Spirited ruin of a village
RAJPURA, a village adjacent to the Shiv Shankar Chemical Industries Pvt Ltd, a liquor factory in Banka district's Jagadishpur block, is almost ruined.
Effluents from the factory have rendered Rajpura's agricultural land, the two drinking water wells and the shallow handpumps useless and a perpetual stench pervades the village. This has forced many of the village's 80 landless dusadh (a scheduled caste, extremely poor) households to go to Bhagalpur town for a living.
Says 60-year-old Mohan Harijan, "The stench is intolerable. We are slowly dying of innumerable diseases and there's no way out." Fever, diarrhoea, malaria and tuberculosis are rampant, says the local doctor, Brahmadev Prasad. Sharecroppers like Sri Paswan and Ram Paswan, say the agricultural land of the village, owned by members of the upper castes in neighbouring Purani village, was gradually acquired by the factory. There is hardly any land left now for cultivation.
The Rs 250 crore factory manufactures rectified spirit, 90 per cent of which is used to produce liquor. The effluents affect neighbouring villages such as Takani Bade, Khosalpur and Jagadishpur. A nullah from the factory carries pollutants to the Kakora river that runs into the Ganga at Kehalgaon.
The people's struggle against the factory, led by the Ganga Mukti Andolan (GMA), has been a long and arduous one. In 1989, Rajeev Ranjan Singh and Lallan Singh of Bhagalpur filed a public interest litigation in the Patna high court, but nine months later, in January 1991, the court allowed production to continue provided provisions were made for environmental protection.
GMA activists, however, decry the cosmetic approach of these steps. The effluent treatment plant set up in the factory, they contend, is merely eyewash. The lagoons dug in the surrounding areas as effluent ponds, in which a child from Rajpura drowned in 1992, remain as they were.
GMA's Sharaab Factory Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti has challenged the factory almost since its inception. Protests have taken the form of memoranda and demonstrations. Bihar chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav was a strong supporter of the movement while he was leader of the opposition. But now, even though he has forgotten the cause, the GMA continues to stand by the people.