The Gujarat High Courts June 23 deadline to Bharuch Eco Aqua Infrastructure Ltd (BEAIL) to clean up or shut shop was preceded by a damning internal report of the state government in September 2007 that recommended the issue be taken up on a war footing.
According to information gathered through Right to Information (RTI) queries by Ahmedabad-based environmentalist Mahesh Pandya,the report had squarely blamed the biggest names in Gujarat’s chemical sector,especially pharmaceutical companies,for consistently,even if indirectly,polluting the Amlakhadi creek in Bharuch,which flows into the Narmada estuary in the Gulf of Khambat. Even the Gujarat Pollution Control Board was hauled up.
The report accessed by The Indian Express,submitted to the state Industries and Mines Department by then Chief Technical Adviser A K A Rathi,shows in detail how and why the Final Effluent Treatment Plant (FETP) at Ankleshwar was not doing what it was built to.
Government agency itself polluted
In 2007,the Notified Area Authority (NAA) at Ankleshwar,a government body set up to oversee things,was itself pumping untreated waste into Amlakhadi creek.
In February 2007,a temporary bund was constructed near Valia Chowkdi so that effluents from the industries would not flow into the creek. Whatever overflowed from the bund was to be led into a collection well,from where it would be pumped into BEAIL. Instead,the NAA was found pumping the effluents into the Amlakhadi creek directly until regulators spotted and stopped this.
When that was stopped,it led to another problem. The effluents collected by the bund was pumped into the BEAIL facility this meant 40 million litres of effluents from Ankleshwar reached BEAIL every day. The facility was designed to hold 40 mld (million litres per day) but Panoli and Jhagadia industrial estates were also sending their effluents.
Eventually,BEAILs collection tank overflowed on June 20,2007,flooding adjoining farmlands. The Central Pollution Control Board investigated on the request of the local MP; the bund on Valia Chowkdi was removed and the BEAIL collection tank no longer overflowed.
But this meant the untreated effluents resumed flowing into Amlakhadi creek.
Industrial expansion,lagging mitigation
So why was there so much effluent in the first place?
The report says several new industries came up in the area after the BEAIL facility was set up,and the existing industries also expanded their capacities. The GIDC permitted this; the water supply to the area’s industries jumped from 34 mld in 2002 to 47 mld in 2007.
The problem was that BEAIL was designed to handle 40 mld of effluents,which was to be subsequently expanded to 60 mld.
But the expansion was greatly delayed,as minutes of subsequent meetings called by the Industries Department reveal. At a meeting on January 29,2008,the then Additional Chief Secretary of the Industries and Mines Department,D Rajagopalan,pulled up both GIDC officials and BEAIL CEO K R Desai.
BEAIL was supposed to have expanded its capacity from 40 mld to 60 mld by December 2007. But the company postponed this to December 2008,citing financial difficulties. It set itself a new deadline of July 2009. A dissatisfied Rajagopalan directed GIDC and BEAIL to work out an emergency plan and complete the expansion by December 2008.
How monitoring failed
The report came down heavily on individual industries and the GPCB,saying the monitoring agency was obviously paid to remain silent or take no action.
From the beginning,BEAIL had appointed a consultant to monitor effluent quality that industries from the three industrial estates discharged this was necessary since effluents that went into the BEAIL facility were to be first brought down to certain toxicity levels so that BEAIL could treat it effectively.
Rathi had been apprised of the monitoring reports. He wrote to the chairmen of Atul Products,Cadila Pharma,Ficom Organics,Lupin and Sun Pharma as well as Zydus Cadila,conveying that they were non-responsive to the repeated warning letters sent to them by BEAIL on the quality of effluent discharged by them. The companies reportedly replied saying they would comply,but what happened later was to show most of them were not serious.
The worst polluters
According to data from BEAILs monitoring mechanism between October 2006 and July 2007,many industries fed BEAIL effluents that were extremely toxic,containing COD (chemical oxygen demand) levels of 2,500 parts per million (ppm),in spite of stipulated COD levels of 1,200 ppm.
Out of the 21 companies listed as doing this,seven large pharmaceutical companies were singled out. The worst offenders… are Ankleshwar-based Cadila Healthcare (both units),Sun Pharma,Bakul Pharma,Elam Pharma,Narayan Organics,Synthetic Drugs Intermediates and Wockhardt.
It is very clear that pharmaceutical industry continues to be the major culprit in discharging effluent containing very high organic load. It may be inferred that they discharge solvents and other streams that should be sent for incineration, the report said.
It is interesting to observe that these industries continue to operate and flout all regulations but have not come under the scanner of GPCB. There cannot be a better example of nexus between industry and regulator than this. When large industries meeting the standards laid down by GPCB are expected to shell down Rs 1 million each annually,one can guess the transactions involved from such chronic defaulting industries. Considering the amounts involved,there is no wonder that these industries get protected, it noted.
What happened at FETP
The report also analysed various data on effluents that were fed into BEAIL by member industries,and how this led to BEAIL not being able to treat effluents to stipulated levels. The chemical waste being generated remained quite higher than the plant’s capacity to treat it.
The three estates are generating effluent flow (52 mld),which is 30% higher than the designed hydraulic load,and has organic loading of 2.5 times and a suspended solids of 10 times the designed concentration values of BEAIL’s FETP. This means the estates are generating 3.25 times BEAIL’s designed pollution load¿ FETP is not removing any nitrogen, the report concluded.
What is BEAIL
BEAIL is the operator of FETP at Ankleshwar,which has one of the largest chemical industrial estates in Asia. BEAIL was inaugurated by Chief Minister Narendra Modi on July 26,2003 to collect liquid waste from the 1500-odd chemical industries dotting the GIDC estates in Ankleshwar,Panoli and Jhagadia.
The facility is supposed to treat these effluents before releasing them into the creek so that pollution is controlled. The industries that send their effluents in turn have to make sure they properly segregate it and its toxicity brought down to a certain level before sending it,otherwise the FETP would not be able to treat it properly.