GPCB’s casual reply to action sought in view of dangerously very high COD level in groundwater

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The Vadodara-based environmental body, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS), has written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with copies to the Gujarat chief minister, senior officials Government of India and Gujarat government officials*, especially those looking after environmental issues, taking strong exception to what they it called “perfunctory, non-serious, and casual reply” of DP Shah, Unit Head of the Vadodara district of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) to its letter dated March 18 on dangerously very high COD (Chemical Oxygen Demand) levels observed and documented in the groundwater in village Luna, Padra Taluka, Vadodara District.

Signed  by senior activists Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant, the letter refers to the Supreme Court (SC) order dated February 22, 2017 on groundwater contamination, castigating officials for failing in their duty in preventing the pollution “even after repeated letters and complaints”, as also the National Green Tribunal orders dated August 3, 2018 and February 19, on this, saying, Shah’s reply is a contempt of SC and NGT orders.

Text of the PSS letter:

We “thank”, especially GPCB and, by extension, other government functionaries and agencies, that at last they and other are de-facto indirectly, openly, transparently declaring by perfunctory, non-serious, casual reply letter, dated April 29, 2019, that they are/ will be unable to implement the environment laws of India and the Supreme Court order, dated February 22, 2017, in the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors).

Our letter dated March 18, 2019 sought “action in view of dangerously very high COD (Chemical Oxygen Demand) levels observed in ground water in village Luna, Padra Taluka, Vadodara District.”

The GPCB reply dated April 29, 2019 states:

“…Board is regularly monitoring Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited (VECL) channel (formerly known as ECP channel) and various industrial units. And whenever any industry found violating the norms or found violating the environmental laws then Board is taking stringent action against industrial units such as even by issuing closure to industrial units and prohibiting them for production activity.

“As far as VECL channel is concerned, as you are aware that recently Board has taken stringent action against M/s Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited (VECL) by issuing closure under section 33A of Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 vide office letter dtd.13/12/2018 and later -on the three-month trial run issued with a condition to comply the time bound action plan.

“As far as compensation is concerned a district Level Committee is formed with reference to directions given by Hon’ble High Court of Gujarat in the judgement dated I 7 / 9 / 2009 in SCA No. 9699 /2008 for accessing the extent of pollution and harm caused to the environment. And in this regard, our Regional officer is perusing the matter with the District collector pertain to Dudhawada area of Padra taluka.

“But somehow, the matter is not materializing. So recently, it brought to the notice of higher Authority and based on that a letter has been written to District Collector, Vadodara on 08/04/2019 Head office to push up the matter.

“As far as leakages in newly laid pipeline in VECL channel is concerned, our Regional Officials has visited the entire channel on 27/3/2019 and found that no wastewater being flowing through leakages was observed, only at some places soil found wet but no discharge of wastewater from joints of newly laid pipeline was observed.

“Moreover, we would like to inform you that based on various representations and complaints Board is serious about the issues of groundwater contaminations and taking actions against the concerns…

“For and on behalf of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board, DP Shah, Environmental Engineer.”

The reply letter is de-facto almost utterly silent on all the major issues raised in our letter dated 18.03.2019. Instead, it clearly tries to give clean chit to the VECL by stating:

“As far as leakages in newly laid pipeline in VECL channel is concerned, our Regional Officials has visited the entire channel on March 27, 2019 and found that no wastewater being flowing through leakages was observed, only at some places soil found wet but no discharge of wastewater from joints of newly laid pipeline was observed.”

Is this roadblock an administrative decision, or is it an engineering, technological decision? As such, VECL officials have already admitted before GPCB as well as the farmers and villagers that joints have not been properly fitted, as a result of which, pipes are leaking. Any delay in stopping these chemical effluent leaks along the rich agricultural lands, can have long lasting consequences.

It is highly unlikely, but if it is GPCB Engineers who have come to the conclusions mentioned in the letter dated April 29, 2019, we say that this badly laid pipe-work has multiple leaking joints from day one. Unfortunately, these are quickly covered up with sandy loam soil, without any stopping of the leaks or any testing for long-term safe transmission of the effluent. It needs sound, far-reaching, and ensured engineering solutions urgently and immediately.

We request the GPCB to provide us and all the authorities, with all the visit reports about the leakages and immediate compliance of the Supreme Court Order dated February 22, 2017.

Dig and see below the pipeline at the joints, if there is leakage. Any quantity of leak is a leak. Pipes should not leak. We urge that this be done in our presence and can let you know where and how to dig.

By such perfunctory and non-serious reply GPCB is declaring that GPCB will again keep quiet on the issues raised in our letter dated March 18, 2019 and again GPCB will give further extension to the closure notice dated December 13, 2018 given to the ‘Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited’, despite the fact that VECL is unable to meet the prescribe norms and leakage in the newly laid pipeline. The extension to the closer notice issued to VECL’s deadline get over on May 10, 2019 and GPCB is creating the ground by writing such casual reply to give further extension to a closer notice.

We would like to put on record that even after closer notice dated December 13, 2018 the effluent discharge at ‘J Point’ transparently is not able to meet the prescribed GPCB norms. Shockingly, even the average COD of last one month is above 750-1000 mg/l and newly laid pipeline is still leaking.

The letter, dated April 29, 2019, of GPCB is nothing but accepted, known, admitted, and consistent violation of the Order, dated February 22, 2017, of the Supreme Court in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors) and National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, Delhi, Order, dated August 3, 2018 and February 19, 2019, in Original Application No. 593 of 2017, (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors) amounting to the blatant Contempt of the Supreme Court Order.

We are attaching again our letter dated March 18, 2019, and copy of the reply letter of GPCB dated April 29, 2019 for ready reference.

Keeping in mind the above alarming facts and undisputed realities by CPCB, GPCB, Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited, and the industries located in this area, we can surely declare this grave situation as a “Chemical Emergency”. In order to reduce further harm to the people and the environment, the following immediate steps must be taken by the concerned authorities:

  1. File a criminal case against all the industries around ECP demanding exemplary action against their main personnel for contamination of groundwater till they prove that they are not responsible for contamination of groundwater and the case should be heard in the Special Court on a  day to day basis.
  2. File a criminal case against the Chief Secretary, the Additional Chief Secretary of Forest and Environment Department of Gujarat State, the Chairman of GPCB, the Collector(s) of Vadodara District who are and were holding the post from 2000-2019, for their failure in performing their duties astutely and timely manner, in spite of repeated complaints, in preventing the contamination of groundwater at irreversible level.
  3. Take exemplary action against all the industries that have not provided the stipulated and required buffer zone around their industries.
  4. Take exemplary action, including cancellation of “Consent to Operate’ (CTO) and ‘Environment Clearance’ (EC), against all the defaulting polluting industries located in Nandesari Industrial Estate, Vadodara Industrial Complex, and ‘ECP industrial Cluster’.
  5. Cancel the ‘Consolidated Consent and Authorization’ (CC&A) of ‘Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited’.
  6. Implement the direction of closure notice dated December 13, 2018 given to the ‘Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited’ immediately instead of giving them the extension for the implementation of the closer order.
  7. Initiate criminal case against the all concerned and responsible officers of ‘Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited’ and defaulting industries.
  8. Monitor, using latest flow meters and other required and reliable instruments, the use and misuse of groundwater by the industries from their premises and check the tankers, which are coming from a faraway distances.
  9. Allow the use of present remaining sources of clean water, outside the industries, by the farmers and villagers (and animals, domesticated or otherwise) of the affected areas for drinking and agricultural purposes only and not for any commercial or industrial use.
  10. Ensure Ad-hoc Exemplary Monetary Compensation along with medical services to the farmers and villagers who have suffered from the groundwater pollution. This should collectively be decided by CPCB, GPCB, affected farmers, and the representatives of the Voluntary Organisation working in this area on the basis of monthly instalments per contaminated well until decontamination of well is done by way of short-term and long-term latest remedial measures, including but not limited to technically and scientifically sound holistic nature restoration of polluted and damaged land and water areas based on the “Polluter Pays Principle”.
  11. Immediately pay lump sum Ad-hoc Compensation of Rs. 2 Lakhs per well/bore well whose waters are contaminated over the last 3 years, Rs. 5 Lakhs per well/borewell whose waters are contaminated over the last 3 – 5 years, and Rs. 10 Lakhs per well/borewell whose waters are contaminated for over more than 5 years. Pay lump sum ad-hoc compensation of Rs. 15,000 per month per well/borewell until decontamination of the groundwater is achieved and real actual compensation is paid to them.
  12. Immediately pay per day per animal, the value of milk yield, to the farmers engaged in animal husbandry and are having affected buffalos, cows, and other animals that are drinking contaminated groundwater and/or their fodder is grown using contaminated groundwater.
  13. Immediately pay Ad-hoc Compensation per season per acre to the farmers who are forced to use contaminated groundwater for irrigation of agricultural land and, hence, are facing several severe problems.
  14. Appoint a competent expert committee, including key people from the local villages and the Voluntary Organisations, to assess the ongoing and past damages to quantify the real compensation payable to the farmers for the damage done.
  15. Appoint a team of experts to determine and monitor the groundwater levels and quality of water on a periodic basis.
  16. Devise short-term and long-term plans for remedial measures to decontaminate and remediate / restore the groundwater levels and quality based on the “Polluter Pays Principle”.
  17. Declare a ‘Chemical Emergency’ in the ‘ECP Industrial Cluster’ and include ECP area as a Critically Polluted Area.
  18. Impose an immediate moratorium on expansion of the existing industries and for any new industries in this area.
  19. Devise an option of shifting of known polluting industries from this area in the interest of life, livelihood, and environment of the area. These efforts must ensure regenerative design principles, follows all environment related laws in letter and spirit, and not just shift the same type of conventional industrial activities to other areas.
  20. Implement the Order, dated February 22, 2017, of the Supreme Court in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors) and National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, Delhi Order, dated August 3, 2018 and February 19, 2019, in Original Application No. 593 of 2017, (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors) in letter and spirit.
  21. Appoint a high level committee of the MoEF&CC, CPCB, GPCB, local state authority, representatives of affected villagers and the representatives of the voluntary organisations working in this area on environment and independent expertise to help design, monitor, and evaluate all these works carried out in the area, on a regular basis.

We expect your prompt and positive response in the interest of life, livelihoods, and environment in the affected areas.

If you do not act now, your inaction shall be considered as Contempt of the Court of the Hon’ble Supreme Court order, dated February 22, 2017, in our PIL – Writ Petition (Civil) 375 of 2012 and may / will result in suitable further action on our part. This is our last such letter to you.

Click HERE for the list of officials


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