Footwear industry pollutes, villagers put their foot down

When the environmental pollution caused by the footwear industry in a growing Haryana village goes unchecked, villagers gather to demand their rights.
Leftover materials tossed out by the factories at the footwear park. These will end up in landfills and pollute the environment. (Image: India Water Portal)
Leftover materials tossed out by the factories at the footwear park. These will end up in landfills and pollute the environment. (Image: India Water Portal)

As per the regional plan 2021 chalked out by the national capital regional planning board in 2005, Bahadurgarh, a small town in Haryana is a part of the Delhi metropolitan area. The town, located in Jhajjar district, is growing at a fast pace. It has, in the last few decades, seen development of industries, especially sanitaryware, galvanised steel pipes and footwear by the Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (HSIIDC).

Several sectors of Bahadurgarh have been carved out of villages nearby. Kasar is one such village witnessing the growth spillovers of this process in the form of haphazard conversion of agricultural land and chaotic urbanisation since the 1990s.

The area, however, has been witnessing tension in recent weeks over increased pollution due to industrial development. The locals have been making representations to the district administration and demonstrating against pollution. In mid-July 2018, the residents of Kasar undertook a massive chakka jam (blockade) on the Delhi-Rohtak bypass road that runs alongside the village. They were demanding toxic air emissions and water pollution in the area be looked into and controlled.

Industrial development and its after effects

Large amount of carbon dioxide and other pollutants get pumped into the atmosphere by the industries. The burning of waste at the park is another issue. (Image: India Water Portal)

A footwear park-cum-industrial estate has sprouted up on the land of Kasar that grew rice, wheat and maize till the late 90s. “People were compelled to sell their farmlands for a pittance when the government acquired their land on the edge of the village for the industrial estate in the late 90s. Migrants are employed in the factories; our children are not hired,” says Radha Kishen, a resident of Kasar. “The industrial estate houses mainly non-leather based footwear units apart from some other units,” says Manoj Kumar, industry extension officer, District Industries Centre, Bahadurgarh.

A residential project of Omaxe (builders) is another cause for concern for the villagers. The area saw heavy soil excavation and disposal of construction and excavation waste from the Omaxe residential project that caused inconvenience to the villagers.

The cause for the recent agitation, however, is a copper smelting unit in the estate. “The unit operates during the night emitting dark fumes of toxic chemicals like lead, arsenic, selenium and particulate matter from its smelters. We live downwind and face health risks like cancer and asthma,” says Rajender Kumar, a social worker from the village.

The sub-divisional magistrate intervened and directed the senior manager of HSIIDC and the authorities of the Haryana State Pollution Control Board (HSPCB) to meet the residents of Kasar. “Filth and faeces from the Bahadurgarh town mix with the effluents from the wastewater drains of the industrial estate. This toxic plume gets carried farther into the river which these drains join,” says Radha Kishen.

Growth of the footwear cluster

Various toxins, fossil fuels and chemicals are produced during the making of footwear which pollute the environment. Highly toxic chemical adhesives like chlorinated phenols, tribromophenol, chlorinated paraffins, dimethyl fumarate etc, are used during the manufacturing of shoes.

Effluents come out of the wastewater drains from the industrial estate. (Image: India Water Portal)

Industries continue to mindlessly dispose of untreated effluents into stormwater drains that subsequently drain into water bodies, streams and the river. These chemical adhesives and chemicals have started to have a negative impact on the environment. People have begun to complain about respiratory problems apart from eye irritation, allergy and asthma,” says Tony Kumar, the sarpanch of Kasar village.

“Bahadurgarh has a concentration of non-leather footwear units, mostly micro and small enterprises that produce rubber footwear, PVC footwear, shoes, chappal and Hawai chappal,” says Tony. Set up at a cost of Rs 60 crore in 2007, the park has 368 plots over 615 acres of land. It houses footwear companies like Action, Relaxo, Aeroback, Lakhani, Lancer etc., and largely targets domestic demand.

The footwear park relies mostly on machine production. It was modelled around Karnal in Haryana that has been the hub of footwear production since 1966. “The Bahadurgarh footwear hub produces a range of open and closed footwear products for the national (and even export) market. Export of about Rs 300 crore (direct and indirect) is already going on from footwear park, Bahadurgarh,” as per the Industrial Investment & Business Promotion Policy, 2015.

Problem of chemical pollution

As per the final development report – 2031 of Bahadurgarh town prepared by the Town and Country Planning Department, Government of Haryana, “No hazardous and polluting industries will be allowed in these industrial sectors”. Yet, strewn around the town are piles of waste, especially rubber waste, that end up contaminating the soil and even drinking water. Industries in the park regularly dump heaps of these. The chemicals used during manufacturing slowly start to leach into the soil as the waste starts decomposing.

Industries in the estate are generating wastes and the people have doubts about the control technology being used to minimise the impact of process rejects. The compulsion to reduce production cost, to increase profits and be export competitive lead to environmental pollution. They also burn the process rejects which too has a huge impact on the environment. “With the business houses being able to wield decisive influence on policymaking, the demand for a pollution-free area gets overlooked,” says Tony.

Environmental regulation ignored

Strict pollution control policies are in place since 2006 when the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification was passed by the Government of India.

“Pollution standards for the units and the penalties for non-compliance have been laid down for Haryana by the state pollution control board which is supposed to regulate as well. Penalties for non-compliance range from fine to disconnection of electricity or water supply and closure of the units,” says Tony.

Soil excavation, disposal of construction waste and release of wastewater from the Omaxe residential project cause inconvenience to the villagers. (Image: India Water Portal)Regulatory policies are there but the indifference of the enforcement authorities has allowed industries to take the laws and policies for granted.

“However, in spite of our repeated appeals to the HSPCB. the regulatory authority to check air pollution, the smelting factory continues to bypass the regulations and spew toxic pollutants into the air. The emitted gas gets deposited in water and persists in the environment,” says Radha Kishen.

Bhim Rawat of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), New Delhi says that there are a number of polluting industries like sugar mills, dye houses, paper mills, pickling units etc., in Haryana that violate even the basic environmental norms. “They are not only polluting the air but the surface and groundwater sources also. The sewage treatment plants do not have adequate capacity and are choked with industrial effluents,” he adds.

Erect ETPs or connect to CETPs

“Western countries realised the environmental cost of industrialisation, though a bit late. That resulted in the transfer of manufacturing to the third world countries. It is time our governments realised that the environment is our common capital that must be used sustainably. Ideally, no manufacturing without safe disposal of industrial waste should be allowed,” says Rajinder Chaudhary, a former professor at the Department of Economics, MD University, Rohtak.

Rawat feels that Haryana must implement 'polluters pay' principle which stipulates that those who produce pollution should bear the cost of managing it to prevent damage to human health or the environment. It should also work towards realising the ‘zero defect, zero effect’ principle coined by Prime Minister Modi. “This implies that production processes should have zero adverse environmental and ecological effects,” he says.

A Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) was inaugurated recently at the footwear park thanks to the growing awareness among the local people about environmental damages resulting from the factories. The project, however, will take a long time before it becomes functional, says Radha Kishen.

“The government should ensure that the HSPCB enforce environmental norms strictly on polluting industries. The state should also build more CETPs and ensure proper functioning of the existing ones. Also, hazardous industries that are repeat violators of the norms should be banned like the Vedanta Sterlite Copper Unit in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu before they cause irreparable to the environment and people at large," says Rawat.

At the global level, large sportswear brands like Adidas and Nike are planning to mass produce shoes from used shoes and recycled plastics to deal with the environmental impacts of the footwear industry. The footwear industry in India could follow suit to buff its green credentials.

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