Untreated industrial waste pumped out by an effluent treatment plant from the Taloja industrial area, near Mumbai, has raised pollution levels in the Kasadi river to 13 times the safe limit.
Testing of the water samples collected by fishermen from the Koli community revealed that levels of Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) – the concentration of oxygen required for aquatic life to survive – was 80 milligram per litre (mg/L). According to Central Pollution Control Board guidelines, a BOD level above 6 mg/L cannot sustain fish species and levels above 3 mg/L make the water unfit for human consumption. The test also found high levels of chloride, which is toxic and impacts vegetation and aquatic life.
For the past two years, the fishing community has been protesting against chemical effluents from common effluent treatment plant (CETP), Taloja, being released into the Kasadi river which flows into Panvel creek.
“Our daily catch [of fish] has dropped by 90% over the past year,” said Yogesh Pagade, a fisherman. “We have filed several complaints with the state pollution control board, the local administration and owners of the CETP, but to no avail.”
Pagade said that during high tide, polluted water from the creek kills fish being bred in small ponds. The fishermen collected water samples last month from the CETP outflow and from other parts of Kasadi river and got it tested at the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation laboratory.
On Thursday, NGO Watchdog Foundation filed a complaint with the chief minister and the state pollution control board. “Untreated effluents are being released into Kasadi river for a long time, but the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) officials have failed to take any action against the company running the Taloja CETP,” said Godfrey Pimenta, a trustee.
MPCB officials said the pollution levels around the CETP were high owing to leakages in an underwater pipeline constructed by Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC). “Untreated chemicals are entering the waterbodies. We have already informed MIDC and work has begun to resolve the issue,” said Anil Mohekar, regional officer, MPCB. “It will take two years to complete the work.”
Meanwhile, MIDC officials blamed MPCB for the problem. “The work to fix the pipeline will be completed in six months. However, the Taloja CETP is not treating waste properly before discharging it, which is the main problem. MPCB needs to look into it.”
Officials from the private treatment plant said the pipeline was built in 1970 and has never been changed ever since. “BOD levels were as high as 250mg/L before, but the situation has improved. We are working with MIDC to fix the underwater pipeline through clamping as soon as possible,” said JM Gaikwad, managing director, Taloja CETP.
CETP operations are being run by unskilled labourers: NGO
More than 25 employees from the Taloja CETP have been striking work for the past one month demanding a permanent employment contract.
“The CETP operations are being run by unskilled labourers,” said Godfrey Pimenta, trustee, NGO Watchdog Foundation. “The effluents released by the operator are adversely impacting the fish, which is in turn affecting the livelihood of fishermen.”
A worker, on condition of anonymity, told HT that after working for 16 years, they were asked to leave last month without prior notice. “We have formed a union comprising workers who were forced to leave. We should have at least been informed before the new management was hired,” he said.
The CETP operator denied having any connection with the workers on strike. “These employees are hired by the contractor on an annual basis. Their contract has expired and now, a new contractor has been appointed,” said JM Gaikwad, managing director, Taloja CETP. “We have 16 workers at the plant, which is fully functional.”