‘Moratorium’ on industrial clusters of Vapi, Ankaleshwar, Vatva: Union ministry for forests and environment should clarify stance

pollutionxBy Rohit Prajapati*

In May 2002, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) released an extensive report saying that “there was a growing gap between the efforts to reduce the impact of business and industry on nature and the worsening state of the planet”. The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) in its press release dated April 13, 2014 stated, “A new report by the IPCC shows that global emissions of greenhouse gases have risen to unprecedented levels despite a growing number of policies to reduce climate change. Emissions grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the three previous decades.”

The IPCC added, “There is a clear message from science:  To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual… Stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere requires emissions reductions from energy production and use, transport, buildings, industry, land use, and human settlements.”

Formal token capital investment and less and less routine investment by industries to prevent pollution mean more and more pollution. When the Union ministry for environment and forests (MoEF) is more worried about the profitability of industry, the gross domestic product (GDP), “environment for more and more investment”, and taking feedback from polluting industries, deliberately avoiding feedback from the affected people, this leads to irreversible damage to environment, agriculture, and severe health impact on the people.

When the MoEF starts behaving like the ministry of industries and takes a role of the advocate of polluting industries, irreversible damage to environment, agriculture, and severe health impact on the people is guaranteed. For the last many years, instead of concern for environment, the MoEF’s main concern is ensuring investment, profitability of industries and GDP. In spite many industrial clusters in the country facing severe surface and groundwater contamination, the MoEF has yet not taken decisive steps as remedial measures.

On July 7, 2007 and January 13, 2010, the MoEF was forced to order that no expansion and no new industries can legally function in the critically polluted areas.  The present ground realities call for continuation of this strong action from the MoEF under the country’s environmental laws against all these critically polluted areas. These steps were in right direction which now the ministry itself is backtracking.

On July 5, 2014, Ganpatbhai Vasava, minister for forests and environment, Government of Gujarat, announced at a public function organized by the industries of Vapi Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC), in media presence, that the moratorium on Vapi has been lifted, and an official announcement to this effect would be made soon.  Vasava similarly announced for the industrial clusters in Ankleshwar and Vatva of Gujarat.

If what Vasava stated about the lifting of moratorium on industrial clusters of Vapi, Ankleshwar, and Vatva is true, then it clearly indicates that the MoEF’s decisions are either manoeuvred by the industrial lobby and various state governments, or the MoEF has to provide the clearcut explanation in public for what it is seeking to do.

The MoEF, responsible for climate change, should not tolerate such behaviour of any officers and the minister of any state government in the interest of environment. If the MoEF does not take action against the minister of Gujarat, it will send wrong message to people in general that the MoEF’s decisions might be manoeuvred by the polluting industries and it is meaningless to send any complaints to the MoEF about pollution in the country.

One needs to only draw attention to the information dated June 6, 2014 which we received from Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the zonal office located at Vadodara, under the right to information (RTI) Act. The latest report of the CPCB dated February 21-22, 2014 indicates that common effluent treatment plants (CETPs) of Vapi, Ankleshwar and Panoli are unable to meet Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) norms.  The Effluent Channel Project of Vadodara is also not able to meet the GPCB norms since long, as per the information we have received under RTI.

The above ground realities invite strong action from the GPCB, the CPCB and the MoEF under the country’s environmental laws against all these facilities, and we strongly feel that no effluent discharge should be allowed from any of these facilities with immediate effect. We heard that instead of imposing the moratorium on Vadodara, the MoEF is planning to lift the moratorium on Vatva, Ankleshwar and Vapi regions – based only on a representation from the department of environment and forests of the Government of Gujarat and the industrial lobby and not based on the performance required by the environment laws.

We strongly feel that:

(1) The moratorium on industrial clusters Vatva, Ankleshwar and Vapi of Gujarat should be continued.

(2) The time has come to apply the same principle for the Vadodara District. The GPCB should not accept new no objection certificate (NOC)/ NOC for expansion / new CCA application having additional effluent discharge with immediate effect for Vadodara district, as the Effluent Channel Project is not able to meet the GPCB norms since long. A moratorium should be imposed on the Vadodara District by applying the same principle.

One hopes that environmental laws will be respected by the MoEF and any action to contrary will be tantamount to committing an extra-legal ‘encounter’ of the environment laws.

Crucial information should be made public regarding which environment law is applied on Tadgam Sarigam Pipeline, on Vapi CETP, on FETP Ankleshwar, on ECP Vadodara, and on CETPs of Ahmedabad, and whether they are allowed to discharge their effluents into the water bodies even though effluents are not able to meet the GPCB norms.

*With Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara. The article is based on letter Prajapati wrote on Union minister for forests and environment Prakash Javadekar on July 16, 2014

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