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Industries largest polluter

Did you know that India has close to 57,000 water-polluting industries? Sadly, even as India struggles to provide safe drinking water to many of its citizens, another aspect that has started to raise its ugly head is the rapid rate of industrial pollution in our waters.

india Updated: Jun 14, 2003 18:33 IST

Did you know that India has close to 57,000 water-polluting industries? With manufacturing units and chemical processes contributing significantly?

Sadly, even as India struggles to provide safe drinking water to many of its citizens, another aspect that has started to raise its ugly head is one of pollution. Let's take a stock of the extent of the damage done by these polluting industries. As it seems, we seem to have stretched the maxim "water as universal cleansing agent" as little too far.

On March 24, 2003 Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) issued closure orders to four industries in Haryana for throwing their effluents into the Western Yamuna canal, one of the main feeder canals to Delhi. These are Saraswati Sugarcane Mill, Ballarpur Paper Mills, Haryana Distelliries and Bharat Starch - all in Yamunanagar, Haryana. As a result of this the Haiderpur and Nangloi water works in Delhi had been getting polluted water.

This is just one of the cases where industries are directly responsible for pollution.

According to Central Statistical Organisation (CSO), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India there are 32 lakh industries in India as of 1998-99. Out of these, 1,35,551 are registered manufacturing units, the remaining being service industries.

As per CPCB, the total number of polluting industries number 57,000. Of this 8,432 constitute large and medium polluting industries (National Inventory of Large & Medium Industry and Status of Effluent Treatment & Emission Control System, CPCB, 1997). Rest are categorized as small-scale industries.

The chart below shows the concentration of these units across India.

RK Trivedi, additional director, CPCB says, "We categorise wastewater into two principal types - processed water and cooling water. The former implies that the water undergoes a transformation whereas the latter is used in thermal applications. And the processed water pollution constitutes only about 15 per cent."

In number terms it means of the total 82,446 million litres per day (MLD) of wastewater generated only about 13,469 MLD is processed water. For about 8,000 MLD treatment facility is available but functioning is not to their optimum degree.

Adds Trevidi, "Many large industries across the country are equipped with treatment facilities. But they simply don't run them, primarily because the power consumption is very high. Every time our inspectors go, they run it and promptly turn them off after that."

So, despite the availability of resources to clean water it is deliberately not done as the vigilance is restricted to state pollution control units and the lack political intervention.

Coming to the total wastewater generated, of the 13,469 MLD, a large portion is contributed by small-scale industries. But, says Trivedi, no monitoring is possible in this sector. First because the units are all centredcentred in and around urban locations where space is a constraint. Hence, putting up of a treatment plant is out of question. Second, the cost. Most of these industries are entirely dependent of them for their livelihood. So is the question of putting up a treatment plant.

Hence, it is difficult to take any action against them.

It would be interesting to see which are the most polluting industries. Paper, Distillery, Fertilisers (Nitrogenous), Steel, Thermal Power Plants, Sugar, Textiles and Engineering constitute the bulk of the damage done.

Most of the pollution load generated is either categorized as toxic or organic. Just to give an example of the extent damage done is the Bhichdi, near Udaipur in Rajasthan. As many as seven H-acid plants were forced to close down. H-acid is a dye intermediate product used in the manufacture of dyes. The Supreme Court orders were issued in 1994 as the groundwater in the area had been badly damaged. All aquifers had been polluted.

It is very difficult to get rid of H-acid. The only way known is very expensive as it involves burning the acid at 1100 degree centigrade!

Many other H-acid factories in Jaitpur, near Ahmedabad in Gujarat and Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh were also closed down for similar reasons.

It is interesting to note that use to H-acid is banned in the western countries.

Nivedita Mishra

First Published: Jun 14, 2003 18:33 IST