Metals for food

Depleting groundwater sources compel farmers in Gujarat to use industrial effluents for irrigation

Published: Sunday 31 October 1999

Foul waters: Farming with the< (Credit: manish tiwari/cse) the agricultural produce from 24 villages in the Vadodara and Bharuch districts of Gujarat have shown evidence of heavy doses of -- not nutrients -- but heavy metals. For, the villagers in these regions have found a dangerous alternative to supplement depleting groundwater: industrial effluents. "Not a single drop (of these effluents) reaches the Gulf of Cambay. It is all used up by the farmers to irrigate the land," says Nilesh Patel of Vadodara Gramya Pradushan Nivaran Samiti, a local non-governmental organisation ( ngo) .

The country's longest effluent channel (56 km long) runs through these villages. Today, the surrounding fields present a bizarre sight with red and yellow coloured liquid being pumped into the land from this channel which carries the waste waters of around 250 chemical factories. The effluents contain heavy metals and other toxic substances. Given the readiness of vegetables to absorb heavy metals and radioactive substances from the soil, it will not be long before these lethal elements enter the food chain. Mumbai and Surat are two cities which face an immediate danger from the products supplied. "Health problems have already cropped up in the villages with local people consuming the produce of these fields," says Rohit Prajapati, an activist with Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, a Vadodara-based ngo .

A study by researcher Avnesh H Sharma, from the Division of Environmental Biology, M S University of Vadodara, has established beyond doubt that vegetables, grain and other agricultural produce from these villages are heavily contaminated with toxic substances. Worse still, local farmers say that agricultural produce has gone down considerably since they started using the highly virulent liquid for irrigation. However, according to farmers the saline content of the reduced groundwater is so high that it is unsuitable for irrigation.

Despite the grave situation, the state government is yet to take steps to check the use of the effluents. According to state officials the agricultural products of the region carry less heavy metals than those cultivated in areas where no industry exists.

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