Field science

Field science Pali farmers teach state pollution body a few things technical

Mahaveer Singh Sukarlai has no formal training in science. But he was able to test and tell a gathering of over 300 people that water from a dugwell in Phenkaria village contained arsenic and zinc in concentrations unfit for human consumption. Phekaria is located on the bank of river Bandi, about 50 kilometres downstream from the town of Pali in Rajasthan. For nearly three decades the town struggled to rein in the pollution from its textile industry. Farmers in the area knew that textile industries contaminated their water bodies, their only seasonal river Bandi and destroyed their land. But they found it hard to prove it empirically. Not anymore.
At a recently held jan sabha (public meeting) Sukarlai took water from a well in Phenkaria and transferred 60 ml into a test tube. He added a couple of reagents and swirled it. After 20 minutes he declared that the sample contained arsenic in levels much higher than the drinking water standard and hence, unfit for human consumption. He analyzed more samples from two common effluent treatment plants (cetps) in the town. In both the samples, levels of zinc and arsenic exceeded the standards set by the State Pollution Control Board (spcb). This shocked the gathering which included farmers, elected representatives, civil society groups from several states, district administration, spcb officials and industry representatives, including cetp operators. Treated water samples failing the tests shattered the myth of cetps being the panacea for pollution control.
Pali was the first industrial town in the country to install a cetp. Today the town had three. But pollution levels only increased. Change in textile processing technology meant constant changes in the treatment techniques. But the plants failed to cope with the increasing volumes and the changing character of effluents. Sukarlai and other farmers, under the banner of Sri Kisan Paryavaran Sangharsh Samiti (skpss), have been fighting against industrial pollution.
In April this year, the Rajasthan High Court took note of Pali

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