And quiet flows the poison

  • 29/04/1996

And quiet flows the poison Plot no 6104, Phase IV industrial estate of the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC), Vapi, could be any other industrial unit among hundreds others in this township. There is no signboard proclaiming the name of the company. The unit, Golden Colourchern Ltd, is owned by 0 P Agarwal, and H-acid is produced here.

The administrative building and the office are on the left, as one enters, and the factory sheds are to the rear. of this building, the right-hand corner of the unit compound. The effluent treatment plant (ETP) lies dead ahead of the entry gate. Right there, the sludge stands piled up ... just as it once had in Bichhri.

The S S Wagh Committee, appointed by the Gujarat High Court in March 1995 to prepare a report on a special civil application on industrial units at the GIDC industrial estate, Vapi, listed Golden Colourchem among the defaulter units, failing under the category of industries which had (a) not applied for consent, or whose consent had been rejected, under the Air Act (notice no 347), and (b) not applied for authorisation or whose authorisation had been rejected, under Hazardous Waste Rules, 1989 (notice no 421).

S Shah, the manager of the plant, agrees to speak to this ,researcher on industrial court cases' (the press is out of bounds), and once the pleasantries are over, muses sadly, "We lost the Rajasthan case unnecessarily. If we had handled it better, the case would not have gone against us.' Interestingly, the manager of the unit producing chemicals of such high toxicity levels admits he is not an engineer!

But he is candid. "While we do have an effluent treatment plant, often, the effluents are let out in the drains. So many industries do the same thing right here in Vapi. Even experts acknowledge that there is no known 100 per cent cure for either the sludge or effluents of H-acid production," he states, pointing to a government document which also said so. But he refuses to part with the document. H-acid production had been banned in the West precisely for this reason, he explains.

"How can any industry, with an investment of Rs three crore, put up an additional Rs one crore merely for a treatment plant? How many can afford this? if we (the industry) are compelled to install treatment plants, most industrial units in the country would fold up, as heavy investments would make functioning unviable," he added.

He admits that often, the ETP is run only while the inspections are on, and says that everyone does so. Besides, he questions the whole system of inspections itself. "What prevents companies from diluting samples when the pollution control board PCB personnel come to collect them? And if an industry operates the ETP essentially at the time of inspection, what are the guarantees that the PCB can trace violations? Often, the discharge is let out in the drains, without treatment. Everyone is doing the same thing," he says.

According to Shah, the sludge is sent out of the plant to landfills. If pinpointing the source of the sludge was an easy task in Bichhri, it would be extremely difficult in places like Vapi, where there are thousands of units, each left to their own devices when it came to disposal. Fresh effluent, poisonous and evil looking, oozes out of a sort of drain at the back of the unit. From the other sides of the wall, dark liquid filters through the wall, and trickles into the open drain behind the plant.

The PCB office is a mere stone's throw away from the plant, Information is not forthcoming from the officials. One official, Ashwin Shah, says that Golden Colourchern is running the plant to test the treatment equipment they had installed under court orders, He, however, expresses inability to part with information regarding the unit, stating that he was new to Vapi, and that all relevant data, such as amounts of H-acid already produced by Golden Colourchern and details of discharge and treatment, could be collected from Gandhinagar.

But the PCBs callousness is brazen. "There are many other units which would be equally polluting, and if the logic is that H-acid producing units should be closed, so should be those producing dyes, pharmaceuticals and a host of other chemicals," Ashwin Shah adds.

The Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court, B N Kirpal, in an order on August 5, 1995 pertaining to a public interest litigation, (Pravinbhai Jasbhai Patel and Ors Vs State of Gujarat and Ors), had remarked, "They (industries) seem to have some protection or assurance that no effective action will be taken against them." That could well be true of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) under its present dispensation. The officers refused to part with information that is in public interest, collected by a public-funded agency. Their argument was that only the member-secretary can authorise this. But one full day's waiting at Baroda did not help. G D Rathod, the member-secretary, had no time for the press. Down To Earth (DTE) faxed a detailed questionnaire to Rathod, asking for specific information and requesting a clear stand on the issue of H-acid. When no reply arrived after days of waiting, DTE contacted Rathod over the telephone and after much persuasion, he agreed to fax back a reply. At the time of going to press, DTE is still waiting for the reply to questions which go nowhere near offending the Official Secrets Act, NGOs based in the state have always held the GPCB as being in collusion with the industry. Such a resounding silence on GPCB's part can only confirm that suspicion.

Similar, although more understandable, is the case with 0 P Agarwal. He did not give time to this correspondent in Bombay, and repeated faxed messages have remained unanswered. The toxic, carcinogenic effluents keep flowing. Under the kind eyes of the GPCB.

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