This paper published in the Economic and Political Weekly describes the case of river Khari in Gujarat, which faced increasing amount of pollution due to the discharge of industrial effluents in the river and the efforts made to solve the pollution problem.
The phenomenon of pollution started in the 1970s when Naroda, Odhav, Vatva and Narol on the eastern periphery of Ahmedabad city were promoted by the government. While there were zones for industries according to the type of waste generated, environmental considerations were overlooked and no provision was made for the safe disposal of industrial effluents. Most of the factories in the industrial estates were water intensive and all of them discharged effluents into the nearby Kharicut canal, which flows into the Khari river, a tributary of the Sabarmati. As the canal remained dry throughout the year, the government ignored its (mis)use. Common effluent treatment plants (CETPs) were set up in all three industrial estates after the Gujarat High Court passed orders that they be set up,which join the Pirana Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) sewage treatment plant before being discharged into the Sabarmati. Here, the treated industrial effluent mega pipeline mixes with almost 50 times greater its volume of treated sewage. At the point where the sewage is finally discharged into the Sabarmati, it reportedly meets all the parameters of the GujaratPollution Control Board (GPCB).
However, some small- and medium-scale industries continue to discharge effluents into the medium and deep aquifers directly through tube wells in a process locally called “reverse bore technique”. This has resulted in groundwater contamination up to a depth of 183 m. About 110 villages downstream of these three industrial estates (40 on the banks of Kharicut canal and 70 on the banks of Khari river) are drinking polluted “colour” water for 20 years. Representations from the affected villages to the government and pollution control authorities did not yield any results. Finally the court awarded compensation to the affected villages – the fund was to be used towards health and economic development, but nothing came of it because of disagreement between the villagers and the government on how the money should be used.
In spite of the CETPs, the problem has not been completely resolved. Further, the Khari river and canal have now become a bone of contention between the industries and the farming community, in particular those who live on the banks. There are reports of people on the banks suffering from a number health related problems since they are forced to drink this polluted water in absence of an alternative source. Groundwater contamination resulting from the illegal release of untreated effluents into the river during the night or direct injection into tube wells is another serious problem.
In 2003, the Vikram Sarabhai Centre for Development Interaction (VIKSAT) studied five villages to understand pollution related problems. In an effort to strengthen the industry subgroup of the Sabarmati stakeholder’s forum (SSF), a core group was formed and regular monthly meetings of the SSF industry core group and discussions on the groundwater, Khari river and Kharicut canal pollution issues facilitated action by the members. Government departments also began to support the cause by providing data, attending meetings and sharing their viewpoints.
There are three major problems. Firstly, some factories have refused to cooperate and covertly continue to release untreated effluent into the river. Secondly, there is the issue of leakage from the mega pipeline in the Naroda and Odhav industrial estates. Thirdly, government monitoring and control is not adequate. While serious efforts to resolve the issue should have come from the industries, they resort merely to informing the pollution control authorities in case of a problem. The struggle still continues, but there is hope yet informs the paper.
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