Authorities shut down industries, but they continue to operate clandestinely
On May 11, several people found untreated effluent from the textile units of Pali in Rajasthan being discharged into the Bandi river. Four common effluent treatment plants maintained by the Pali Water Pollution Control Research Foundation, an industry initiative, have been built to treat the waste of more than 800 units. But their attempt to save on operation costs by bypassing the effluent treatment process resulted in more than two hundred people encircling the foundation office, forbidding officials to leave for eight hours. The district collector brought the situation under control by promising action.
The collector, Neeraj Pawan, shut the units down. But they started functioning, on the sly. “This is a cat and mouse game. No concrete action being taken by the authorities despite evidence that effluents are not being treated properly,” says Mahaveer Singh Sukerlai, convener of Sri Kisan Paryavaran Sangarsh Samiti, which is spearheading the cause of the farmers against the pollution of the Bandi and groundwater in and around the town of Pali by textile dyeing and printing industries. The Samiti, formed in 2004 has members from around 50 villages. Pali is a critically polluted area, as identified by the Central Pollution Control Board over a decade ago.
The partially treated effluent continually discharged into the Bandi, a seasonal river with no flow in the lean season, has contaminated the river course and groundwater along its adjacent banks, up to 55 km downstream. The river at several points has become unfit for drinking and irrigation. According to previous groundwater department surveys in the region, water has been found to contain chloride, sulphate, dissolved solids, and heavy metals beyond permissible limits. A study by Delhi non-profit Centre for Science and Environment shows that wells were severely contaminated because half the town's effluents were not being treated.
A recent order passed in the Rajasthan High Court may have implications for Pali. On February 17, the court ordered closing several hand block printing and textile units in Balotra, Barmer district. They have been even banned from discharging treated effluents into the Luni, of which Bandi is a tributary. This was in pursuance of a decade-old order of the state pollution control board which cited that the treated effluent was detrimental to groundwater quality. In essence, they have demanded that units maintain zero-discharge standards by reusing wastewater or shut down.
The industry moved an application and sought a modification of the order. They also filed an affidavit promising to clean up their act, seeking interim relief that would allow them to function until they carry out the desired pollution abatement works. But the court has refused to entertain their pleas. For two months, subsequent to the order, the units remained closed but recently started operating, says Digvijay Singh Jasol, advocate and petitioner in the court. “In the night they clandestinely discharge their effluents, location of which is very difficult to pin point,” he adds. The pollution monitoring agency, he adds, should be more vigilant.
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