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Demand to take legal action against Vadodara industries discharging untreated waste

Rohit Prajapati, other environmentalists spot discharge of untreated waste water
Counterview Desk
Gujarat's senior environmentalists, Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara, in a letter addressed to the Union environment and forests secretary, with copies to senior office bearers of the Central Pollution Control Board and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board, the Gujarat chief secretary, and other Government of India and Gujarat government officials, have demanded that a chemical emergency should be declared in the industrial cluster of Vadodara district.
Simultaneously seeking cancellation of the Consolidated Consent and Authorization (CC&A) of the Vadodara Envior Channel Limited, the letter says, environment clearance (EC) of all the defaulting polluting industries should also be cancelled, criminal case should be initiated against VECL and defaulting polluting industries as per 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).

Text of the letter:

The governments and state are expected to take all possible actions to implement the environment laws of the land. Similarly, it is expected that the governments and state also are expected to implement, in letter and spirit the Supreme Court Order, dated February 22, 2017, of Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 and National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, Order dated August 3,2018, in Original Application No 593 of 2017.
We are writing letters since 2000 about the Effluent Channel Project (ECP) of the Vadodara Envior Channel Limited, which is not able to meet the prescribed norms. This is now a publicly known well-known fact. We had time and again taken up this issue of non-compliance with the concerned authorities but there has been no response in terms of real firm actions on ground, as if silence is their only reply or being non-committal is their commitment to the environment and law of the land.
In such circumstances, we request that the Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the Chief Secretary, Gujarat State, and the Chairman and Member Secretary of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) to enlighten us with law or judicial discretion under which such an illegal effluent discharge from the VECL is still allowed to be released despite it consistently not meeting the prescribed norms of the GPCB.
If we take the example of even last six months, average chemical oxygen demand (COD) is more than 2,500 instead of the accepted level of 250, and those of the past, since beginning, are admittedly not able to meet the prescribed norms.
We are extremely concerned that the Secretary, MoEFCC; the Chief Secretary, Gujarat State; and the Chairman and Member Secretary of the GPCB are openly allowing the VECL to consistently and admittedly to violate the environment laws and now allowing the known and admitted 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, in Original Application No 593 of 2017 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors). This is nothing but contempt of the Supreme Court’s Order.
The Consolidated Consent and Authorization (CC&A), dated January 6, 2015, clearly mentions, “10. VECL have only one outlet for the discharge of its effluent and no effluent shall be discharged without requisite treatment & without meeting with the GPCB norms.” There are many more such terms and conditions mentioned in the CC&A but the concerned authorities have failed to look into the compliance of these crucial terms and condition of CC&A.
Your inaction gives clear indication that you all, as concerned authorities, are not only well aware of these facts, but you also have taken conscious decisions to illegally allow such consistently blatant, admitted, and undisputed violations of environment laws of the land and Supreme Court Order, dated 22.02.2017, in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012.
The Effluent Channel Project (ECP) of Vadodara passes through 24 villages and prime agricultural land, which is known as the Vegetable Basket of Gujarat. The 55.6 km long effluent channel was commissioned in the year of 1983 to carry “treated” industrial effluent from industries near Vadodara to estuary of River Mahi, Gulf of Cambay. It carries the effluent of Nandesari Industrial Estate and industries located in Vadodara Industrial Complex, and later on, from 1995 onwards, a number of polluting industries which started coming up along both the side of the ECP.
Since 2004, the villages around the ECP have experienced groundwater contamination at alarming rates. The pollution began because of the seepage, leaching, leaking, and overflowing of effluent from the ECP and, later, from illegal untreated effluent discharged by number of polluting industries, which were established 1995 onwards along the ECP and illegal discharge by the industries located in Nandesari Industrial Estate and in Vadodara Industrial Complex.
There have been several repeated investigations conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), GPCB, and various agencies appointed by the concerned authorities. These clearly demonstrate that the groundwater of villages around the ECP area is critically contaminated and needs immediate intervention, by the concerned authorities to stop further pollution and to have short-term and long-term plan to decontaminate the groundwater of the area.
The CPCB report titled “Ground Water Pollution In Luna, Dudhawada, Piludara Area Near Vadodara, Gujarat”, July 2016, and “Report On Effluent Conveyance System (M/s ECPL) for Nandesari Industrial Area and Industries Located Near Vadodara, Gujarat”, of February 2010, provide sufficient evidence to take immediate action. The report also recommends immediate, short-term, and long-term remedial measures and also sought the adoption of the “Polluter Pay Principle”, laid down by the Supreme Court.
Further, a number of meetings were organised in the presence of the Member Secretary of the GPCB, representatives of industries of the ECP area, and representatives of affected villages and voluntary organisations working in this area on environment. In these meetings, there was no dispute about contamination of groundwater and spreading of contamination in the area.
There is agreement that ECP and/or number of industries across ECP channel are responsible for this contamination of groundwater. The Farmers’ Action Group (FAG) has continuously pointed out that the bottom of ECP has not been repaired, as its bottom has not ever been emptied fully since it was commissioned because of indiscipline and nonchalance. That is why, now, phase-wise in place of channel, commissioning of pipeline is going on.
It is utterly shocking to put on record that the entire stretches of pipeline, laid inside the existing old brick-and-mortar Effluent Channel, was installed whilst effluent was continuously flowing in Effluent Channel of VECL. It was noticed during our visit with the GPCB and VECL officials that the newly installed pipeline along Luna-Ekalbara is leaking.
Two pipeline stretches, one installed at Luna-Ekalbara, and another one-year-old pipeline installed along part of Karakhdi-Hathiapura, were inspected by the Regional Officer and the Vigilance Officers of GPCB, and officers of VECL in the presence of the affected people. A detailed letter, dated November 9, 2018 and November 15, 2018, with videos and photographs, were sent to you all by the FAG.
This clearly indicates that the groundwater contamination is continuing due to leakage of pipeline at various places.Neither the GPCB nor the industrialist have denied that the groundwater is severely contaminated, the contamination is spreading in different areas, and it has reached irreversible level because of incessant industrial activities.
Between January 27, 2011 and February 24, 2011 detailed investigations were conducted by GPCB and the Collector’s Office of Vadodara regarding the contamination of groundwater in Village Luna of District Vadodara. The investigation report reveals that almost all wells and bore wells were contaminated.
Another study in Luna Village conducted in May 2015 prima facie proved that its ground water is severally contaminated and the contamination is spreading. In April 2015, another investigation was conducted by GPCB in Dudhawada Village of District Vadodara and in villages Piludara and Vedach of District Bharuch, which illustrated the fact that the borewells of even these villages too are severely contaminated. There are many more such villages across the ECP area where groundwater continues to be increasingly and critically polluted.
The following studies were conducted which reveal the fact that the whole ECP area is in a critical condition as far as groundwater and air pollutions are concerned:
  • April 2008 - The Department of Water Resources Development and Management, IIT, Roorkee published a report, “Residual Life Assessment (RLA) Study of Effluent Channel”, regarding the physical condition of the effluent channel carrying industrial effluents from Vadodara to Mahi Estuary. This report clearly exposed the alarming fact that the physical condition of ECP is in very bad shape, which is also responsible for the ground water contamination.
  • February 2010 - CPCB released the “Report on Effluent Conveyance System (M/S ECPL) for Nandesari Industrial Area and Industries Located near Vadodara, Gujarat” highlighting the grim situation due to industrial pollution in the area. 
  • Vide its letter, dated May 5, 2011, the Effluent Channel Project Limited (ECPL) informed GPCB that certain non-member industries of ECPL having a zero discharge status were disposing their untreated wastewater through reverse boring. ECPL (now known as Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited) also maintained that it had been regularly submitting monthly reports relating to violation of inlet norms to GPCB. 
  • September 2011 - the Institute of Seismological Research, Department of Science and Technology, Government of Gujarat, Gandhinagar, came out with a report regarding groundwater pollution in the ECP area exposing the extent of damage done due to industrial pollution in and around Luna Village.
  • “Ground Water Pollution in Luna, Dudhawada, Piludara Area near Vadodara, Gujarat”, July 2016.
Since 2003 there have been numerous letters written and representations made by the impacted farmers, collectively and individually, and also by the FAG regarding the pollution issue and for opposing polluting industries coming in to the ECP area. Yet, except for conducting investigations and closing down factories for a few days, no effective action has been taken yet by the concerned authorities.
The matter has not been at all considered seriously. This has led to a crisis situation wherein people have neither potable drinking water nor good quality water for their animals and for agricultural purposes. No serious steps have been initiated neither to stop the further spread of pollution in the area nor to pinpoint the names of the industries that are responsible for this pollution and irreversible damage done to the area.
There are a number of farmers who had been practicing organic farming (i.e. farming without the use of chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers) but because of groundwater pollution, they are not in the position to claim their agriculture produce as organic. Further, animals used for animal husbandry are forced to drink this contaminated water and eat the fodder, which is grown using contaminated ground water.
The farmers who are affected by groundwater contamination and pollution have not been compensated in terms of money or in kind, in spite of the fact that nobody disputes the fact that the problem of contamination of groundwater and air pollution is because of the polluting industries located around the villages and area vis-à-vis the ECP.
Recent visit by us with GPCB officials clearly indicates that the COD at Vedach is not able to meet the prescribed norms of GPCB and it is an admitted facts that the ECP is not able to meet the norms from its very inception.
Keeping in mind the above alarming facts and reality, which is not under dispute neither by CPCB, GPCB, Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited, nor the industries located in this area, we can surely describe the grave situation as a Chemical Emergency. In order to reduce further harm to the people and environment, the following immediate steps must be taken by the concerned authorities:
  • Cancel the ‘Consolidated Consent and Authorization’ (CC&A) of ‘Vadodara Envior Channel Limited’.
  • Appoint a high-level committee to investigate the leakage in the newly installed pipeline along the pipeline stretches, one installed at Luna-Ekalbara, and another one-year-old pipeline installed along the Dudhawada area. An exemplary punitive action must be taken against all the top officers of ‘Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited’ and its contractor and sub-contractors. 
  • Issue closure notice to the ‘Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited. 
  • Initiate criminal case against the all responsible officers of ‘Vadodara Envior Channel Limited’.
  • Take exemplary action including cancellation of ‘Environment Clearance’ (EC) against all the defaulting polluting industries and their main owner and responsible officers of the industries located in Nandesari Industrial Estate, Vadodara Industrial Complex, and ‘ECP industrial Cluster’.
  • Order in clear terms that no industry along ‘ECP Industrial Cluster’ will be allowed to use any groundwater outside their premises and if any industry is using groundwater outside its premises, it should be immediately fined and prosecuted under the environment laws.
  • Monitor, using latest flow meters, the use-misuse of groundwater by the industries from their premises and check the tankers, which are coming from a far away distance.
  • Allow the use of present remaining sources of clean water outside the industries by the farmers and villagers of the affected areas for drinking and agricultural purpose and no commercial or industrial use should be allowed in the area.
  • Ensure ad-hoc monetary Exemplary Compensation to the farmers and villagers who have suffered from the groundwater pollution. This should be decided by CPCB, GPCB, affected farmers, and the representatives of the Voluntary Organisation working in this area as first installment as well as per month per contaminated well until decontamination of well is done by way of short-term and long-term remedial measures based on the “Polluter Pays Principle”.
  • Ensure payment 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.
  • Ensure ad-hoc payment 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.
  • Ensure lump sum ad-hoc compensation to all the affected farmers per acre for the past damages.
  • Ensure that the amount for compensation is decided in consultation with the affected people and their organisation working on environment related issues in this area. 
  • Appoint a competent committee to assess the ongoing damage and the damage of the past to quantify and pay the real compensation for the damage done to the farmers. 
  • Devise short-term and long-term plans immediately taking remedial measures to decontaminate the groundwater based on the Polluter Pays Principle.
  • Declare a Chemical Emergency in the ECP industrial cluster and include ECP area as a Critically Polluted Area.
  • Impose an immediate moratorium on expansion of existing industries and for new industries in this area.
  • Devise an option of shifting of known polluting industries from this area in the interest of life, livelihood and environment of the area. 
  • 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, in Original Application No. 593 of 2017, (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors) in letter and spirit. 
  • Appoint a high level committee of the MoEFCC, CPCB, GPCB, local state authority, representatives of affected villagers and the representatives of the voluntary organisations working in this area on environment to do day-to-day monitoring and evaluation of all these works carried out in the area. 
We expect your prompt and positive response in the interest of life, livelihoods, and environment of the concerned areas.
If you do not act know, your inaction shall be considered as Contempt of the Court of the Supreme Court order, dated February 22, 2017, in our PIL – Writ Petition (Civil) 375 of 2012.

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