Gujarat pollution board washes hands of creating buffer zones around waste treatment facilities

Central Pollution Control Board guidelines, however, state that no construction activity can take place within 500 metre of treatment, storage and disposal facilities

By Anupam Chakravartty
Published: Thursday 17 May 2012

Even as disposal and treatment of waste in Gujarat continues to pose a threat to residents in urban and rural areas, the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) has washed its hand of any responsibility of buffering residential and commercial estates from waste treatment facilities under its jurisdiction. It has told the Union environment ministry that there are “practical issues” related to creating buffer zones around such facilities.

Gujarat’s poor track record
  The stretch from Ahmedabad through Vadodara in central Gujarat till Surat in south Gujarat is referred to as the Golden Corridor. However, areas near this stretch are increasingly becoming dumping ground for hazardous effluents and solid wastes.

Gujarat happens to be the third highest producer of hazardous waste in the country after Rajasthan and Maharashtra. With the state government looking for more investments and employment opportunities for people, lessons on implementation of rules related to hazardous waste are yet to be learnt.

A short reckoner of cases in which hazardous waste dumping went on under the nose of the authorities till people resisted:

2004: Hema Chemicals Case, Vadodara: In 2004, the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC), acting on a complaint by Vadodara-based non-profit, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS), found that 77,000 tonnes of hazardous hexavalent chromium was dumped in the Gorwa locality.

While the remediation measures are still on, several workers complained of illnesses. The company was closed down by GPCB but punitive measures against the owner are yet to be initiated.

2008: Bharuch Enviro Infrastructure Limited (BEIL), Ankleshwar, Bharuch district: On April 3, 2008, the toxic waste treatment plant catering to about 130-odd chemical industries caught a fire. GPCB found that instead of 60 tonnes of waste for treatment, the facility stored 6,000 tonnes of waste.

The Jabalpur High Court had also floated a proposal to transport Bhopal's carcinogenic waste from the Union Carbide plant site to Gujarat. The state government dropped the plan after environmental activists objected to it. 
In a letter to the ministry on May 5, GPCB blamed the state urban development department for not creating buffer zones around treatment, storage and disposal facilities (TSDF). It referred to a meeting held on September 5, 2011, where the department stated that “at present there is no legal urban framework under urban development regulations to keep the buffer zones around these sites”.

Environmental activists say the letter is misleading because the Central Pollution Control Board guidelines state that no construction activity can take place within 500 metres of a TSDF.

The matter came to light after some non-profits complained to the ministry in January 2012 that the state government was overlooking norms while allotting land for residential and commercial complexes.  In April, the ministry wrote to GPCB asking how they allowed houses next to TSDFs.

The reply by GPCB has irked the environmental activists who say that the government is succumbing to real-estate and industry owners.  “It is a terrible reply by GPCB for not being able to practically implement these guidelines,” says Vadodara-based environmental activist, Rohit Prajapati. He adds this shows that the board does not want to implement the guidelines.
The problem of groundwater contamination due to improper waste disposal is not new to Gujarat. Luna and two other villages, about 15 km from Vadodara, have been facing massive shortages of groundwater for over two decades now. Around 45 borewells are contaminated by the effluents discharged from nearby dyeing as well as pharmaceutical industries.

Worse, GPCB, in March 2012, revoked the closure notice of a multinational textile manufacturing unit owned by Huntsman Chemicals near Vadodara. This was despite a study by Institute for Seismological Research (ISR) showing extensive contamination of groundwater of the three villages situated in Padra tehsil in Vadodara district by the company owned TSDF.

GPCB regional officer, R B Trivedi told Down To Earth that a deposit of Rs 40 lakh has been secured from Huntsman Chemicals, and that the company has been asked to operate on a trial run for three months.

“Industry also submitted undertaking on stamp paper to carry out studies, to undertake remedial measures from its own funds and to monitor the groundwater condition extensively,” says Trivedi. He adds, “Permanent closure would not solve the issue as it causes economic losses to the company as well as people employed there.

We have allowed a trial run, while the remediation measures would be in place.”

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