National Green Tribunal asks sugar factory in Parbhani district to pay Rs 5 lakh to restore Mannat lake and canal polluted with molasses and effluents which led to mass deaths of fish
A sugar manufacturing company in Parbhani district of Maharashtra, claiming to have installed a zero effluent discharge system, has been held responsible for the death of thousands of fish in a canal and a few water bodies in Parbhani district of Maharashtra by the Pune Bench of National Green Tribunal.
In the judgement given last week, the tribunal directed the company, Gangakhed Sugar and Energy Limited, to pay Rs 5 lakh as environmental restoration costs to the district collector.
According to the petitioner, Vithhal Bhungase, a resident of Gangakhed taluka on Parbhani district, the sugar manufacturer was illegally dumping molasses along with some toxic chemicals into water bodies surrounding the taluka for the past three to four years. “We suffered major losses because of the dumping of wastes and molasses in the Majalgaon right canal and Mannat lake and several other water bodies, which irrigate the area and provide us with our fish catch. Despite several complaints to the collector, no action was taken against the sugar manufacturer,” says Bhungase, who represents Godavari Backward Fishing Business Co-Operative Society Limited.
The NGT bench also directed the company to pay Rs 1 lakh as the cost of the litigation to the fishing community, and Rs 5 lakh towards the cost of investigation by the Parbhani collector and The Central Institute of Fisheries Education (CIFE), Mumbai.
The decision of not paying the compensation to the fishing community did not go down very well with the cooperative society. The bench justified this by saying the cooperative society was not registered in 2010, following which their locus standii in the case could not be established. However, according to the legal counsel, since it was established prima facie through the admission by the sugar manufacturer that the Mannat lake and surrounding canal was polluted, the tribunal has called for strict action against the sugar manufacturer.
State pollution control board's role
The NGT West zone bench at Pune, comprising Justice Vikas Rw Kingaonkar and expert member Ajay Deshpande, directed the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to ensure that the sugar factory complies with pollution control board norms through regular monitoring. "In case of violation, MPCB is at liberty to take stringent action as deemed fit,” the bench said.
According to documents supplied to NGT by the sugar factory, the company had three units comprising sugar unit, distillery unit and co-generation (co-gen) unit, producing electricity and heat at the same time, which is used by the company itself. The sugar plant has capacity of 600 tonnes per day; it is equipped with effluent treatment plant (ETP) having a capacity of handling waste up to 720 cubic metre per day. Further, the co-generation has an effluent treatment plant having a capacity to treat waste water up to 1,360 cubic metre per day. The distillery unit, as claimed by the company, is also a zero discharge industry where the entire effluent generated in the unit is fully consumed in the boiler as fuel. The company is supposed to have earmarked 25 hectare of agricultural land for using the treated effluent for irrigation purpose.
While the company was discharging its effluents, according to the local fishermen, MPCB officials visited the factory eight times between February 17, 2012 and December 21, 2012 and found no violations. However, according to its own admissions, the company deposited effluents twice in 2010 and once in 2011. During this process, even fisheries department of Maharashtra, which has provided the fishing lease to the local fishermen, wrote a letter, stating that molasses dumped by the factory has caused death of the fish.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.