Nearly a month after the molasses spillage into Beas river from Chadha Sugar Mills and Industries Pvt Ltd in Gurdaspur district caused widespread destruction of aquatic life, the Punjab government is yet to register any criminal complaint against the mill and has also not recovered the fine of Rs 5 crore which was imposed on it.
Punjab government had announced on May 24 that a fine of Rs 5 crore was being levied on the mill, blaming it for an “environment catastrophe of a very high level”. The amount was to be deposited with the state government as environmental compensation and was to be utilised for conservation and restoration of ecology of Beas, including rejuvenation of aquatic life.
A criminal complaint was also to be registered against those officials of the mill who were found to have been responsible for the lapses which led to the spillage of the molasses into the river. However, The Indian Express has learnt that no such directions have been received by the Environmental Engineer of Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), Batala, to file any criminal complaint.
A high-powered committee constituted by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh under the chairmanship of Environment Minister O P Soni to suggest measures for cleaning of the rivers in the state has also not submitted its report. The Committee, which was also tasked on May 24 with suggesting ways to ensure supply of clean potable water, had been asked to submit its report within 10 days.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Environment Minister O P Soni said that the task of preparing a report of the committee was being undertaken by the Chairman PPCB, K S Pannu and that it will be ready for submission to the Chief Minister soon. On the question of the non-recovery of fine from Chadha Sugars and the non-registration of criminal complaint against the culpable officials of the mill, Soni said that the necessary orders had been passed by the government and it was upto the officials to implement them.
When contacted, PPCB chairman said that the complaint against the mill officials would be filed very soon and that the proposal in this regard had been finalised. He also added that notice for the payment of Rs 5 crore fine had been issued to the mill but said that it had not yet been deposited. “The mill has the option of challenging the fine imposed on them. The appeal against the orders of the PPCB will lies with the High Court or the National Green Tribunal (NGT). However, it will remain closed until they pay the fine,” he said.
Pannu also informed that he was in the process of finalising the report on the remedial measures which were to be suggested and had recently visited the mill in this regard. “There are two aspects which had to be considered and two committees had been formed. One involved the remedial measures to rejuvenate the Beas river. This report will be submitted by the end of this week. The second committee was to making suggestions on how to avoid such incidents in future. This too shall be submitted soon,” he said.
In another development, Leader of Opposition Sukhpal Khaira Wednesday wrote a letter to the PPCB chief apprising him that he has been receiving “alarming calls” from different parts of the state with people complaining about contaminated water flowing in the canals and also dangerous levels of pollution in the ground water. “We made a special spot visit to Khudian Pul in Lambi constituency to inspect the quality of water flowing in the two canals of Sirhind feeder and the Rajasthan feeder. To our utter surprise water in both the canals that is used for drinking purposes in the Malwa region as well as Rajasthan, was severely contaminated and blackish in colour,” said Khaira.
Contending that most of the distilleries and sugar mills are either owned directly by powerful politicians or are indirectly connected to them, Khaira said that it it has come to his party’s notice that the government often dithers to take concrete action against them. “For example, although the Chadha mill was fined Rs. 5 crore but no criminal action was initiated against them, as they are closely connected to the ruling dispensation of the state,” he said.