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By Prakash Bhandari

Two orders by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in the first ten week of the year have dealt a body blow on the Rajasthan government. The NGT has imposed a penalties of a total of Rs 50 crores through two separate orders  regarding the functioning of  textile effluent facilities at  Bituja, Balotra and Jasol and pollution in the Bandi river in Pali district by the local textile industries.

In the matter of Balotra Textile Hand Processors Association Vs Rajasthan State Pollution Control Board & Others dated March 6, 2019 regarding functioning Effluent Treatment  Plants ( ETPs) ,CETPs  (Common Effluent Treatment Plant) HRTs and other facilities at Bituja, Balotra and Jasol, the NGT imposed a penalty  of Rs 30 crores on the basis of a report  submitted before NGT which has pointed out the issues relating to adverse impact of industrial effluents and by consumption of river water, on health and agriculture.

The NGT cracked the whip on the Rajasthan government  by slapping a fine of Rs 20 crore for not performing its function properly to control pollution in the west Rajasthan’s Pali district’s Bandi river by local textile industries. The amount has been deposited by the state government and now the state government would recover the amount from the polluters.

“The state government understands the gravity of the situation and we are trying to find a permanent solution to the problem of the polluting units. But large numbers of workers have also been laid off because of the NGT order. The government would do all that necessary to ensure that the pollution norms as directed by the NGT are honoured and the units would run under the new regimen,” said Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

A bench headed by Justice Raghuvendra S Rathore directed the Rajasthan chief secretary, the agriculture secretary government to get an assessment done on loss of agriculture to the farmers due to the damage caused to agriculture land by use of contaminated water of the Bandi river as well as to the wells in the nearby area and submit a report suggesting compensation to the farmers.

The NGT imposed environment compensation of Rs 1 crore on CETP operators for discharging effluents into the Bandi river and not setting up a system for reuse of treated water for supplying to the industries. The district administration has been asked to review the compliance.

The green panel gave its direction while adjudicating a plea by Kisan Paryavaran Sangharsh Samiti, which has alleged that textile units have caused pollution in the Bandi river.

A study of surface and groundwater in Pali, conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment in 2008, had found almost 80 per cent of the sample water unfit for drinking. The NGT has issued orders on the basis of the experts who had undertaken a trip to the polluted areas and inspected the various plants and also the factories that were found to be violating the norms.

The Centre for science and Environment found that the  river Luni at Balotra is receiving industrial effluents and sewage as a result of which, it is not even fit for irrigation purpose.

The installed Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) are not complying with the prescribed standards and the effluents are discharged into river Luni directly or indirectly and the individual members of CETPs are also noncompliant.

NGT directed the state Government to deposit Rs. 30 Crores with CPCB, as an interim measure, towards environment compensation until complete details on health effect and damages to the agriculture are received. Tribunal also directed the Rajasthan government’s Secretary health and agriculture to submit reports in respect of the status on health of villagers and agriculture and the damages be assessed to these causes within one month.

The National Green Tribunal passed directions taking into consideration the suggestions given by the committee of the experts. The NGT directed that the   rejuvenation of river Luni is required by dredging or scrapping to remove hazardous industrial and sewage sludge.

The Borewells which have been contaminated by industrial effluents or river water, should be remediated or alternatively, Treatment, remediation system may be installed for them at the cost of the industries for public use and this action be co-ordinated by the state’s water resources secretary. This action be completed in 4 months.

The industries in the area should not be allowed to operate till they setup required ETP and PETP and meet the prescribed norms.

The NGT noted that the river Luni at Balotra is receiving industrial effluents and sewage as a result of which, it is not even fit for irrigation purpose.

The installed Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) are not complying with the prescribed standards and the effluents are discharged into river Luni directly or indirectly.

The green panel gave its direction while adjudicating a plea by Kisan Paryavaran Sangharsh Samiti, which has alleged that textile units have caused pollution in the Bandi river.

A study of surface and groundwater in Pali, conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment in 2008, had found almost 80 per cent of the sample water unfit for drinking.

The samples showed high alkaline and chemical oxygen demand levels, indicating dangerous levels of organic pollutants. The quantity of total dissolved solids was four times higher than the standard.

The green panel also held that the Rajasthan State Industrial Development and Investment Corporation (RIICO) is not maintaining the industrial area and as it was observed that the drains meant for carrying storm water are either choked or not cleaned regularly.

It also noted that there has been a practice of burning waste, which is a cause of air pollution in the area, and the state pollution control board has not properly regulated the consent mechanism.

The state pollution control board has also failed in ensuring compliance of installed CETPs and particularly that no waste water is to be discharged in the Bandi river, it said.

The NGT found that the state government  did not take any action  on health issues of the villagers, scarcity of drinking water supply and damages to the agriculture because of use of contaminated water.

It also directed the health secretary to file a report on status of health of villagers in the area due to the use of contaminated water within one month and also report on health check-up camps organised.

The secretary for water resources of the state government and central/state ground water agencies will file, report on the status of ground water reserves and quality in the catchment of Bandi.

The report should clearly highlight status of ground water contamination in the context of industrial and sewage discharge in the open. Report should also be filed in the context of providing potable water to the affected villagers, including setting up of water treatment plants through polluters.

It directed the state transport department to keep vigil at different check-posts within the districts of Pali to control and prohibit discharge of unauthorised effluents through tankers into the Bandi river or at any other locations.

This action should also include prohibiting entry of any unauthorised tankers from the neighbouring districts, it said.

The NGT directed  the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) to file a status of ground water scenario in Pali district indicating the  pendency of applications for grant of permissions received from industries and  groundwater level and its quality in Pali district. The Rajasthan Pollution Control Board was directed  to grant consents under the Water Act to the industries. No industries should be allowed to operate without having valid consent.

“The tribunal asked the state pollution control board to ensure that no industrial and sewage effluent is discharged into the river (even treated) and instead, it should be utilised by the industries. The Board should take coercive action against the defaulting industries, including imposing environment compensation as well as launching prosecution,” said Shailaja Dewal, member –secretary of the state Pollution Control Board.

The NGT’s orders were based on the basis of the expert’s committee’s visit to the site of pollution in Palis district. The team comprised Dr Ajay A Deshpande,former expert, National Green Tribunal, New Delhi and Dr Ajit Prasad Singh Professor and Dean BITS,Pilani.

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