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Cheap Made in India T-shirts sold in US, Europe "contributing" to water pollution crisis in India, warns "Newsweek"

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In a scathing critique, top US journal “Newsweek” has warned American and European consumers that if they were wearing T-shirts with the 'Made in India' tag – bought from Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Wal-Mart or other malls – they should know they might have “contributed” heavily in a “water pollution crisis that has destroyed almost 30,000 family-owned farms” in India.
Competing with their counterparts in Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, China and Bangladesh to sell T-shirts that cost as low as $5, Indian T-shirts are made mainly from the Netaji Apparel Park, situated in Tamil Nadu’s Tirupur, known as India’s ‘Knit City’, whose “rivers are often red or purple with runoff from nearby factories”, it said.

What is happening in Tirupur, says the journal, is just a replication of the “near critically polluted waters like Bangladesh’s River Buriganga and Cambodia’s Mekong River”, where “life-sustaining farms are dying, potable water has become toxic and locals are now at great risk for serious illness, all as a result of industrial-scale clothing manufacturing.”
Authored by Adam Matthews, the “Newsweek” cover story (August 21) says that “at the core of this environmental and health disaster is the poor state of regulatory institutions throughout much of South and East Asia”, where environmental preservation is “often trumped by the need to provide a business environment that can compete with more corrupt countries.”
Titled “The Environmental Crisis in Your Closet”, the article points to how “American taxpayers have played a key role in turning Tirupur into a manufacturing powerhouse.” It all began in 2002, when the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) loaned $25 million to the government of Tamil Nadu and a local clothing industry group, the Tirupur Exporters Association, to finance a new water-delivery system.”
“Newsweek” quotes a 2006 press note issued by the US consulate in Chennai as praising the USAID saying how before the American intervention, the local industry “was running out of water, a critical input for dyeing and bleaching.”
While the “USAID project, which piped in clean water from a stretch of the Noyyal in a nearby farming region, helped the local industry boom” and between 2002 and 2012”, as a result of which “US knitwear imports from India jumped from $571 million to $1.25 billion”, “All that growth has had devastating consequences for the environment and people living in the area.”
Thus, while the textile sector has boomed, those who grew “rice, banana, coconut and turmeric” have suffered loss of livelihood. “There is no cultivation of the land, no income”, the writer quotes a farmer as complaining. “The small-scale agriculture lifestyle that characterized the region for centuries has fully collapsed.”
There are now “abandoned brick homes painted light blue and topped with red tile roofs dominated the main square”, he says, adding now, “over 60 villages have been transformed into ghost towns.”
While a nearby dam was “supposed to update agricultural irrigation practices in Tirupur”, the situation by mid-2000s reached such a point that “the water was so saturated with chemicals, salts and heavy metals that local farmers were petitioning the Madras High Court—the highest court in Tamil Nadu—to not release the water into their fields”, the article says.
There has been adverse effect on health on locals because of the “toxins downstream”, it says, adding, a health camp by local doctors “found that about 30 percent of villagers suffered from symptoms—including joint pain, gastritis, problems breathing and ulcers—connected to waterborne diseases.”
“A 2007 study by a local nongovernmental organization found that Tirupur’s 729 dyeing units were flushing 23 million gallons per day of mostly untreated wastewater into the Noyyal River, the majority of which collected in the Orathupalayam Dam reservoir. When officials finally flushed the dam in the mid-2000s, 400 tons of dead fish were found at the bottom”, the article adds.

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