Critically polluted: Treated effluents from Vapi CETP don’t meet safety standards, find pollution control boards

Industrial area’s comprehensive pollution index score hasn't been calculated in 5 years, say activists

By Seema Prasad
Published: Wednesday 24 May 2023
Critically polluted: Treated effluents from Vapi CETP don’t meet safety standards, find pollution control boards
Vapi CETP outlet point in the Daman Ganga River. Photo: Seema Prasad / CSE Vapi CETP outlet point in the Daman Ganga River. Photo: Seema Prasad / CSE

A yellow discharge is always visible under the Daman Ganga Railway Underbridge, according to residents of Gujarat’s industrial city, Vapi. The discharge is from the only Common Effluent Treatment Plant that serves the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) industrial estate in Vapi comprising more than 500 industries. 

The CETP’s final discharge point located behind the plant has been a point of contention for villagers and activists. The outlet drains into the Daman Ganga river and damages its water and aquatic ecosystem. 

When Down To Earth (DTE) visited the spot, the yellow colour indicating untreated effluent discharge was in stark contrast to the color of the surrounding water in the river.

The CETP receives treated water in its inlet from Effluent Treatment Plants (ETP) of factories that manufacture chemicals (32.4 per cent), dyes and dye intermediates (12.6 per cent), textiles (6.3 per cent), paper and pulp (4.4 per cent), pharmaceuticals (3.3 per cent), pesticides, (1.8 per cent) and others (38.8 per cent).

The individual ETPs are supposed to bring down the chemical-oxygen demand (COD, a measure of oxygen available in the water to break down pollutants) of effluents to 1,000 milligrams per litre (mg / l).

The discharge is then sent to Vapi’s CETP to bring the COD down to 250 mg / l, before releasing it through an outlet into Daman Ganga. The CETP has a capacity of 55 million litres per day (MLD)

Additionally, the CETP handles domestic sewage. Bill Khadi is a natural drain that runs parallel to the Daman Ganga. 

Three Sewage Treatment Plants (STP) have been set up recently, which was a result of citizens moving the National Green Tribunal on extreme water scarcity.

According to the last update presented before the National Green Tribunal (NGT)’s Principal Bench in Delhi on December 27, 2022, most parameters of the Vapi CETP’s inlet and outlet exceed safety limits.

In the inspection conducted from July-September 2022, it was observed that compared to the prescribed safety norms, the treatment of fixed dissolved solids (FDS), chloride and sulphate at Vapi CETP was not up to the mark and carried out with negligence at both the inlet and the outlet.

On January 11, 2019, the National Green Tribunal directed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to carry out extensive surveillance and monitoring of the Vapi CETP jointly with the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) at regular intervals for three months and submit its status report to the tribunal. 

In the matter of Aryavart Foundation vs M/s Vapi Green Enviro Ltd (CETP, Vapi) filed in 2018, the GPCB and CPCB have submitted 14 such inspection reports to date since then.

“There are no treatment systems installed for the reduction of these pollutants. Moreover, the analysis results reveal that there is no reduction in concentrations of FDS, chloride and sulphate,” the NGT noted in its 14th report. 

The sample collected during joint quarterly monitoring by CPCB and GPCB on September 30, 2022 showed that the concentration of FDS (5,475 mg / l), COD (1,912 mg / l), Biochemical Oyxgen Demand (812 mg / l), chloride (1,676 mg / l), sulphate (1,554 mg / l), phenols (3.08 mg / l) and cyanide (0.42 mg / l) are not meeting the inlet norms (FDS: 2,100 mg / l, COD: 1,000 mg / l, BOD: 400 mg / l, chloride: 600 mg / l, sulphate:1000 mg / l, phenols: 1 mg / l, cyanide: 0.2 mg / l), the report stated.

The concentrations of TSS (167 mg / l), FDS (8,961 mg / l), chloride (2,768 mg / l) and sulphate (1,351 mg / l) in the sample collected from the outlet of CETP do not meet the outlet norms (TSS: 100 mg / l, FDS: 2100 mg / l, chloride: 600 mg / l and sulpahte: 1000 mg / l), the report stated.

Karthik M, senior principal scientist at National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), was part of the committee in 2018 that looked at the Vapi CETP’s contribution to pollution in the Daman Ganga River. “Efforts were made to bring down the pollution load entering the Daman Ganga River through the CETP between 2013 and 2018, as observed by the committee in the report. However, there may be an increase in pollution load due to the post-COVID-19 economic rebound,” he told DTE. 

Moreover, the Vapi CETP was built in 1997 and requires a technology overhaul and new approaches to reduce the pollution into the environment, he added.

Bringing down pollutant levels, for example FDS, from a mixed bag of industries is more difficult than handling wastewater from a homogenous industry such as textiles or chemicals. In a CETP, the equalisation tank homogenises the concentration of pollutants for further treatment units and processes received at different points of time from the industries.” 

The existing system design may not be able to meet the prescribed standards at a certain part of the time if handled as regular effluents, he added. “Hence, there is a need to re-focus on the industrial production and processes rather than the end-of-the-pipe treatment as there is a technical limit to what a CETP can achieve.”

In denial 

Despite the findings, Vapi’s local Gujarat Pollution Control Board head AG Patel told DTE that the department was following the directions issued by the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Abatement Action Plan issued in 2010, which ironically outlines how to measure and control discharges from the ETP and CETP.

Patel emphatically added that there are no complaints from the residents. However, local journalists, activists as well as villagers informed DTE of the pervading atmosphere of fear that the powerful individuals from GIDC will retaliate against them. 

Most of them are either legally threatened or intimidated to take back their claims, they said.

When the Vapi Industrial Area came into being in 1967-1968, the industries promised to build schools and infrastructure in their area, they added. “Instead, we are now hired as labourers and are seen as a liability.”

Patel also presented a hunky-dory situation, where a lot of improvement has occurred in controlling effluent pollution with use of advanced technology. 

At the same time, the NGT stated that the list of defaulting industries should be regularly shared with GPCB for taking suitable action against defaulting industries. In this regard, Patel said GIDC is supposed to have meetings with teams that monitor effluent discharge, but they send officials who have no link with the matter, thus impeding communication.

The industrial area topped the list of critically polluted areas in the country in 2011, with a comprehensive environmental pollution index (CEPI) score of 90.75. In 2018, its rank was 18 with a score of 79.95. 

An industrial cluster is defined as a critically polluted area if the CEPI score is 70 or more. Critically polluted areas are where the cumulative air, water, and pollution exceed the capacity of the environment, impacting human health. 

The CEPI score for Vapi was 88.09 in 2009, 90.75 in 2011, 85.31 in 2013 and 68.2 in 2016, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report tabled in the Gujarat Assembly last year. 

Activist Rohit Prajapati told DTE that the last time CPCB prepared a CEPI report was five years ago. “The score is supposed to be calculated regularly every two or three years and this delay is a cover for the industries.”

This article is part of the June 1-15, 2023, issue of Down To Earth magazine

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