Victory for industrial lobby reflected in Govt of India’s decision to lift moratorium on Vapi, declared most polluted earlier

vapiBy Rohit Prajapati*

Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar’s decision to lift the moratorium of eight critically polluted clusters of the country is inexplicable. The ministry took the decision on June 10 2014 but announced it publicly on July 24 2014 on MoEF’s website. Narendra Modi took oath as Prime Minister of India on 26 May 2014 and Prakash Javadekar took charge as the Minister of Environment & Forests and Climate change on 30 May 2014. Immediately Javadekar started fulfilling Modi’s commitment given to the industrialists during the election campaign in return for their “support” to BJP during the election. Javadekar decided to lift the moratorium from some of the critically polluted industrial clusters as a first step within 11 days in the ministry. On June 10, 2014 he suspended the September 17, 2013 order extending a moratorium on 8 critically polluted industrial clusters.

That order related to “Re-imposing of Moratorium in respect of critically polluted areas namely Ghaziabad (UP), Indore (M.P.), Jharsuguda (Orissa), Ludhiana (Punjab), Panipat (Haryana), Patancheru – Bollaram (A.P.), Singrauli (UP & MP) and Vapi (Gujarat).” The UPA government imposed the moratorium because of people’s pressure rather than the goodness of their hearts. The UPA government had originally imposed a moratorium on 43 critically polluted industrial clusters of India. Then after undue pressure from the industrial lobby, moratoria on some of the clusters were lifted. The overwhelming evidence of damage to environment, agriculture and health on eight of the clusters forced them to re-impose the moratorium on them.

We had repeatedly demanded that the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) should impose moratorium on all 43 critically polluted +32 severely polluted industrial clusters of India and they should not lift the moratorium based on vague assurance, without substantial reduction of pollution and short & long terms remedial measure in these industrial clusters. We have repeatedly demanded the closing down of the polluting industries in these industrial clusters.

If we are not mistaken, on that day – June 10, 2014 Javadekar and his office probably was not ready with the an appropriate official response required to reverse the past decision of ministry dated September 17 2013 and that is why this direction dated June 10, 2014 was not released to media, or concerned authorities like Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). This was their one of the first step in the direction of lifting of moratorium of critically polluted industrial clusters of the country.

There remains consistent lobbying by the industrialists on the newly elected Modi government and specifically on the Government of Gujarat to start the lifting of the moratorium from critically polluted industrial clusters step by step. And that is why Ganpatbhai Vasava, Minister of Forest and Environment, Gujarat State, on July 5, 2014, in a public function organized by Industries of Vapi Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) in media presence prematurely announced that the moratorium on Vapi is lifted and official announcement will follow soon. Vasava was forced to make similarly announcement for the Industrial Cluster Ankleshwar and Vatva of Gujarat State. A detail letter dated July 11, 2014 was sent by us to Javadekar to clarify the issue.

Javadekar instead of stating the truth which might be difficult to defend his ministry’s decision dated 10 June 2014 even after more than a month he on July 13, 2014, in an press conference at Ahmedabad stated in a reply to the press on the issue of moratorium of Vapi, Ankleshwar and Vatva, “I have met the state government officials and have got a lot of material from them (on the subject).” Javadekar further clearly stated that in two weeks’ time a decision will be taken by the Ministry on the issue of moratorium of Vapi, Ankleshwar and Vatva. Vasava was also present in this Ahmedabad press conference. Javadekar kept quite on that day also about the “decision” of his ministry dated June 10, 2014 best reasons known to him.

One more letter dated July 27, 2014 was also sent by us to MoEF with the demand that MoEF should continue the moratorium for Vatva, Ankleshwar, Vapi of Gujarat and declare the moratorium for the Vadodara District of Gujarat state by applying the same principle. In this letter detail about the track record for their ready reference of these clusters were supplied to the ministry.

But Vasava reflecting the increased bonhomie with the industrial lobby on July 18, 2014, he again in an interview to in Valsad’s edition of Gujarati news paper, Divya Bhaskar reportedly said that the moratorium on Vapi is already lifted and now it’s a question of formal announcement. Again letter dated July 23, 2014 was sent by us to Javadekar to clarify the issue and to take the exemplary action against Vasava for his repeated illegal and unconstitutional announcement of the “decision” of the MoEF.

Silence on the part of ministry clearly indicates that Javadekar and Vasava both belong to the same party and that is why ministry want to ignore this constitutional issue.

About the lifting of the moratorium of Industrial Cluster Vapi, Ankleshwar and Vatva of Gujarat State, Vasava is now proved right if we read the letter now uploaded on MoEF website on July 24, 2014 of dated June 10, 2014 of the Ministry clearly indicates that ministry’s decisions are influenced by the industrial lobby in connivance with the state governments.

The consistent follow up by the pollution affected people, people’s organizations and NGOs regarding the increasing pollution levels in the industrial areas of India forced the CPCB and the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) in 1989 to initiate the process of indexing the critically polluted areas. At that time 24 industrial areas including Vapi, Ankleshwar, Ludhiana etc. were declared ‘critically polluted’.

Thereafter, in several meetings of CPCB and SPCBs serious debates on the pollution status of these areas were undertaken. Even after formulation of ‘action plans’ for the said industrial areas no substantial or qualitative change was observed in these industrial areas. For this reason, in 2009 the CPCB and IIT-Delhi, in consistence with the demands of the people’s organizations working on environmental issues decided to use a new method of ‘indexing the pollution levels’ of these areas, which is now known as the ‘Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index’ (CEPI). The CEPI includes air, water, land pollution and health risks to the people living in the area. However, our demand has been to include the health of the workers, productivity of land and quality of food/ agriculture produce in the index since the presence of high levels of chemicals and heavy metals in food produce has severe health implications. This is affecting not only people living around the industrial area but anyone consuming it – hence not restricting the impact to the particular industrial area.

As per the agreed upon measures, industrial areas with a CEPI of 70 and above are considered ‘critically polluted’ areas while those with a CEPI between 60 and 70 are considered ‘severely polluted’ areas. In our opinion, those industrial areas with CEPI between 40 and 60 ought to be labeled as ‘polluted areas’.

In December 2009 the CEPI of 88 polluted industrial estates was measured; it was then that the CPCB and the MoEF were forced to declare 43 of those as ‘critically polluted areas’ and another 32 industrial areas as ‘severely polluted’ areas. Following this study the MoEF on January 13, 2010 was forced to issue a moratorium (prohibition on opening new industries and/or increasing the production capacity of the existing industries) on the 43 critically polluted areas. At that time, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) and other environment protection groups had asked for a moratorium on all the 75 (43+32) polluting areas, but the powerful industrial lobby and state governments working in tandem prevailed. The mucky politics and economics of ‘GDP growth’ prevailed over the cause of ‘life and livelihood’ of ordinary people and ‘environment & conservation.

In 2009, the Ankleswar’s industrial area, with 88.50 CEPI , topped the list of ‘critically polluted areas’ of India. In 2011 and 2013, Vapi industrial area, with CEPI of 85.31, topped this list. Thus Gujarat is able to top in 2009 in ‘critically polluted areas’ in India and continues to maintain its position in 2011 and 2013. The Government of Gujarat deliberately ignored to comment or engages ever on these issues.

Narendra Modi in his book ‘Convenient Action: Gujarat’s Response to Challenges of Climate Change’ published in 2011, on page 132-133, has printed a photograph of Vapi’s Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) which even today does not operate as per the prescribed norms of Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB). When the CETP of Vapi industrial area is not able to meet the prescribed GPCB norms, what message does the then CM want to convey to the country and the world by printing a two page photograph of this treatment plant? On this issue we have posed several questions to him in our review of his book but he has been unable to answer a single question.

As such the process of declaring moratorium was started from Ankleshwar in Gujarat in 2007. The industries located in Ankleshwar, Panoli and Jhagadia GIDC estates treat their effluent in their Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) and then, after giving further treatment ‘at the Final Effluent Treatment Plant (FETP) at Ankleshwar discharge the effluent into the sea. The FETP, from its inception, did not work as per the prescribed norms set by the GPCB. Even today it is not able to meet the prescribed norm. For this reason, on July 7, 2007, GPCB, on the directions of the CPCB, imposed a moratorium on the industrial areas of Ankleshwar, Panoli and Jhagadia.

The moratorium is in force even today, since there has been no substantial improvement in the pollution levels even after the implementation of the so-called ‘action plans’ prepared by these estates. The same plant’s disposal pipe line’s project was inaugurated by Mr. Narendra Modi on January 25, 2007. By inaugurating this plant, he was sending out the message to the investors to not to worry much about the compliance/s of environment laws in the state. Despite this moratorium being in force officially, the active connivance of the industrial lobby with the collusion of politicians along with the official machinery in Gujarat has surreptitiously lifted the moratorium from some area at different times.

It appears that Javadekar’s ministry first took the decision on June 10, 2014 to honour BJP’s pre-election “commitment” during election given to them and also pressure from Gujarat Government but his office was busy in “preparing” the documents for justification of the decision. Now so-called papers and documents for the justification of the decision might be ready and that is why now decision is announced on webpage of MoEF.

The order – Office Memorandum – dated June 10, 2014 of the MoEF uploaded on website on July 24, 2014 states:

“It has been decided to keep in abeyance until further orders the aforesaid O.M. (Office Memorandum) dated September 17, 2013 to the extent it related to the re-imposition of moratorium in eight CPAs (Critically Polluted Areas) till CPCB re-assesses the CEPI taking into account all constituents of index as originally envisaged in 2009, subject to the following stipulations.

All projects requiring EC in these areas will be considered only by MOEF;

At the stage of TORs the EAC concerned would, in such cases spell out the due diligence required in terms of assessment of baseline conditions of ambient air, water bodies, etc. as applicable and provide guidance on monitoring locations, parameters, etc. In doing so, in addition to pollutants to be discharged / emitted by the proposed project, the pollutants of concern in the area would also be kept in view. Assessment of performance of common facilities such as CETP, TSDF, etc. if proposed to be utilized should also be included as part of due diligence;

In addition to monitoring by the regional office concerned, third party monitoring by a reputed agency at a frequency to be specified by the EAC would be necessary;

The implementation of action plan of each of these eight CPAs to be jointly reviewed by the CPCB and SPCB on quarterly basis and report sent to MoEF by the 7th day of the month succeeding the end of quarter.”

If you read the subject and the entire decision dated June 10, 2014 of MoEF it clearly indicates that the MoEF is not able to defend its decision about putting order dated September 23, 2013 of pervious government in abeyance and sole purpose of the decision of MoEF is to lift the moratorium by hook or crook.

This clearly indicates that Central government is not concerned about the environment but it is working under the pressure of Industrial lobby and central government is involved in reversing the past decisions of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to please the industrial lobby.

*Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara. Also published in Down To Earch

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