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Rampant pollution in Hyderabad industrial areas

Rampant pollution in Hyderabad industrial areas
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Highlights

On the UN-declared World Environment Day on June 5, observed the world over, it has become a ritual to think of the most contaminated sites, from the point of view of environmental degradation.

On the UN-declared World Environment Day on June 5, observed the world over, it has become a ritual to think of the most contaminated sites, from the point of view of environmental degradation. One such patch on the face of the Earth is located on the outskirts of the Hyderabad city at Patancheru –Bollaram Industrial Estates, where more than 200 pharmaceutical manufacturing units are located, contributing 30% of India's bulk drug exports and likewise earning the much sought after foreign exchange for the State exchequer.

Polluters must pay

  • No end to travails of people in Patancheru –Bollaram Industrial Estates
  • They are suffering untold miseries due to environmental degradation
  • As early as 1991, SC-directed NEERI, Nagpur, assess the damage to the local habitats at Rs 32 crore for 7 years i.e., 1984 to 1991.
  • State govt fixes a paltry sum of Rs 1,000 per acre per year for crop loss and Rs 1,200 per acre per year, for leaving the land fallow
  • Massive pollution of soil, water and area
  • Pharma cos should set up ETPs, but went in for a CETP which can’t treat different pollutants
  • Meanwhile, TS govt wants a pharma city to come up on nearly 30,000 acres near Shamshabad airport

The saga of environmental pollution of soil, water and air at the said industrial estates goes back to the year 1989, when the said units were located outside Hyderabad, principally for three reasons: (a) Availability of fresh water from the Manjeera pipeline supplying drinking water to the city of Hyderabad; (b) Proximity to the city and its airport; and (c) to benefit from the subsidies and incentives, offered by the Central and the State governments to the industrially backward areas of the country.

Without checking rampant pollution first, TS govt plans ‘Pharma City’

The establishment of 90% of the bulk drug manufacturing units in one district is in utter violation of the sitting guidelines for the establishment of hazardous waste generating industries, prepared by EPTRI (Environmental Protection Training Research Institute), Gachibowli, Hyderabad.

As a result of the said faulty location of these units, the soil in the area is contaminated beyond permissible limits by trace and heavy metals and thus unfit for agriculture. The water, too, is unfit for human or even for consumption by domesticated animals. The air is also polluted, thus having an adverse impact on human health in the areas surrounding the said industrial estates.

A public interest litigation filed in the Andhra Pradesh High Court, in the year 1989, resulted in the closure of 10 pharma units, which were subsequently opened, on the assurance that, pollution would be controlled within a reasonable period of time, but no such thing happened and pollution continues unabated till date.

The matters then shifted to the Supreme Court of India, in the year 1991 which directed NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute), Nagpur, to assess the damage to the local habitat. The said national environmental body assessed the damage at Rs 32 crore for 7 years i.e., 1984 to 1991.

This amount was never paid, even on the basis of the well-established legal principle of 'Polluter Pays.' Instead, a paltry sum of Rs 1,000 per acre per year for crop loss and Rs 1,200 per acre per year, for leaving the land fallow, was fixed by the District Collector, Medak.

During this entire period of litigation since 1984, first before the RDO and District Collector U/s 133/CR PC, pertaining to nuisance and subsequently before the Hon'ble High Court by way of a Writ Petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, none of the industries set up individual ETPs (Effluent Treatment Plants).

Instead they came up with a CETP (Common Effluent Treatment Plants) which has been a non-starter from the beginning, since different pharma units consumed different raw materials, followed different manufacturing processes and discharged different effluents, thus rendering the utilities useless. This aspect remains uncertified till date.

Today, there may be restricted dumping of effluents or hazardous waste on road side or on the banks of water bodies, but the CETP which receives liquid effluents by tankers, from all the pharma industries of the area, has itself become a major source of pollution, not abiding by any of the standards prescribed in the Schedule to the Environment Protection Act.

Same is the case with the LandFill (TSDF) facility at Dindigul. No care has been taken to prevent leachtes in the surrounding areas of this 200-acre facility. That apart, hazardous effluents are carried by a 18-km pipeline, passing through some of the most densely populated areas of Hyderabad city, from Patancheru to the Amberpet Sewage Treatment Plant, (STP) while the Hyderabad Water Works & Sewage Act, bars intermixture of hazardous industrial wastes with the municipal wastes.

This matter is also covered by the Basel Convention, to which India is a signatory, and hazardous waste under the HW rules, framed thereunder. Hazardous wastes are to be treated at source and not carried over distances. A recent study conducted by Prof Joachim Larsen of Gottenberg University of Sweden on the CETP at Patancheru has revealed the presence of API (Active Pharma Ingredients) in the effluents, let out by the CETP.

This dangerous scenario makes things worse. As a result of exposure of this area to unabated pollution of soil, water & air, the Annual Report of the Central Pollution Control Board, for the year 2013-2014, placed before Parliament, mentioned the four lakes of this area as the most polluted in the country.

The All-India Ambient Air Quality Report 2011, as well as the Water Quality Report 2011, shows critical levels for this area. In fact, the Central Pollution Control Board evolved a environmental calculus called the CEPI (Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index) applying which, the Patancheru-Bollaram Industrial Estates is declared among the 88 Industrial Clusters, declared as sensitive and critical from the point of view of soil, air and water pollution levels.

This area has a CEPI score of 70 on 100. Thus the degrading effect of large-scale pollution, caused by industrial effluents, which are hazardous and non bio-degradable, as well as poisonous emissions, have brought agricultural and animal husbandry activities in the said area to a standstill. Nearly 6000 acres of land have been rendered useless and unfit for any productive activity.

Twenty three lakes in that area are highly polluted and it is relevant to mention that India as a signatory to the Ramsar Convention has certain obligations to protect water bodies and wetlands. This is a never ending story of the travails of the people of the area, who have suffered untold miseries due to environmental degradation, in the name of development through rapid industrialisation.

One expected things to improve after the formation of Telangana State, but no such thing has happened. In fact, none of the 23 lakes in the Patancheru-Bollaram Industrial area, is covered by the much publicized 'Mission Kakatiya.' Instead, as if to rub salt into existing wounds, the Government of Telangana has announced an ambitious project of having a pharma city on nearly 30,000 acres of land, near the Shamshabad airport, even before solving the problems of an area which is already affected by the large-scale industrial pollution.

The worst effect has been on human health which is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and India as a signatory to the Alma Ata Declaration on basic health has certain obligations to fulfil to protect the health of its citizens. To sum up, if the Government of Telangana does not wake up to the stark reality of large-scale environmental degradation in Patancheru-Bollaram Industrial Estates, it could turn out to be a Bhopal tragedy a in slow motion. (The writer is a senior advocate of Supreme Court)

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