Gurdaspur sugar mill sealed, fined Rs 25 lakh over deaths of fish
A day after the spill of molasses from a sugar mill into the Beas river killed thousands of fish due to the oxygen level falling, the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) sealed the Chadha Sugar Industries Private Limited at Kiri Afgana village in Gurdaspur district and fined it Rs 25 lakh for negligence.
Gurdaspur deputy commissioner Gurloveleen Singh Sidhu and PPCB officials visited the factory and ordered it shut till further orders.
Sidhu said Batala sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Rohit Choudhry will conduct an inquiry and submit his report in 10 days.
The PPCB also formed a three-member panel, led by its chief engineer GS Majithia, who will submit his report in three days.
“It appears the incident occurred due to a blast in the furnace in which the molasses were stored,” PPCB chairman Kahan Singh Pannu said. He said the release of molasses had brought down the level of oxygen in the river, leading to the death of the fish on a large scale.
Molasses is a byproduct in sugarcane processing. It has organic and nutritional value and is therefore preserved.
Water released from Pong Dam
The PPCB took samples of the water on Friday and found them to be normal. “That’s because 11,000 cusecs of water was released from Pong Dam and 2,000 cusecs from Ranjit Sagar Dam into the river to dilute the pollutants. The situation is under control,” Sidhu said.
State environment minister OP Soni asked the PPCB to check all 16 sugar mills and 17 distilleries in Punjab. The PPCB said all 33 units discharge effluents into nearby nullahs or water sources but the mill at Kiri Afgana is the closest to a river.
“We won’t let mills flout pollution norms and we don’t want them to shut operations either,” Soni said after taking stock in Chandigarh.
The state forest and wildlife department prepared a damage report against the mill under Sections 30, 32, 50, 51, 36-A of the Wildlife Protection Act. District forest officer Rajesh Mahajan said the damage report is an official document and is equivalent to the first information report (FIR) registered by the police.
Mill denies wrongdoing
The mill is owned by Delhi-based Jasdeep Kaur Chadha, the wife of the late Hardeep Singh Chadha, said the mill’s unit head Munish Pal. Hardeep was liquor baron Ponty Chadha’s brother. Ponty and Hardeep died in a crossfire in 2012.
Pal said, “It was an accident. Basically, it was spontaneous reaction. We could not control it. The release of the molasses was spontaneous. The government should understand our situation.”
He said the mill authorities had written to the National Sugar Institute in Kanpur to find the root cause of the incident and evolve preventive measures.
“The molasses did not contain any harmful element. The byproduct is used to prepare edible items. I don’t know how the fish died,” he said. “We don’t release any waste matter into the river,” he added.
(With inputs from Chandigarh)