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Severe pollution in Vapi, Ankaleshwar, Vatva: No time to consult affected people?

By Rohit Prajapati*
It is unfortunate that the Environment Department of the Government of Gujarat and the Government of India, which had taken a decision long back to put moratorium on Vapi, Ankaleshwar and Vatva are now taking steps to announce lifting of the moratorium from all three. Both at the state and national level, government authorities are busy to cite the manipulated figures of the CEPI (Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index) so that if not on ground at least on paper they can show that there is substantial improvement in CEPI and thus justify their decision to lift the Moratorium from Vapi, Ankleshwar and Vatva.
This move is being discussed since the year 2010 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister (CM). The Government officials continue to hold number of meetings with the industrial associations of the area to be able to lift the moratorium from Vapi, Ankleshwar and Vatva. But in spite of the severe pollution in the area the Government has no time to discuss with the affected people and the groups working in the area on environment protection.
The consistent follow up by the pollution-affected people, people’s organisations and NGOs regarding the increasing pollution levels in the industrial areas of India forced the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the State Pollution Control Boards in 1989 to initiate the process of indexing the critically polluted areas. At that time 24 industrial areas, including Vapi, Ankleshwar, Ludhiana, were declared ‘critically polluted’.
In 2009 the CPCB and IIT-Delhi, in consistence with the demands of the people’s organisation’s working on environmental issues decided to use a new method of ‘indexing the pollution levels’ of these areas, which is now known as the ‘Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index’ (CEPI). The CEPI includes air, water, land pollution and health risks to the people living in the area. However, our demand has been to include the health of the workers, productivity of land and quality of food/ agriculture produce in the index since the presence of high levels of chemicals and heavy metals in food produce has severe health implications. This is affecting not only people living around the industrial area but anyone consuming it – hence not restricting the impact to the particular industrial area.
In December 2009 the CEPI of 88 polluted industrial clusters was measured; it was then that the CPCB and the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) of Government of India were forced to declare 43 of those as ‘critically polluted clusters’ and another 32 industrial areas as ‘severely polluted clusters’. Following this study the MoEF on 13 January 2010 was forced to issue a moratorium (prohibition on opening new industries and/or increasing the production capacity of the existing industries) on the 43 critically polluted areas. Similar reports were prepared by CPCB in 2011 and 2013 but these reports are completely ignored by past government and also by Modi Government.
Even today there is some improvement but not up to the mark so that Government can take the decision to lift the Moratorium. Instead if we read the Control Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Zonal Office (West), Vadodara, Gujarat of July 2016 report the ‘ECP Industrial Cluster of Vadodara’ has also become critically polluted cluster. It is a herculean task to undo the damage done to groundwater by industrial Vapi, Ankleshwar, Vatva and industrial cluster of Vadodara and Bharuch Districts of Gujarat.
The Government of Gujarat deliberately ignored to comment or engage ever on these issues with the affected people and voluntary organisations working on environment.
The Modi Government launched the “Swachh Bharat Mission” on 2 October 2014 and in his message on his website, he stated, “A clean India is the best tribute we can pay to Bapu when we celebrate his 150th birth anniversary in 2019. […] Today, I appeal to everyone, particularly political and religious leadership, mayors, sarpanchs and captains of industry to plan and wholeheartedly engage in the task of cleaning your homes, work places, villages, cities and surroundings.”
We want to remind Modi Government that earlier as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Mr. Narendra Modi had also launched similar campaign ‘Nirmal Gujarat – 2007’ and made tall claims during that campaign. But reality is best seen in Ahmedabad at illegal solid waste dumping site, the ‘Gyaspur-Pirana Dumping Site’ – a Waste Mountain near Sabarmati River adjacent to the main road.
The Modi Government is silent about the cleanup of these industrial clusters of India. Does the government actually have any plan to clean up this critically and severely polluted industrial clusters of India?

*Environment Activist, Gujarat

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