Last Updated: Sunday 28 June 2015


The grey sky. Ludhiana has bec (Credit: Sanjiv Khamboj /CSE)LUDHIANA
Ludhiana's problem is that of plenty. This industrial town has a per capita income of Rs 30,000, almost 30 times more the per capita income of the state of Bihar which is only Rs 1,067. Woollen hosiery is Ludhiana's pride and its icon and it also dominates the machine tools industry. To top its industrial might, Ludhiana has fertile terrain and is one of the most fertile regions of the world with an average yield of 4,192 kg of wheat and 3,231 kg of rice per hectares (ha).

Yet, the city is going to the dogs due to uncontrolled industrial pollution. The civic authorities sitting on a huge budget are too overwhelmed by the growth of the town to attempt anything drastic. There is a visible apathy towards these problems as the town drifts towards being an environmental nightmare. Mayor Sat Prakash Chowdhury recalls a time when the city was dotted with gardens like Raja Ram Bagh. In the congested old part of the town, the Deresi Ground is the only open space with an area of around two-and-a-half ha.

Officially the population is placed at a moderate 1.6 million but in real terms it could be in the region of two million or more considering that there is a floating population dose to a million. These are mostly migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who gets jobs as agricultural workers during the harvesting seasons. "The municipal corporation is supposed to provide civic facilities like water, electricity, housing and public conveniences for the floating population. But these people also exist and use up the resources of the city," says district collector Arun Goel.

Any boom in industry is also followed by a boom in real estate and that is what is happening in Ludhiana. Though prices now are not at the highest considering the recession in the economy, land still sells at a phenomenal rate of around Rs one crore per ha. Consequently, the construction industry is doing quite well.

Staple food like wheat, rice and maize are grown in the district like in any other place in Punjab which produces surplus food. More than 50 per cent of the vegetable requirement of the place is met by produce from the district itself.

With the city expanding to accommodate the ever increasing population, large tracts of highly productive agricultural land have been swallowed by the ever-growing city. "Due to unplanned expansion, the city looks like a huge slum," says S S Sahani, retired professor of the Punjab Agricultural University. The limits of the city has been extended five times since 1951 and is still growing.

Ludhiana is a boom town. But with it has come the eating up of natural resources and the erosion of the environment. To face the mounting criticism of state apathy towards this problem, a plethora of government agencies have been set up to plan out measures to make life a bit more easier and the city a lot more cleaner. Apart from the municipal corporation, the Improvement Trust and the Punjab Urban Development Authority there is the town and country planning department, district industrial centre and the Punjab Pollution Control Board. But none of these agencies have been able to even make their presence felt. Environmental problems facing Ludhiana are not limited to air pollution and overflowing drains. The city faces a shortage of drinking water and industrial pollution apart from agriculture related pollution caused by pesticides.

It has been estimated that nearly 40 per cent of the population in the city have to do without proper drinking water. The city does not possess a garbage disposal plant and all the water, including that generated by the industries, are emptied mostly into the Buddah nullah. "What is sorely required is a master plan which is environmentally sound and ecologically considerate," says Avtar Singh, chairperson, Small-scale Industries Association. Actually two master plans have been created for the city but those remain only on paper.

A few major industrial units like Hero Cycles, A-von, Vardhman, Oswal, Thapar and Casablanca have pollution control equipment installed in their factories. "Although the big industrial units have treatment plants, the pollution board has not been able to have any treatment process approved and patented so far. The industrialists have to approach a few firms for technical know-how," complains Mahin Gupta, who owns a dyeing unit in the city. He wants a regulatory agency to become a consultancy firm for erring companies.

The result is that the citizens and labourers who work in these factories suffer. "Labourers work in very hazardous conditions and almost 80 per cent suffer from lung diseases," says Jasbir Dhanoa of the Christian Medical College in Ludhiana, who studied the health of factory workers. Industrial effluents have also poisoned the groundwater. Ludhiana has 180 tubewells at a depth of around 90 metres which are normally safe. But the huge number of handpumps, at a depth of just 20-30 metres is where the danger lies. In handpumps installed at a depth of 6-15 metres, the concentration of chromium (0.25 milligrams/litre; permissible limit: 0.05 mg/1)/zinc (0.25 mg1l; permissibre limit: 5 mg/I and cyanide (0.5 mg/l; permissible limit: 0.05 mEvl)/re quite high. The soil in and around the Buddah nullah has also been found to be contaminated with nickel, chromium, lead, arsenic, zinc and copper. High levels of iron and manganese are also present in food crops (see table: Poisoned crop).

The symbol of Ludhiana's ecological deterioration is the Buddah nullah. Not a single fish can be found in this tributary of the Sutlej river where there once used to be 56 species. "The Buddah nullah is a perennial freshwater tributary. The various elements and compounds present in it are as per any natural system. Once it enters the city and passes through the town's industrial areas it becomes a cocktail of chemicals," says B D Kansal of Punjab Agricultural University. Kansal's research showed that the concentration of nickel increased from 0.04 nanograms (one-billionth of a gram) at the starting point of the drain to 0.84 ng in the Jamalpur industrial area, despite the fact that during this stretch the nullah is diluted by the sewage water from the city. The Buddah nullah carries the sewage dumped into it in Ludhiana for 10 km and finally empties it into the Sutlej.

If the state of the rivulet running through the town is so pathetic, air pollution in the boom town is downright dangerous. In Ludhiana, which has the highest density of vehicles in India after Calcutta, there are about five lakh registered vehicles in the town apart from the nearly 5,000 heavy vehicles and about 20,000 autorickshaws that pass through the city every day spewing pollutants into the air.

There is a sense of helplessness all around. Until that is replaced by a sense of bravado within the municipal corporation, Ludhiana will continue its ride towards catastrophe.

Tirupur looks quite an ordinary Indian town and on the face of it is quite an unlikely contender to be a place which monopolises cotton knitwear exports. Nestled in the shadows of the Western Ghats and situated on the banks of the Noyyal river, Tirupur in Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu has in the last decade grown as an industrial hamlet. It is now almost a symbol of quality cotton wear be it T-shirts, shirts or under garments. Rather ironically, the modern bustling Tirupur is the creation of the World War 11. Though the first hosiery unit was set up in this town in 1925, it was the war which created a sudden demand for cheap cotton wear which Ludhiana alone could not meet. Labour unrest in other areas where cotton industry existed, like Calcutta and Kannur in Kerala, resulted in units being shifted to Tirupur. Today, the town is the undisputed leader in cotton products accounting for more than 90 per cent of India's knitted exports and over one-fifth of India's garment exports. This is an incredible achievement.

The cotton industry is estimated to be employing over 200,000 workers. According to J Jeyarajan of the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS), Tirupur, is a unique instance where modernisation of technology has not affected labour for the simple reason that old machinery put up for disposal is immediately bought by a small producer who takes along the labourers who were working on it.

The Noyyal river, dark and depleted, is the flip side of the industrial boom. Like in other industrial towns, many units conveniently empty the effluents into the river or into agricultural fields. The 44 million litres (mld) per day of water that is required by the hosiery industry, mainly for dyeing, finds its way back into the river, rich in toxic materials. The groundwater quality has also deteriorated considerably. Some of the dyes are known to be carcinogenic. Research by the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University found the ground-water in the area to be highly saline with heavy metal concentration - 1.30-1.53 parts per million (ppm) apart from alkaline pH value (unit for measuring acids and alkaline content) and heavy chlorides (see table: Tirupur toxins).

There are also incidents of effluents being pumped into dry bore wells. "Anything is possible in Tirupur. They are all driven by a profit motive," says Paul Appaswamy, director of the MIDS. While profit motive is the basis of all industrial enterprise, spoiling the environment need not necessarily be. But that is exactly what happens. Noyyal river is the primary victim of industrial pollution. Ultimately the river contaminated by pollutants and domestic sewage from Coimbatore reaches the Cauvery river which is crucial to this water-scarce region. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, however, rejects this thesis saying that the Noyyal being a small river hardly increases the water toxicity of the Cauvery since the dilution level is to the tune of 1: 10,000. The board had recommended that many units should join up and finance common effluent units. Over 460 units in Tirupur and 165 units in Karur were closed down by the Supreme Court orders in May 1998 after they failed to instal effluent plants (see special report: A tale of two rivers, pg 26). The court decision followed a lengthy legal battle on a petition filed by farmers collectively which argued that the polluted water was harming argricultural produce as well.

Jetpur lies in the heart of Saurashtra, the western Kathiawar peninsula which juts into the Arabian Sea between the Gulf of Kutch to the north and the Gulf of Khambaat to the southeast. In 1997, the population of Jetpur was 1,25,600, up from 30,000 shown in the 1991 figures. This rise in population itself points to the rapid industrialisation that this town in Rajkot district is undergoing. The industrialisation is due to one major industry - textiles. There are around 1,200 dyeing and printing units in the town having an average annual turnover of more than Rs 150 crore. Apart from this, there are around 500 ancillary units all of which combine to produce, on an average, two million metres of printed cloth per day which is enough to make 40,000 cotton saris.

Water pollution is the major ecological threat that Jetpur faces. The river Bhadar which turned seasonal with the construction of a dam upstream has now turned red due to the untreated effluents from dyeing units which are emptied into the river. "Just two decades ago the Bhadar gave clean water. But the dyeing industry polluted it totally. The chemicals used for printing saris have sunk deep into the soil and has even killed the grass," says Shyamjibhai Antala of Dhoraji town, downstream of Jetpur, who has been leading an agitation for clean water. Water in Jetpur and nearby towns are highly contaminated. The composition of suspended solids was found to be as high as 500 mg/l.

Dhoraji has been waging a two-decade battle against contamination of their river water. In 1984, 10 years after the public outcry began, the government finally woke up to the public demand and decided to construct a 16-km pipeline to supply potable water to Dhoraji. After various court cases and agitations, the high court ordered closure of certain units that were polluting the water and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) ordered construction of a common effluent treatment plant. The plant, however, had only a limited capacity of 9 lakh litres against a daily discharge of 7 million litres. Public interest litigations, contempt cases and memoranda have had only partial effects, since few units are willing to spend on effluent treatment processes and state bodies are reluctant to order units to shut down fearing large-scale unemployment. Says Antala: "Neither the mass agitation earlier nor the legal battle so far have made the printing units mend their ways. The state government and its agencies remain mute spectators to the blatant violation of their own directives year after year."

Poisoned crop
Concentration of elements in various plants in Ludhiana
(in micrograms per gram)

Berseem Tubewell sewage 18.0
Spinach Tubewell sewage 38.0
Fenugreek Tubewell sewage 39.5
Coriander Tubewell sewage 37.0
Wheat Tubewell sewage 34.1

Before the Environment Protection Act was passed in 1986, the dyed and printed saris were washed in the Bhadar letting all the dyes and chemicals into the river. Due to public pressure, GPCB ordered relocation and these units moved into agricultural land within 40 kilometres from Jetpur. But the problem persists since the dyes from the washing tanks eventually end up in the river or contaminate groundwater. Normally two tanks are used for dyeing and fixing. The first tank in which the saris are washed absorbs almost 75 per cent of the colour and the second tank about 15 per cent. The water from the first tank is emptied on to the ground while water from the second tanks is used for irrigation. Though industrialists insist that the water is not harmful, a study by a Dutch team recently showed that sodium content in the water is very high. This reduces soil permeability, damages crops and contaminates groundwater.

An elaborate plan to detoxify the water and prevent the dyeing units from releasing chemical-ridden water into the river has to be chalked out. But all that is easier said than done. Jetpur's waters might be getting increasingly colourful doses of toxic dyes but the future of the town looks far from bright.

Rourkela is a mine of wealth, its soil mingled with rare minerals and metals. It falls smack in the middJe of the mineral-rich north-western Orissa. Ever since the 1870s, when large deposits of limestone and dolomite were discovered, Rourkela was targeted for commercial exploitation but it took a long time - till 1937 - before a comprehensive survey of the region was undertaken.

Unlike other industrial towns, Rourkela was a planned town. The first phase of residential townships in about 40 ha of land was finished in 1982. The second phase which began in the late 1980s is still underway. The normal everyday problems that plague other boom towns cannot be seen in Rourkela for even the dumpyards for domestic waste are identified and the town is divided into zones for the collection of garbage. The steel township has its own sewage network and a treatment plant. Toxic wastewater from the steel plant is collected in a lagoon of nearly one sq km where particles are allowed to settle down and then the water reaches the perennial Brahmani river through the Guradih nullah.

By the normal standards of environmental protection in India, these are admirable measures. But steel and cement being the major industries the level of air pollution is quite high. Workers in the fertiliser and cement factories constantly come in touch with toxic gases, fames and hot acids. The integrated steel plant and the fertiliser plant generate pollutants which make their way to Guradih nullah. The annual average of suspended solids in the nullah shows a sharp increase in toxic discharge. The retention of effluents in the lagoon, however, has a positive fall-out with the concentration decreasing after water passes through the lagoon.

Though the steel plant has effluent treatment plants, units like the coke oven plant, hot rolling mills and cold rolling mills, continue to emit large quantities of pollutants. A study by the Orissa Pollution Control Board points out that groundwater quality varies widely with acidic pH and high biological oxygen demand (BOD). From the environmental point of view, the positive point is that Rourkela is passing through a post-boom low. There have been few new industries in the 1990s and, as a consequence, there is not much pressure on the infrastructure of the city and even on agricultural land.

Tirupur toxins
Analysis of effluent water

Hand bleach 7.3 268 9,085 20 278
Peroxide bleach 7.7 25 6,060 240 526
Dyeing 9.5 40 10,930 110 436
Peroxide bleaching and dyeing 9.2 30 7,150 170 450
PH: a unit used measurements of acidity or alkalinity   SS: suspended solids

COD: chemical oxgen demand                BOD: biological oxygen demand

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