Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Climate for change

A famous liquor distilling factory in Punjab has been shut down on the orders of the chief minister. The grounds for closure are to do with environmental concerns, which is in line with current trends in other states.

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When Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann on January 17 announced the closure of the famous Malbros liquor factory located at Zira in Ferozepur district with immediate effect, it followed protests by local villagers who said their water was getting contaminated by the chemicals from the factory. Mann said that no person, no matter how influential he is, will be allowed to play with the environment, and whoever violates the rules laid down by the state government will be dealt with strictly. Malbros International Pvt Ltd is owned by former Akali Dal MLA Deep Malhotra. 

The Punjab government’s decision was taken after consultations with environmental and legal experts. The people of the surrounding villages have been protesting for the last six months against the liquor factory. The management of the Malbros liquor manufacturing factory at Zira did not inform the Punjab Pollution Control Board that it also produces and markets chemicals that could pose a serious threat to human and animal life, besides irreversibly contaminating the soil and underground water. All industrial units are required to take permission from the state pollution control board for the specific products they intend to manufacture, and can go ahead with the project only after this permission is granted.

The chief minister said that the environmental balance of the area could have deteriorated due to the factory. In view of the bad effects on the environment and human life, the state government decided to stop it with immediate effect. Farmers’ organizations were sitting on a dharna from July 24, 2022, to get the liquor factory closed. The organizations allege that the underground water in Zira and its surrounding villages was getting poisoned by contaminated chemicals from the factory. The people of the village had alleged that diseases like cancer and black jaundice were on the rise.

The case of the Zira liquor factory had also reached the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The Court had imposed a fine of Rs 20 crore on the Punjab government for not removing protesters near the factory gate. It had ordered the government to move the protesters 300 meters away from the factory. People from about 40 villages had put up a concrete barrier outside the liquor factory.

The company running the liquor factory said in Court that Rs 300 crore has been invested in setting up the unit and Rs 1.5 crore is required to run the factory and pay staff, and an installment of Rs 2 crore has to be paid every month. On November 22, 2022, after the government failed to remove the protesters, the High Court asked the government to deposit Rs 15 crore more with the Court registry. The Court also issued contempt notices to the authorities. On December 23, the state government told the Court that it has constituted four committees to examine various aspects with regard to issues raised by protesters.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Environment Day last year had cited a number of measures taken by his government to protect the environment. Other states have also come down hard on environmental-related issues. 

The Tamil Nadu government in May 2018 ordered the closure of the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi which had faced a violent agitation led by residents who claimed the smelter had caused widespread pollution of air and water in the city. In 2014, the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board had ordered closure of a soft drink company’s plant in Varanasi over protests that the bottling plant was extracting too much groundwater. The state has also banned the single use of plastic.

In April 2022, the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board ordered the closure of a laboratory in Akkireddigudem. It was a bulk drug manufacturing industry where a reactor exploded while manufacturing 4 Nitro-N-Methyl phthalimide. The accident took six lives, leaving many injured and also caused environmental damage in the form of emissions and hazardous waste generation.

Last year, the Arunachal Pradesh State Pollution Control Board issued a notice for the closure of the smelter factory at Lekhi, saying the factory causes harmful emissions affecting the locality. In 2019, the state government began the “Clean-Green Arunachal” campaign, fighting against activities that brought harm to the environment. 

The Assam government has also decided to phase out the single use of plastic. The state government’s Department of Environment and Forests and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced the launch of the “Trees Outside Forests in India” programme in the state, which will bring together farmers, companies and private institutions to rapidly expand tree coverage outside the traditional forests in the state.

In 2020, Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar was the only leader from India to participate in the virtual high-level Round­table on Climate Ambition, hosted by UN chief António Guterres, on the sidelines of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly. He shared his state’s policy initiatives and development efforts, including climate-resilient agriculture and water conservation, aimed at commitment to the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 C.

Chhattisgarh ranks second in a survey on best performing states regarding environment protection. In the last four years, 18 new Ambient Air Quality centres have been set up. The state government has set up 27 stations to monitor the water quality of seven major rivers. Chhattisgarh has made it mandatory to plant trees in 30% of the industrial areas. To tackle noise pollution, the state has also instituted a ban on firecrackers in six major cities.

The state government of Goa decided to amend the Goa Factories Rules, 1985, to enable the chief inspector or an inspector of the factories and boilers department to issue a closure order against manufacturing units that are not registered as a factory if there is a risk to human safety or environment. 

The Gujarat forest department has initiated a social forestry programme for planting trees on non-forest lands with the objective to increase the number of trees in the state. Gujarat has established a separate Department for Climate Change to manage climate change.

Himachal Pradesh is basically a rural state where 90% of the population lives in villages. There are nearly 19,000 villages scattered all over the state. The fragile environment of the Himalayas has seen developmental works, which are a replica of the development patterns of the plains. Himachal Pradesh itself has undergone transformation from subsistence-centred agriculture to commercial horticulture-based development.

According to the draft policy on Climate Change 2022 that was released by the Department of Environment and Climate change, the Rajasthan government will prepare comprehensive mobility (transport) plans for all major cities and towns to reduce energy consumption levels. In 2021, Maharashtra had bagged the Inspiring Regional Leadership Award from Under2 Coalition for climate action and became the only Indian state to win one of the three awards by U2 in Scotland.

Overall, attempts to reduce the impact of climate change while pursuing the development agenda over the last three decades has had mixed results. 

—By Shivam Sharma and India Legal Bureau

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