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Central Gujarat effluent channel 'releasing' highly polluted industrial wastewater: PM told

Environmentalists spot flow of polluted wastewater from the effluent channel
Counterview Desk
Senior environmentalists of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS), Vadodara, Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant, in an open letter to the Prime Minister, the Gujarat chief minister, the Gujarat chief secretary, and senior Government of India and Gujarat government officials dealing with environment, pollution and climate change have said that the authorities’ response their pleas to take action against the leakages and flow of polluted wastewater from the effluent channels of Central Gujarat industrial areas has met with complete inertia.
Claiming that there has been “casual response” on the part of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) to their pleas, the environmentalists said, their onsite visit to several spots in some of the villages suggests leakages continue despite claims to the contrary by Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited (VECL), an industry-supported body in the “business” of conveyance of “treated” wastewater from industrial units in and around Vadodara district through the 55 km long channel into the Bay of Khambhat.

Excerpts from the letter:

The officers of Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited (VECL) and concerned industries and government officials knowingly failed to investigate and act on the leakage of the Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited (VECL) effluent carrying pipeline. However, our team’s on-site investigations 31 July 2019 onwards was able to reveal and expose that VECL’s pipeline at many points was and is still leaking.  Monsoon rains on July 31,.2019 onwards moved the soil above the pipeline inside Effluent Channel Project (ECP) and exposed the reasons for the leakage. 
Monsoon rains on August 2 and 3, 2019 were also able to reveal and expose that leakage of pipeline in the last stretch of ECP. The VECL carelessness has led to filling up of two ponds of Nodhana Village with industrial effluent. Industrial effluent also entered into agriculture land of Uber, Valipur, Nodhana, Samoj, and Sarod villages.
During our visit on August 13, 2019 in the area, we observed that the industrial effluent in both the pond of Nodhana Village has caused irreversible damage in the agriculture lands of Uber, Valipur, Nodhana, Samoj, and Sarod villages. This damage is still visible. The visit report of the Bharuch Office of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) dated August 5, 2019 after our complaints on phone confirms the chemical emergency type of situation in the stated areas. A copy of the report dated August 5, 2019 of GPCB, Bharuch Office is with the GPCB, Gandhinagar office.
A team of Farmers’ Action Group (FAG) and Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) with the affected farmers and villagers also took sample at J Point and Nodhana Pond on August 13, 2019 and submitted samples to GPCB, Vadodara Office for investigation. It is shocking that the Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) we found 1078 mg/l on August 13, 2019, which is well beyond the permissible limit 250 mg/l. The average COD at J Point of last six months is ranging 800-1000 mg/l, and those of the past, since beginning, consistently are admittedly not able to meet the prescribed norms.
Now, there is no dispute among concerned authorities, industries, and VECL that at the J Point of the Effluent Channel of VECL the effluent is consistently not able to meet the prescribed GPCB norms.
Inaction of all concerned authorities clearly conveys to us that they are de-facto declaring that they have been, are, and will be unable to implement the environmental laws of India and the Supreme Court Order, dated February 22, 2017, in Writ Petition (Civil) No 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors).
There have been several such letters written by PSS and FAG and repeated investigations conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), GPCB, and various agencies appointed by the concerned authorities. These efforts and track records clearly demonstrate that the groundwater of the villages, ponds, and agricultural areas along and around ECP are critically contaminated and needs immediate intervention by the concerned authorities to stop further pollution of any kind.
They must also demarcate and analyze the pollution-affected areas scientifically and then implement well-devised short-term and long-term plans to completely remediate the surface water and land as well as the groundwater of the affected area.
Further, a number of meetings were organised in the presence of the Member Secretary of the GPCB, the representatives of the industries of the ECP area, and representatives of affected villages and voluntary organisations working in this area on environmental concerns. In these meetings, there was no dispute about contamination of groundwater and spreading of contamination in the area.
There is acknowledgement and agreement that the ECP channel and a number of industries along the ECP channel are responsible for this dangerous level of contamination of the surface water and land as well as the groundwater. 

Since the year 2000, we have been communicating about the issue and about the non-compliance of ECP of VECL, with the concerned authorities. There has been no response from the authorities in terms of definitive actions on ground. Our continuous appeals have been responded with undeniable display of their nonchalance and lack of commitment to the environment and law of the land. 
It is utterly shocking to put on record that the entire stretches of the pipeline, laid inside the existing old brick-and-mortar Effluent Channel, was installed whilst effluent was continuously flowing in Effluent Channel of VECL. It is noticed during our visit with the GPCB and VECL officials that the newly installed pipeline along Luna-Ekalbara is leaking. 
The Regional Officer, the Vigilance Officers of GPCB, and the officers of VECL in the presence of the affected people inspected two pipeline stretches, one installed at Luna-Ekalbara, and another one-year-old pipeline installed along part of Karakhdi-Hathiapura.
Neither the GPCB nor the industrialists have denied that the groundwater is severely contaminated, that the contamination is spreading in different areas, and it has reached irreversible / irreparable levels because of incessant industrial activities.
There are number of farmers who had been practicing organic farming but because of the groundwater pollution, they are no longer organic. Affected farmers with small landholding and villagers often have no choice but to use this contaminated water for farming and their livelihood including in their own households and for their cows and buffaloes. 
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 areas vis-à-vis the ECP.
Polluters need to pay. Industries need to be categorized as polluters. There are too many loopholes for polluters to get away from responsibility to pay. Polluters need to pay if it is externalized from their respective compounds. There has to be a system to assess and pay the affected in time.
As far as industrial clusters around ECP are concerned, they are located in the vegetable basket of Gujarat, on fertile land, which is prima facie contradictory and illegal. Majority of the industries located in this cluster do not even have the required buffer zone as per the stipulated condition in the Environment clearance.
The main purpose of the buffer zone is to avert the effect of negative impact of pollution on the surrounding rural residential and agricultural areas. No action has been taken against these defaulting industries even after repeated letters about the violations.
Keeping in mind the above alarming facts and undisputed realities by CPCB, GPCB, VECL, and the industries located in this area, we can surely declare this grave situation as a major “Chemical Emergency”.
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Click HERE for the full letter

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