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Chemical units 'destroying' crop, trees on Bharuch's 70,000 ha, affecting 50,000 farmers

By Anand Yagnik* 

The Dahej Petroleum, Chemicals and Petrochemicals Investment Region and the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporations (GIDCs) of Dahej and Vilayat in Bharuch district have highly hazardous mega chemical producing companies. The industries mostly produce pesticides, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, chemicals, metals, power plants and dyes, dye intermediates etc. in huge amount.
Due to the non-compliance of various environmental safeguards, violation of the Air Act and non-measurement of the toxic chemicals present in the air, otherwise banned and prohibited for production everywhere, has caused immense damage to the local environment.
The cumulative impact and effect of these industries, chemical release and/ or release of some chemicals such as Phenoxy compounds has caused loss of agricultural crops in the entire Bharuch region. Mostly cotton and pigeon pea crop in 70,000 hectares (ha) has been affected, and the farmers are forced to destroy the deformed crops from their agricultural fields suffering heavy losses.
The affected area of plantation of cotton is around 70,000 hectares and approximately 50,000 farmers have lost almost all the crops in Bharuch and Vadodara regions. The report of the District Agricultural Officer with diagnosis team of the agricultural universities establishes the same thing. The report clearly says the release of Phenoxy compounds like 2,4 D and 2,4 D-B present in the air are responsible for the present problem.
There is no mechanism available with the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) to measure such chemicals and pollutants in the air, so the diagnosis team member of GPCB has refused to sign the report. The issue remains unattended by GPCB even though it has been reported time to time by agricultural scientists and officers.
Thus, environmental violations are going on unabated despite of state authorities being fully acquainted with it in complete violation of the fundamental rights of the farmers/ residents of the region and in abject violation of the concerned environmental laws.
A representation has been made to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 9, 2021 by Jayesh Patel of the Gujarat Khedut Samaj on “violation of the Air Act and chemical pollution affecting agricultural crops like cotton and pulses and trees due to chemical industries in Bharuch district of Gujarat in 70,000 hectares.”

Excerpts:

The Khedut Samaj Gujarat is a registered organization working for the upliftment of farmers and issues related to agriculture in Gujarat state since 1972. The Dahej Petroleum, Chemicals and Petrochemicals Investment Region and the GIDCs of Dahej and Vilayat in Bharuch district are having highly hazardous mega chemical producing companies. The industries are mostly producing pesticides, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, chemicals, metals, power plants and dyes, dye intermediates etc., in huge amount. .
The non-compliance of various environmental safeguards, violation of the Air Act and non-measurement of the toxic chemicals present in the air which are banned and prohibited for the production in world have harmed the local environment severely. The cumulative impact and effect of these industries, their release of chemicals like Phenoxy compounds has caused loss of agricultural crops in the entire Bharuch region.
Mostly cotton and pigeon pea crops in 70,000 hectares has been affected and farmers are forced to destroy the deformed crops from their agricultural fields, suffering heavy losses. Several trees have been affected and dried up due to the presence of chemicals in the air, and the weeds have also shown a deformation pattern. Thus, due to the harmful chemical releases the entire environment and ecology is disturbed in the Bharuch region with heavy losses.
Problem: The cotton plant leaves show deformation and plants stop growing after getting deformation of on the top. It is seen that after 50-60 days, plants develop deformation of leaves and their growth stops. Deformation starts from the top half of the plant, leaves start folding, are turn into bowl-like shape. The plants fail to grow. Farmers have to remove these plants from their roots. The leaves also get enlarged in some plants.
This problem started and spread from the Dahej region. The pigeon pea plants are also suffering and no growth is seen in the Bharuch district and some parts of the Vadodara district. The affected area of plantation of cotton is around 70,000 hectares and approximately 50,000 farmers have lost almost all the crops in big areas in Bharuch and Vadodra region. Vagra, Amod, Bharuch, Jambusar and Karjan talukas are worst affected.
The report of the District Agricultural Officer clearly says the release of Phenoxy compounds like 2,4 D and 2,4 D-B present in the air are responsible for the present problem. Experts from agricultural universities have also noticed the problem. There is no mechanism available with GPCB to measure such chemicals and pollutants in the air, so the diagnosis team member GPCB has refused to sign the report.
The issue is unattended by GPCB even though it is reported from time to time by by agricultural scientists and officers. A letter dated August 4, 2021 to stop chemical pollution and save agricultural crops in the Dahej region has been written by the local MLA to the chief minister of Gujarat.
In this situation when the dicot crops have been rapidly affected and destroyed, the farmers are losing patience. The government should seriously take prompt action to stop this air pollution and should guide the farmers on saving their crops by suggesting remedial measures.
The government has not taken any action after the submission of the very serious diagnostic team report. The farmers are losing their crops and input cost and are suffering a lot. The number of affected farmers is between 40-50,000 who have lost their crops. In this situation, when the main agricultural crops are affected and destroyed, trees have been partially affected in 1,000 sq km impact zone, the problem of chemical pollution needs to systematically and promptly addressed.
Looking to the threat on public health and ecosystem, the following efforts should be immediately ordered by the Government of India and the Gujarat government in public interest:
  1. Immediately measurement of 2,4 D and 2,4 D-B should be taken by the Ministry of Agriculture through the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Indian Council of Scientific Research (ICSR) laboratories using passive methods.
  2. Source of harmful chemicals should be found and stopped from further spreading in the region. Remedial measures should be taken to remove or to reduce the effect of harmful chemicals from the affected region. A team of agricultural and chemical scientists should be sent immediately to visit and study the area by the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India.
  3. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) should send a team with necessary equipment for the measurement of all the organic and other harmful chemicals/ gases present in the air of Dahej/ Bharuch region. The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, should be called immediately to monitor the presence of harmful organic compounds/ gases in the air and the presence of 2,4D and 2,4.D-B.
  4. Effects of the 2,4 D and 2,4 D-B is clearly observed since 2012 on crops by the agricultural officers/ scientists in the Dahej region. Hence, effects on humans, environment and the ecosystem should also be studied.
  5. Closure notices should be immediately served to all units manufacturing or using 2,4 D and 2,4 D-B like Phenoxy substances in the Bharuch district.
  6. Health impact assessment of the citizen of the Bharuch district should be assessed with specialized sensitive equipment for the presence of organic chemicals in blood, including 2,4D and 2,4 D-8. US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) protocols should be adopted and followed for the study.
  7. Necessary damage assessment on trees of the affected region should be carried out by the local forest department with a detailed survey of the region, including the trees in private agricultural fields and in government land.
  8. Crop damage assessment in Vagra, Amod, Bharuch, Jambusar and Karjan talukas should be started immediately by the district collector and interim compensation should be given to compensate the losses of farmers. We demand that Rs 1 lakh per hectare as interim relief should be given to the farmers who have lost their crops.
Action with necessary government orders within five days is highly anticipated. If no action is taken we reserve our right to proceed with further legal action as per the law in an appropriate forum of law and justice. Thanking you and hoping for your prompt action to stop pollution and provide the relief to the farmers.
---
*Senior advocate, Gujarat High Court

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