High court closes polluting factory

By Nidhi Jamwal
Published: Wednesday 30 September 2009

ON JULY 22, villagers of Londa in Karnataka's Belgaum district rejoiced after they won the court case against the Kundil Group's sponge iron plant. The plant was poisoning their crops, waterbodies and the air. But their joy was short-lived. A month after the district divisional commissioner closed it, the state pollution control board (SPCB) allowed the plant to start operation.

The villagers plan to file a contempt petition.

"We asked SPCB on what basis the plant was allowed to restart, but we were told to visit the board's head office in Bengaluru," said Pradeep Juwadi, a resident of Londa. "The plant has turned Londa and surrounding villages into a living hell," said Shashikant Sawant, another resident. Black soot from the plant settles on crops and waterbodies; paddy yield has fallen 80 per cent. Children constantly fall sick after ingesting water and food contaminated with the soot," he said.

Down to EarthSawant, Juwadi and 11 other villagers filed the petition in the Karnataka High Court on July 5 seeking closure of the plant. They had produced evidence of pollution. "Realizing the severity, the court ordered the closure of the plant immediately and said it can't reopen unless it meets standards mandated by the Environment Protection Act, 1986," said Ravindra Kumar Gokakar, counsel for the villagers. "The plant is located next to the Phandari river and close to villages," he said. (Sponge iron units are in the list of industries that can't be located near a waterbody or human habitation.) SPCB should not have allowed the plant to reopen contravening the court order, said Gokakar. "We will not rest till it is shut," said Juwadi.

The plant was set up in 2005 without the necessary clearances. Then, SPCB had filed cases against the plant managers (see 'Shifting pain', Down To Earth, May 31, 2006). Kundil officials were unavailable for comments. So were officials of the SPCB.

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