemicals in Cuddalore for collecting drums containing waste oil. Afroze also disclosed that he had dumped 80 barrels on the roadside near Lambani Thanda town on Gauribidanur-Koratagere Road in Tumkur.
Riyaz and Sheikh are out on bail and other culprits across the border remain unpunished because the Karnataka pcb cannot take action against anyone in other states. The board has asked its counterparts in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Puducherry to look into the matter and check illegal transportation. None of them has responded so far.
In Yadagere, Narasappa has started keeping a night vigil to inform the police about any outsider coming to the field. And some strangers did come--this time to check the state of affairs. "They were asking around about the waste. They spoke different language; I think they were from Tamil Nadu," Narasappa told Down To Earth. The villagers have been told not to use the water from the contaminated borewell. "It will take at least 10 years to regain the water quality," says Nayak. But dealers Afroze and Riyaz will get away with mild punishment--that is if they are convicted. They face charges under various sections of crpc and ipc, the maximum punishment for which is six months' imprisonment and a fine of Rs 500. "Such a punishment was fine when the laws were enacted, but now the generation of hazardous waste has gone up so much that dumping has become a crime equivalent to murder--they are exposing people to deadly diseases and snatching away basic amenities like drinking water from them," says Sharatchandra, the chairman of the Karnataka pcb.
Yadagere is just one case of illegal dumping of hazardous waste. It is happening on a wider scale. Cut to Chamrajnagar district, 137 km from Bangalore in a direction opposite to Tumkur. Some people in Kundakere village of Gundlupet taluka are calling for action against panchayat member Puttanajappa. His crime is that he allowed lorries to bring dangerous waste to his two-hectare field. "My land is barren, and a contact of mine told me that it would become fertile if I allowed some people from Kerala to dump biodegradable waste there," he says.What they dumped, however, was not biodegradable waste, but dangerous biomedical, municipal and slaughter house waste. Some bags bore the names of Kochi and Kaladi towns, which are 210 km away. Why would somebody want to spend so much money on transportation is a mystery the Karnataka pcb is still trying to solve.
Puttanajappa says he allowed 15 trucks of waste to be dumped in the pits in his field. "Majid from Gopika restaurant in Gundlupet town contacted me and said that he knew a few people who would dump waste in my land to generate compost. They paid Rs 1,365 per tonne which was spent on digging," he says. Here too six 10-foot-deep pits were dug to dispose of the waste and then covered with soil.
On villagers' complaint, the local pcb unit dug up the pits. It found medicine strips, plastic gloves and syringes besides bones and municipal solid waste, says Shakuntala Bai, regional environment officer, Chamrajnagar. Water samples taken from nearby borewells were found to have high levels of fluoride and magnesium. Fluoride can cause dental damage and birth defects, while magnesium intake can result in muscle weakness. The water was turbid. There is no evidence of the waste on the surface since most of the dug-up waste has been washed away.
pcb has told Puttanjappa to remove the waste from his land and dispose it of scientifically. "We have registered a case against Puttanjappa under Section 133 of crpc. How can he not know what kind of waste people are dumping in his land?" asks Shakuntala Bai. "I have told them the names of the people who brought the waste and also about Majid. Why doesn't pcb question them instead? If the waste has crossed the border, it must have been cleared at the check post. Obviously, those people were hand in glove with the check post people," says Puttanajappa.
The environment officer, however, says her department cannot ask the companies and hospitals in other states not to send waste. "All we can do is punish people here who, because of greed for money, do not bother about the environment and buy waste to dump it in their land," she adds.
In this case too, investigation was stalled at the state border. "The check posts have been issued directions not to let the lorries containing biomedical and other hazardous waste enter the state and many lorries have also been sent back," says Sharatchandra. In June-July, several lorries were caught dumping waste in Kodagu, Gundlupet and Mysore.
The third major case happened in Bangalore. On September 7, the Karnataka pcb received a call from an informer that some people were extracting copper from industrial effluents at Kambipura area in south Bangalore and discharging the waste water into the Vrishabhavati river. The officials, along with the police, raided the place. The land belonged to one Kotappa, who had allowed it to be used for the purpose. Effluents from industries were transferred from tankers to plastic barrels and then to a concrete tank where it was treated to recover copper. The untreated waste water was discharged into the river.
Interestingly, the police found a lorry with a Tamil Nadu registration number on the spot. They arrested its driver and the owner. They have registered an fir against them under Section 277 of ipc for fouling the water of a public reservoir. But the maximum punishment for this is just three months in jail and a fine of Rs 500. The pcb also sent a letter to the deputy commissioner of Bangalore, asking him to seize the premises and take action against Kotappa for using agricultural land for industrial purposes without the board's permission. It also told the officer to declare the land unfit for any use until remediated by the owner at his cost.
"We can take action only against the people we have caught red-handed, like the lorry driver in this case, the land owner in Gundlupet and Afroze in Tumkur. It is very difficult to trace the waste to the generator, and even if we do, there will be no concrete evidence to implicate the culprit," says Sharatchandra. "All that we can do is write to other state pcb s to keep a check on their industries but everything ends there."
Paying the cost
"The Tumkur waste is incinerable and could have been easily disposed of. I don't know why they sent it all the way to Tumkur," says Nayak. In Tumkur the waste oil came from at least 340 km away in Cuddalore and 850 km in Raigad. So the transportation cost, in addition to the money paid to various middlemen, must have been huge, but still less than the cost of taking it to a treatment facility. A rough calculation shows that transporting a truck of waste from Cuddalore to Tumkur will involve a cost of minimum Rs 3,100 on diesel but a truck-full of barrels can fetch a dealer Rs 17,500.
Industrial units are dumping waste illegally because it is possible, easy and cheap--incinerating a tonne of waste can cost about Rs 11,000, but for a lesser amount one can give it to a middleman to dump it in somebody else's backyard. The rest of the cost will be distributed among the gullible people there. It's economic; it's criminal.
Law and border
Industries exploit lack of restrictions on sending waste to other states and poor surveillance
State pollution control boards are confounded. They cannot handle the growing illegal movement of hazardous waste across states. Reason there is no stringent regulation in the law books that addresses this issue, so the culprits manage to escape scot-free.
Unlike the movement of hazardous waste across international borders--which is strictly regulated by treaties like the Basel Convention--their transportation within India is not properly monitored. To send waste to a treatment, storage and disposal facility (tsdf) in another state, all that an industrial unit requires is a no-objection certificate from the pollution control board of that state.
The Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 1989 lay down a procedure to be followed by the waste generator, the transporter and the tsdf operator for the transfer of waste. But the rules do not factor in the role of middlemen, nor do they prescribe any punishment for unauthorized dumping of waste. As per the rules, all stakeholders have to fill up a form, called a manifest, giving the details of the amount and quality of waste, registration numbers of vehicles used, and the names of the people involved. This is to ensure that the waste reaches the right destination, that is the treatment facility. The waste-generating unit shall prepare six copies of the form and the transporter will sign them. One copy is kept by the generator, one goes to the state pcb and the other four are given to the operator of the tsdf facility. The operator keeps one copy and returns one to the transporter after accepting the waste and one each to the pcb and the generator after treating and disposing of the waste.
On the face of it, the manifest system appears to be an effective way of tracking waste. But there are two problems. First, very few industrial units follow the procedure. According to the supreme court monitoring committee (scmc) on hazardous waste, even in Maharashtra, where waste management is better than in other states, not more than 20 per cent of the transaction is recorded. And if the waste is sent across the border through a number of middlemen, tracing and punishing the culprit becomes almost impossible.
Second, not every state has tsdfs. "Lack of common facilities has been a major factor in the mushrooming of illegal dump sites since most of the units in the small and the medium sector do not have adequate space within their premises to arrange for storage over several years ... hence they develop the tendency to somehow get rid of the waste by dumping it elsewhere," the Central Pollution Control Board (cpcb) states in its 2005 Guidelines for the Transportation of Hazardous Waste. However, even when there is a tsdf nearby, many companies dump the waste in other states. In Tumkur, for instance, waste was brought from a unit near a tsdf in Taloja in Maharashtra.
"Interstate transportation should be allowed only if the facility on the other side of the border is closer to a generator than the facility within the state. But it will require changing the law," says Sharatchandra of the Karnataka pcb.
According to the national policy on hazardous waste management drafted by cpcb, interstate movement of hazardous wastes is needed when the waste generated by a state is less than that prescribed by cpcb for setting up a landfill; or when a company with units in several states wishes to incinerate waste at one facility; or when a state generates incinerable waste but not enough to have an incinerator. These guidelines, however, are not binding--an industrial unit can give its waste to a dealer.
Then there is the March 2007 report of the scmc, prepared in the case of Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy vs Government of India, which discusses illegal dumping in detail, but does not deal with interstate movement of waste. The report carries guidelines for the transportation of waste oil sold to recyclers. "No movement of waste oil/used oil across states can take place without the prior knowledge and consent of the pcbs of those states," it says. On December 30, 2005, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (moef) issued a note called the Vaish circular stating that the movement of recyclable waste across states does not need any authorization from the pcb of the state where it is procured but only from the one where it is recycled.
"We now have recyclers from Uttar Pradesh tendering for waste oil in Kerala or recyclers from Gujarat bidding for waste oil from units in Chennai or Bhubaneswar," says the report. This has led to a rise in the price of waste oil, which is now Rs 25 per litre. "At this rate, only those literally blind will argue that such supplies will go through the recycling process and not end up directly in adulteration," it adds. scmc recommends quashing the Vaish circular and applying the proximity principle for recycling. Rather than strengthening the laws, attempts are being made to dilute them (see box Watering down rules). "Regulations can do only so much. Enforcement is the only way to check dumping," says A K Saxena, member of the High-Powered Committee set by the supreme court in the case in 1997.
Enforcement will require better surveillance. scmc member D B Boralkar suggests keeping a 'fingerprints database' of each kind of waste generated within a state and the company generating it. Waste generated at one factory is different from that at another. Fingerprinting records the molecular structure and other details of the waste, which help in identifying it. "It is very difficult to get to the origin of a dumped waste. There has to be a fool-proof evidence. Fingerprint database would enable us to narrow down on the exact waste," he says.
The Maharashtra pcb has initiated the fingerprinting scheme and placed an order for instruments worth Rs 2-3 crore in May this year. This is based on the oil-spill database of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Oil spill from ships can be identified with the help of the database. Maharashtra is also developing a system to track lorries through gps as recommended by scmc.
Boralkar has another suggestion build 10 tsdf s under the Union government's jurisdiction. "Such facilities can be created through public-private partnerships like interstate toll roads," he says. Clearly, there is no dearth of solutions. What is required is action.
Ill - treatment
State inaction, public protests block facilities
Lax laws are only part of the problem. India does not have enough treatment facilities for the hazardous waste it generates 4.9 million tonnes a year. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, industrial units have been told to store the waste on their premises because the state does not have a single common treatment facility, even though waste generation there is close to 200,000 tonnes per annum.
In 2003, the supreme court told the states to prepare an inventory of their hazardous waste and set up their own tsdfs. It observed that of the 30 sites chosen for setting up tsdfs, facilities had come up at only 11 sites in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. The court committee set December 31, 2007, as the deadline for states to comply with its order.
States have missed the deadline. In fact, they did not even chase it.Most tsdfs are under construction and in some cases the work is yet to begin. In Uttar Pradesh, for example, five tsdfs were proposed but no work has started on any of them. In Delhi, a site was identified, but no work has begun.
A report submitted by scmc members Boralkar and Claude Alvares in March 2007 points out that though 24 states have submitted the inventory of their hazardous waste to the cpcb, they have not put it up on their websites. Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are the exceptions. Jharkhand and Nagaland have not submitted their inventory, while six state pollution control boards/committees claim there is no hazardous waste in their states.
Why are states dragging their feet on tsdfs? The fact is people do not trust the government on its promise of safe disposal. They do not want a hazardous-waste-disposal facility in their backyard. In Dabaspet near Bangalore, where a private company, Ramky Enviro Engineers Ltd, is constructing a tsdf, people led by Karnataka's former environment minister Chanigappa came out in protest. They dismantled the sheds installed by the company.
Residents of Gummidipoondi village in Tiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu have waged a long battle against the tsdf there. The Madras High Court had to stay its construction once. The case is in the supreme court. "The construction has almost finished. We went to court in April when it had just begun because they did not take permission from the panchayat, which is illegal. In the wake of the Blue Lady (the French ship sent for scrapping at Alang) controversy, all matters have been delayed. In another month, they will start dumping hazardous waste there, so no court ruling will make a difference then," says Nityanand Jayaraman of Community Area Monitors, a Chennai-based environmental ngo. Work on a disposal facility at Ghumenhera in Delhi was also stopped after public protests.
Even in places where tsdfs are functioning, industrial units shy away from sending their waste to the facilities. "Much of the hazardous waste generated in states does not find its way to secured landfill sites on which huge investments have been made, but is still being discharged clandestinely and illegally into the natural environment," states the scmc report. Andhra Pradesh has the highest number of such dump sites--40 and all of them around Hyderabad (see table Waste account).
The problem persists because of high disposal costs.
"The cost of treatment of one tonne of waste ranges between Rs 800 and Rs 1,200, so it is easier to give it for Rs 500 to smugglers who earn on it by selling barrels," says Boralkar, who was a member-secretary of the Maharashtra pcb. The huge expense of incineration also discourages industries from using the option. "Incineration costs Rs 11,000 per tonne, and it is not economical to have an incineration facility if there is not enough waste for its optimum utilization," he adds.
The cost of treatment depends on factors like the cost of land and the extent of precautions taken by the tsdfs. "Sometimes the landfill has to be above the ground because of the high level of water table--like in Vapi in Gujarat--which hikes up the rates," says P N Parameshwaran, the vice-president of Bharuch Enviro Infrastructures Ltd, which has built several tsdfs. A part of the waste-treatment cost also goes to the funds tsdf s maintain for restoring the landfill site once it is closed. Though states allow incinerable waste to be brought in from across its border, it is at an extra cost. "In Gujarat, all tsdfs run optimally because there is a lot of waste to be disposed of, but facilities that get less waste, charge more. At Ankeleshwar, we charge Rs 550 per tonne for 'landfilling' but incineration is expensive," adds Parameshwaran. More waste will only mean less cost.
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