The moniker 'textile city' is apt for Bhilwara. After all, it produces 75 per cent of the country's textile. But there is a dark side to its sheen. The industry's poor effluent management system has long poisoned the area's groundwater affecting agricultural lands and people's health. The pollution continues unabated even after pollution control authorities set a zero-discharge norm for the units and the government offered subsidies for effluent plants. Experts fear it will soon reach the city's centre and poison groundwater meant for domestic purposes.
There are about 500 synthetic textile units in outskirts of Bhilwara on Chittorgarh, Gangapur and Mandal roads. Most units are involved in spinning and weaving, apart from the 20 major textile processing units, which are the main water guzzlers. According to Mewar Chamber of Commerce and Industry (mcci) data, the 500 units require 24.80 million litres of water per day (mld).The 20 processing units use 80 per cent of this (19.34 mld).
But after stiff resistance from villagers, in December 2005, the Rajasthan Pollution Control Board ordered the textile mills to operate as zero discharge units. Since then, units have been growing eucalyptus trees in 2-5 hectares of agriculture land in its premises, using wastewater for irrigation. "They now inject untreated wastewater in the ground," said Kalu Ram Pareek, an activist from Bhilwara district's Pur village. Agricultural activity in 8-10 other villages located downstream of the btm processing unit on Gangapur road has reached a standstill. Even the air smells foul. Villagers again protested in July 2006. "But the pollution control board took no steps claiming the effluents were being used for irrigation and not being drained in nullahs," said Pareek.
Even the units, which earlier drew water from tubewells, no longer use the areas' groundwater because it is polluted. They buy water from private tankers. About 1,000 private tankers supply water to the units.
Experts fear depletion of the areas groundwater. "About 80 per cent of the households in the city depend on groundwater. Soon the impact of groundwater pollution will be felt in the heart of the city," said D Derashri, secretary of Pani Wale, a Bhilwara-based ngo, and former engineer with the irrigation department. MK Jain, executive officer of mcci, blamed the government: "The government only offers short-term solutions, like installing reverse osmosis plants at 50 per cent government subsidy. Yet, the government always shies away from paying the subsidy amount of Rs 20 crore," he said.
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