By Rohit Prajapati*
The Effluent Channel Project (ECP) of Vadodara passes through 24 villages and prime agricultural land which is known as the “vegetable basket” of Gujarat. The 55.6 km long effluent channel was commissioned in the year of 1983 to carry “treated” industrial effluent from industries near Vadodara to estuary of River Mahi, Gulf of Khambhat. First it carried the effluent of only Nandesari Industrial Estate and Vadodara Industrial Complex, but later, 1995 onwards, a number of polluting industries also started coming up on along both side of ECP. Since 2004 the villages around the ECP have experienced ground water contamination at alarming rates. The pollution began because of the seepage, leaching, leaking and overflowing of effluent from the ECP and later from a number of polluting industries which were established from 1995 onwards.
There have been several investigations conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) and various agencies appointed by the concerned authorities which clearly pinpoint that the ground water of villages around the ECP area are critically contaminated and need immediate intervention by the concerned authorities to stop further pollution. The reports also recommend immediate short-term and long-term remedial measures, and also the adoption of the “polluter pay principle” laid down by the Supreme Court of India.
Further, a number of meetings were organised in the presence of the member-secretary of the GPCB, the representatives of the industries of the ECP area, representatives of affected villages and voluntary organisations working in this area on environment. In these meetings there was no dispute about contamination of groundwater and spreading of contamination in the area. The only dispute was whether ECP and/or a number of industries are responsible for this contamination of ground water. Nobody has denied, including the GPCB and the industrialists, that because of industrial activities the groundwater is severely contaminated and contamination is spreading in different areas and has reached irreversible level.
Thereafter, between January 27 and February 24, 2011, detailed investigations were done by GPCB and the collector’s office of Vadodara regarding the contamination of groundwater in village Luna of district Vadodara. The investigation report reveals that almost all wells and bore wells were contaminated. Another study in Luna village conducted in May 2015 prima facie proved that its ground water is severally contaminated and contamination is spreading. In April 2015 another investigation was conducted by GPCB in Dudhwala Village of District Vadodara and in villages Piludara and Vedech of District Bharuch which illustrated the fact that the bore wells of even these villages too are severely contaminated. There are many more such villages across ECP where the groundwater is severely and critically polluted.
The following studies were conducted which reveal the fact that the whole ECP area is in a critical condition as far as ground water and air pollution are concerned:
(1) April 2008: The Department of Water Resources Development and Management, IIT, Roorkee published a report, “Residual Life Assessment (RLA) Study of Effluent Channel”, regarding the physical condition of the effluent channel carrying industrial effluents from Vadodara to Mahi Estuary. This report clearly exposed the alarming fact that the physical condition of ECP is in very bad shape which is also responsible for the ground water contamination.
(2) February 2010: CPCB released its, “Report on Effluent Conveyance System (M/S ECPL) for Nandesari Industrial Area and Industries Located near Vadodara, Gujarat” highlighting the grim situation due to industrial pollution in the area.
(3) Vide its letter dated May 5, 2011 Effluent Channel Project Limited (ECPL) informed GPCB that certain non-member industries of ECPL having a zero discharge status were disposing their untreated wastewater through reverse boring. ECPL (now known as Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited) also maintained that it had been regularly submitting monthly reports relating to violation of inlet norms to GPCB.
(4) September 2011: The Institute of Seismological Research, Department of Science and Technology, Government of Gujarat, Gandhinagar, came out with a report regarding ground water pollution in the ECP area exposing the extent of damage done due to industrial pollution in and around Luna Village.
Since 2003 there have been countless letters and representations written by impacted farmers, collectively and individually, and also by Farmers’ Action Group (FAG) regarding the pollution issue and opposing polluting industries coming in to the ECP area. Yet, aside from conducting investigations and closing down factories for a few days, no effective action has been taken by the concerned authorities. The matter has not been considered seriously which has led to a crisis situation where the people do not have potable drinking water, water for their animals and good water for agricultural purposes. No serious steps have been initiated either to stop the further spread of pollution in the area or to pinpoint the names of the industries that are responsible for this pollution and irreversible damage done to the area.
There are a number of farmers who had been practicing organic farming (i.e. without the use of chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers) but because of the groundwater pollution they are not in the position to claim their agriculture produce as organic. Further, animals used for animal husbandry are forced to drink this contaminated water and eat the fodder which is grown using contaminated ground water.
The farmers who are affected by groundwater contamination and pollution have not been compensated in terms of money, in spite of the fact that nobody disputes the fact that the problem of contamination of groundwater and air pollution is because of polluting industries located around the villages and area vis-à-vis the ECP.
Further, we came to know during the last visit in April 2015 by us and GPCB Vadodara that industries, including Prasad International Limited located in village Luna, are using groundwater sources of farmers which are not fully contaminated after paying some money to the farmers. It is shocking that even the GPCB had no idea how the groundwater outside the premises of industries is allowed to be used for industrial purposes when the situation in the ECP area is alarming and villagers are unable to locate a good potable source of water for people, animals and agricultural purpose.
Keeping in mind the above alarming facts and reality which is not under dispute neither by CPCB, GPCB, Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited, nor industries located in this area, we can surely describe the grave situation as a “chemical emergency”. In order to reduce further harm to the people and environment, the following proactive steps should be taken:
- The concerned authority should order in clear terms that no industry of ECP area will be allowed to use any groundwater outside their premises and if any industry is using groundwater outside its premises, it should be immediately fined and prosecuted under environmental law.
- The concerned authority should monitor, using flow meters, the use-misuse of groundwater by the industries from their premises and through tankers which are coming from a far away distance.
- The present remaining sources of clean water outside the industries should only be used by farmers and villagers for drinking and agricultural purpose and no commercial use should be allowed in the area.
- As the farmers are suffering because of the groundwater pollution they should be given ad-hoc compensation per month per contaminated well until decontamination of well is done by way of short term and long remedial measures based on the “polluter pays principle”.
- Animals are drinking contaminated ground water and/or their fodder is grown using contaminated ground water. Farmers who are engaged in animal husbandry and are having affected cows, buffalos and other animals should be paid per day per animal the value of milk yield.
- Farmers who are forced to use contaminated groundwater for irrigation of agricultural land and hence are facing problems should be paid ad-hoc per season per hectare.
- Lump sum ad-hoc amount should be paid to the affected farmers per hectare for past damages.
- Amount for compensation should be decided in consultation with the affected people and their organisation working on environment in this area.
- A committee should be appointed to assess the ongoing damage and the damage of the past to quantify and pay the real compensation for the damage done to the farmers.
- An immediate short and long term plan should be made for remedial measures to decontaminate the ground water based on the “Polluter Pays Principle”.
- Declare a ‘Chemical Emergency’ in the ECP area and include ECP area as a critically polluted area. An immediate moratorium should be imposed for expansion of existing industries and for new industries in this area. An option of shifting of known polluting industries from this area should also be seriously considered in the interest of life, livelihood and environment of the area.
- A high level committee of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), CPCB, GPCB, local state authority, representatives of affected villagers and the representatives of the voluntary organizations working in this area on environment should be appointed to do day-to-day monitoring of the area.
All of the mentioned investigations and reports are already with the authorities, and more can provide be provided again for prompt response in the interest of life, livelihood and environment of the area.
*Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara. Based on letter sent by the author to secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India