The Maharashta Pollution Control Board (MPCB) is keeping a close watch on the 51 distilleries run by sugar barons, claiming that none of them are complying with pollution control norms.
The MPCB has pulled up seven of these distilleries for total non-compliance and warned them to take action by November or they would have to close operations. But distillers rue that they do not have enough time or money to implement the Board’s guidelines.
On Thursday evening, the MPCB and owners of distilleries met to work out a mutually acceptable method for treatment of effluent produced by the distilleries. Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar presided over the meeting.
In March 2003, the Central Pollution Control Board had declared its charter on Corporate Responsibility for Environmental Protection under which distilleries were to achieve zero discharge of spentwash — an effluent produced when alcohol is made from molasses — by December 2005.
“We have given the distilleries time until November. They will have to show us what steps they have taken towards achieving zero discharge else we could ask them to close down,” said MPCB member-secretary D.B. Boralkar.
But distillers have their own complaints. “We were given the protocol only in 2004. After that we have had only one off-season, so there was no time to implement it,” Dr Indrajit Mohite, chairman, Krishna Sugar Co-operative, Karad, said. “And if we were to follow the methods laid down by the MPCB the cost of putting a pollution-control system in place will be more than the distillery itself.”
According to the MPCB, distilleries should store the effluent for a maximum of 30 days in a pit, which has a concrete lining that prevents it from percolating into the soil and contaminating the groundwater. “But distillers want this period to be increased to 60 to 90 days,” Boralkar said.
The MPCB — which estimates the cost of the pollution-control system at approximately Rs 3 crore for each distillery — has suggested that the distilleries be included under the Central government scheme for cluster projects.
Under this scheme, the state and Centre will bear 25 per cent of the cost, 35 per cent will come from bank loans and the balance from the distillers’ pockets. “We will have to see if they (distillers) fit into this scheme,” said state Finance Minister Jayant Patil.