Though Vapi remains one of the most polluting industrial areas of India, the Gujarat Pollution Control Board has been indifferent towards the way its effluent treatment plant has been working. Mahesh Pandya* writes:
Paryavaran Mitra, Gujarat’s environmental group, has taken strong exception to the manner in which the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) has been taking cognizance of the working of the Vapi Waste & Effluent Management Company Ltd (VWEMCL)-run common solid waste treatment, storage, and disposal facility (TSDF) in the Vapi industrial area. The NGO has said that the letter by JK Vyas of Hazardous Waste Cell, GPCB, addressed to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India, only gives details of the show cause notices and directions to the VWEMCL for a year since July 17, 2012. There is not a single word on compliance. Worse, there is only one-line review – that “fresh inspection report of this facility dated June 10, 2013 reveals no adverse remarks with respect to compliance.”
The Paryavaran Mitra believes, “The GPCB issued directions after the accident happened. If it had carried out proper inspection of this site regularly, the accident would have been avoided. Even after the accident took place, the GPCB may have given comprehensive and scientific directions from time to time, but has failed to take compliance of these directions and notices.” The accident quoted refers to damage in the TSDF Cell No 4, of the size of 15 metres x 7 metres. This resulted in huge seepage of the waste received by the site last year. Due to rainfall, the semi-solid waste was converted into liquid and spread towards villages Karvad and Bilkhadi, and subsequently to river Kolak. There was also adverse impact on marine and aqua life in river and sea. “The aquatic ecosystem, groundwater near the site and corps of the nearby farms were damaged”, the NGO said.
The demands put forward by the Paryavaran Mitra before the GPCB were:
- To set up an expert committee, who should find out existing damage and future potential of damage.
- To calculate/ estimate damage to property, farms, groundwater, river etc.
- To suggest rigorous action plan for the prevention of reoccurrence of such disaster.
- To recommend compensation of damages to the concern/ affected people as per the “polluter pays” principle.
- To impose penalty and punishment as per the Act and the rules on responsible persons of the TSDF site as well as the government monitoring agency for negligence.
- To recommend strict guidelines for the prevention of reoccurrence of such disaster in existing sites, and new sites that are coming up.
The VWEMCL constructed its common effluent treatment plant (CETP), designed by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), a Government of India undertaking, in collaboration with Kirloskar Consultants, for a capacity of 55 million litres per day (MLD), when it was commissioned in 1997. In 2001, all wastewater generated in the Vapi Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) estate was linked to CETP, receiving on an average 18,000 cubic metres per day of cocktail of partially-treated effluent, collected and conveyed to CETP through GIDC’s underground pipeline system. The daily intake, with the combination of sewage, has reached 48,000-52,000 cubic metres per day. The VWEMCL set up the TSDF site in 2000.
The Paryavaran Mitra has underlined, “Despite the action taken after the accident, no proper environmental impact quantification of damage has been carried out either by the VWEMCL or the GPCB. The accident has failed to invite any penalty or punishment in either legal or economical context. This shows that the approach of the GPCB has been one-sided and one cannot be satisfied with the actions taken by the GPCB.” On November 14, 2013, a Paryavaran Mitra activist Bhupat Solanki visited Vapi made a field visit, which showed that things were still slippery at the site. Some of its observations are:
- Last year, following the disaster, a boundary wall was constructed, but it is not capable of withstanding any new accident.
- There is some space between the base and the boundary wall. The flow of untreated effluent would surely begin as time passes.
- An illegal outlet has been given to allow the flow of untreated effluent.
- Behind the site of TSDF, there is residential area. The site is bound to harm the health of the people living in the area, as it happen last year.
- Last year, when the disaster took place at the TSDF site, effluent began flowing towards the road. Till today, it has not been removed properly.
- Following the disaster, the TSDF has been shifted to a new place, which is near the old one. It is behind Raza Masjid and Madina Masjid, where 1,500 people live. Already, two new residential constructions are taking shape there. In case of a blast or any other untoward incident, people would suffer.
The GPCB’s letter to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, dated July 31, 2013, “on review of the TSDF site guidelines under Environment Protection Act, 1986 and Hazardous Waste Management Rules, 1989”, gave a list of actions that the TSDF facility should take. The letter says that show-cause notice was immediately issued by the regional office, Vapi, after July 17, 2012. Also, the GPCB demanded immediate repair and restoration of damaged portion of earthen bund of the cell of the TSDF site to ensure to prevent further flowing of semi-solid liquid hazardous waste on land in adjoining areas.
The GPCB also said that there should be blocking of channels flowing towards Bilkhadi near Dungrifalia in order to prevent further flowing of semisolid hazardous waste further downstream and low lying areas to avoid environmental damage. It gave direction to recollect spillages/ pending of leachate flowing from Cell No 4 and dispose to CETP for further treatment, even as asking the VWEMCL to strengthen the earthen bunds of Cell No 4 as well as other Cell No 5 of the TSDF site, and wherever required, and to seal the damaged portion forthwith.
At the same time, the GPCB said, directions were given to set up full-fledged control room and inform all concerned member of the units to consider emergency situations. Directions given to ensure that in no case disposal of semisolid hazardous waste (without decanting/ dewatering) should be carried out to prevent such accidents in future. Also, the local notified authority and the district authority should be informed for better coordination and take all possible mitigation measures in line with the TSDF protocol, the Central Pollution Control Board guidelines and Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2008, and submit action taken report to the regional office, Vapi.
The letter further said, the GPCB directed the VWEMCL to submit a time bound detailed action plan for the remediation for contamination due to spillage of hazardous waste and engage an expert agency for the minimization of risk to the environment and carry out structural analysis in accordance with the various guidelines published by the CPCB for design, construction and safe operation of the TSDF site. It insisted on accepting only land-fillable hazardous waste from the member industries, but added, it should not be dispose of the TSDF until the TSDF site was completely reconditioned and repaired. Till the time the TSDF was ready, the landfillable hazardous waste from member industries should be allowed to go the TSDF of the Bharuch Enviro Infrastructures Limited, Ankleshwar.
Simultaneous directions were given to maintain all the data/records of the hazardous waste, movement from the member industries and submit them to the regional offices of Vapi and Ankleshwar as well the head office, Gandhinagar, on a monthly basis, even as maintaining online real time data through the GPS enabling system for the disposal and transportation of the hazardous waste, linking it with XGN system, and ensuring that the wastewater generated from dewatering and leachate generated is treated in the CETP, Vapi. For all this, it was suggested, long term as well short term remediation plan with regard to the damage occurred at site should be worked out.
*Senior environmental expert and director, Paryavaran Mitra