Rajasthan fails to comply with NGT order to close textile units of Pali

The polluting industries did not have 'consent to operate' from the Rajasthan Pollution Control Board

By Soundaram Ramanathan
Published: Thursday 13 March 2014

Pollution from Pali's dyeing and printing industries has polluted the Bandi river

The National Green Tribunal (NGT), on March 5, ordered suspension of work in the textile dyeing and printing units in Pali district which were operating without the necessary approval from the Rajasthan Pollution Control Board (RPCB). They had not obtained the requisite “consent to operate” from RPCB, which is mandatory to operate any industry which is potentially polluting. The NGT order came in response to a case filed by farmers seeking relief from the pollution caused by the industrial units.

But even  a week after  the NGT order, none of the units have been shut down, complained an aggrieved farmer, Mahaveer Singh Sukarlai. “More than 600 dyeing units are operating in this area, of which more than 90 per cent are operating without consent to operate or have expired consents. A group of officers came for site inspection after the court order, but we have not got any relief,” said Sukarlai, convener of Sri Kisan Paryavaran Sangarsh Samiti, which filed the petition  before NGT.

When contacted, R B Maurya, regional officer of RPCB in Pali, confirmed that none of the plants have been shut as yet.  He said RPCB officers are scrutinising  records of the industrial units to assess the number of consents to operate that have expired and reasons  thereof.  “Our senior officers have inspected the units after the court order. We are awaiting furthers orders from them for action,” Maurya said.

Another RPCB official said the Board is in the process of framing policies to mitigate pollution in the area. Rajesh Thapiar,  senior environmental engineer of RPCB, said, “We are framing policies upon which we can take action and prevent pollution in the area. It will take another two to three days to frame a policy and then appropriate actions will be taken.”

Pals river, drains and villages

Pali district, which is 70 km east of Jodhpur and on the bank of river Bandi, has three industrial areas—Mandia road industrial area, industrial area phase II and Punayata industrial area. These have several industries, but it is the textile units that dominate. Together, these industrial areas employ about 30,000 people, more than 25 per cent of whom are employed in the textile units. Dyeing and printing, the wet processing components of the textile units, contribute the most to water pollution in the area.

According to RPCB, the dyeing and printing units in the area have common effluent treatment plants (CETPs) of 34.86 million litres a day (mld) capacity, about half of which is being utilised currently by the dyeing units. The treated effluent, according to the board, is let out into the river. The Nehra dam downstream of  Pali Industrial area stores the water and supplies it for irrigation to more than four villages.

Trouble began when the dyeing units started switching from cotton to synthetic fabrics to cater to changing market needs. Earlier the dyeing units in the area were processing cotton fabrics, hence the effluent generated was alkaline in nature and the effluent treatment plants were also built to treat the alkaline water. However, with changing trends the units started dyeing synthetic clothes, which generated acidic effluent and the treatment could not keep pace. The result was untreated/partially treated effluents being released into the river.

Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a research and advocacy organisation in Delhi, studied the area at the request of the farmers. The CSE report said that the common effluent treatment plants installed in the area for treating textile effluents are not capable of treating the effluents to prescribed levels, resulting in the discharge of untreated and partially treated wastewater into the Bandi river, which does not have freshwater for about nine months a year. It also reported that contaminants were percolating into the groundwater. The study found that groundwater in the Bandi basin  50 km downstream was contaminated with lead, arsenic, chromium and nickel.

Farmers moved court against the pollution  in 2002. This prompted the state to pass a directive in 2004, recommending closure of companies operating in non-industrial areas to check pollution in the Bandi river. The companies appealed against the  order but the court  upheld the decision in 2008 and asked the companies to shift out of non-conforming areas.  It also ordered the state bodies to use treated water from CETP for recycling or agriculture. The pollution board was ordered to set up a flow meter at every industrial unit to measure their actual discharge. In 2009, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests declared the area as critically polluted and banned expansion of any industry in the area.

But the pollution never came under control. Two years  ago the farmers staged protests in front of the collector’s office over illegal discharge of untreated effluents into the Bandi. “Forty to 50 villages are affected by the polluted water. We have tried everything but we have not found any solution. Our land is damaged, our groundwater is contaminated, our livelihood is in question and no one is willing to take any action,” says Sukarlai.

Order of the National Green Tribunal regarding pollution caused by dying and printing industries in district Pali, Rajasthan, 05/03/2014

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