The officers of Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited (VECL) and concerned industries and government officials knowingly failed to investigate and act on the leakage of the VECL effluent carrying pipeline. However, our team’s on-site investigations 31 July 2019 onwards was able to reveal and expose that VECL’s pipeline at many points was and is still leaking. Even monsoon rains on 31.07.2019 onwards move the soil above the pipeline inside ECP and expose the reasons for the leakage. Even monsoon rains on 2 and 3 August 2019 were also able to reveal and expose that leakage of pipeline in last stretch of ECP. The VECL carelessness has led to filling up of two ponds of Nodhana Village with industrial effluent. Industrial effluent also entered into agriculture land of Uber, Valipur, Nodhana, Samoj, and Sarod villages.
During our visit on 13.08.2019 in the area, we observed that the industrial effluent in both the pond of Nodhana Village has caused irreversible damage in the agriculture lands of Uber, Valipur, Nodhana, Samoj, and Sarod villages. This damage is still visible. The visit report of the Bharuch Office of GPCB dated 05.08.2019 after our complaints on phone confirms the chemical emergency type of situation in the stated areas. A copy of the report dated 05.08.2019 of GPCB; Bharuch Office is with the GPCB, Gandhinagar office. A team of FAG and PSS with the affected farmers and villagers also took sample at ‘J Point’ and ‘Nodhana Pond’ on 13.08.2019 and submitted samples to GPCB, Vadodara Office for the investigation. It is shocking that the Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) we found 1078 mg/l (13.08.2019), which is well beyond the permissible limit 250 mg/l. The average COD at ‘J Point’ of last 6 months is ranging from 800 – 1000 mg/l, and those of the past, since beginning, consistently, are admittedly not able to meet the prescribed norms.
Now, there is no dispute among concerned authorities, industries, and VECL that at ‘J Point’ of Effluent Chanel of VECL the effluent is consistently not able to meet the prescribed GPCB Norms.
Inaction of all concerned authorities now clearly conveys to us that they are de-facto declaring that they have been, are, and will be unable to implement the Environment Laws of India and Supreme Court Order, dated 22.02.2017, in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors).
We are attaching herewith, as “Annexure A”, a copy of our letter, dated 18.03.2019, which has major investigation reports and document.
There have been several such letters written by PSS and FAG and repeated investigations conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB), and various agencies appointed by the concerned authorities. These efforts and track records clearly demonstrate that the groundwater of the villages, ponds, and agricultural areas along and around the ECP are critically contaminated and needs immediate intervention by the concerned authorities to stop further pollution of any kind. They must also demarcate and analyze the pollution-affected areas scientifically and then implement well-devised short-term and long-term plans to completely remediate the surface water and land as well as the groundwater of the affected area.
Further, a number of meetings were organised in the presence of the Member Secretary of the GPCB, the representatives of the industries of the ECP area, and representatives of affected villages and voluntary organisations working in this area on environmental concerns. In these meetings, there was no dispute about contamination of groundwater and spreading of contamination in the area. There is acknowledgement and agreement that the ECP channel and a number of industries along the ECP channel are responsible for this dangerous level of contamination of the surface water and land as well as the groundwater.
Since the year 2000, we have been communicating about the issue and about the non-compliance of ‘Effluent Channel Project’ (ECP) of ‘Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited’, with the concerned authorities. There has been no response from the authorities in terms of definitive actions on ground. Our continuous appeals have been responded with undeniable display of their nonchalance and lack of commitment to the environment and law of the land.
Similarly, it is expected that the Governments and State ought to implement, in letter and spirit, the Supreme Court Order, dated 22.02.2017, of Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 and National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, Order dated 03.08.2018 and 19.02.2019, in Original Application No. 593 of 2017.
The Order, dated 22.02.2017, of the Supreme Court in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors) clearly states:
“14. […] The concerned Pollution Control Board is also hereby directed, to initiate such civil or criminal action, as may be permissible in law, against all or any of the defaulters.”
Even the Environment Laws are also very clear.
THE WATER (PREVENTION AND CONTROL OF POLLUTION) ACT, 1974 clearly states:
“17. FUNCTIONS OF STATE BOARD
(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, the functions of a State Board shall be —
(a) to plan a comprehensive programme for the prevention, control or abatement of pollution of streams and wells in the State and to secure the execution thereof;”
THE ENVIRONMENT (PROTECTION) ACT, 1986 clearly states:
“15. PENALTY FOR CONTRAVENTION OF THE PROVISIONS OF THE ACT AND THE RULES, ORDERS AND DIRECTIONS
(1) Whoever fails to comply with or contravenes any of the provisions of this Act, or the rules made or orders or directions issued thereunder, shall, in respect of each such failure or contravention, be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both, and in case the failure or contravention continues, with additional fine which may extend to five thousand rupees for every day during which such failure or contravention continues after the conviction for the first such failure or contravention.
(2) If the failure or contravention referred to in sub-section (1) continues beyond a period of one year after the date of conviction, the offender shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to seven years.
- OFFENCES BY GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS
(1) Where an offence under this Act has been committed by any Department of Government, the Head of the Department shall be deemed to be guilty of the offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.
Provided that nothing contained in this section shall render such Head of the Department liable to any punishment if he proves that the offence was committed without his knowledge or that he exercise all due diligence to prevent the commission of such offence.
(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1), where an offence under this Act has been committed by a Department of Government and it is proved that the offence has been committed with the consent or connivance of, or is attributable to any neglect on the part of, any officer, other than the Head of the Department, such officer shall also be deemed to be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.”
In such circumstances, we call for the Chief Secretary, Gujarat State and the Chairman & Member Secretary of the GPCB to let us know what led to contamination of the surface water and land as well as the groundwater at such irreversible levels. The track record and evidences clearly demonstrate the failure of the Chief Secretary, the Additional Chief Secretary of Forest and Environment Department of Gujarat State, the Chairman of GPCB, and the Collector of Vadodara District, who are and were holding the posts from 2000 – 2019, who have not been able to control the pollution. They have failed in their duties and responsibilities to act against the polluting industries inspite of repeated complaints and representations by the villagers and us.
We are extremely disturbed that the Chief Secretary, Gujarat State; and the Chairman & Member Secretary of the GPCB are openly allowing the VECL to consistently and admittedly violate the environment laws of the land. They are also turning a blind eye to the known and admitted violation of the Order, dated 22.02.2017, of the Supreme Court in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors) and National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, Delhi Order, dated 03.08.2018, and 19.02.2019, in Original Application No. 593 of 2017, (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors). This is amounts to Contempt of the Supreme Court Order.
The Consolidated Consent and Authorization (CC&A), dated 06.01.2015, of VECL clearly mentions,
“10. VECL have only one outlet for the discharge of its effluent and no effluent shall be discharged without requisite treatment & without meeting with the GPCB norms.”
There are many more such terms and condition mentioned in the said CC&A but the concerned authorities have failed to look into the compliance of these crucial terms and conditions of CC&A.
The individual and collective inactions that gives clear indication that concerned authorities, are not only well aware of these facts, but you also have taken conscious decisions to illegally allow such consistently blatant, admitted, and undisputed violations of environment laws of the land and Supreme Court Order, dated 22.02.2017, in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012.
It is utterly shocking to put on record that the entire stretches of the pipeline, laid inside the existing old brick-and-mortar Effluent Channel, was installed whilst effluent was continuously flowing in Effluent Channel of VECL. It is noticed during our visit with the GPCB and VECL officials that the newly installed pipeline along Luna-Ekalbara is leaking. The Regional Officer, the Vigilance Officers of GPCB, and the officers of VECL in the presence of the affected people inspected two pipeline stretches, one installed at Luna-Ekalbara, and another one-year-old pipeline installed along part of Karakhdi-Hathiapura.
Detailed letters, dated 14.06.2018, 30.06.2018, 09.11.2018, 15.11.2018, 03.12.2018, 28.01.2019, 04.02.2019, 04.03.2019, […], last letters dated 09.06.2019, 31.07.2019, 01.08.2019, and 04.08.2019 with videos and photographs were sent to concerned authorities by the FAG. This clearly indicates that the surface water and land as well as the groundwater contamination is continuing also due to leakage of the pipeline at various places.
Neither the GPCB nor the industrialists have denied that the groundwater is severely contaminated, that the contamination is spreading in different areas, and it has reached irreversible / irreparable levels because of incessant industrial activities.
There are number of farmers who had been practicing organic farming but because of the groundwater pollution, they are no longer organic. Affected farmers with small landholding and villagers often have no choice but to use this contaminated water for farming and their livelihood including in their own households and for their cows and buffaloes.
The farmers who are affected by groundwater contamination and pollution have not been compensated in terms of money or in kind, in spite of the fact that nobody disputes the fact that the problem of contamination of groundwater and air pollution is because of the polluting industries located around the villages and areas vis-à-vis the ECP.
Polluters need to pay. Industries need to be categorized as polluters. There are too many loopholes for polluters to get away from responsibility to pay. Polluters need to pay if it is externalized from their respective compounds. There has to be a system to assess and pay the affected in time.
As far as industrial clusters around ECP are concerned, they are located in the vegetable basket of Gujarat, on fertile land, which is prima facie contradictory and illegal. Majority of the industries located in this cluster do not even have the required buffer zone as per the stipulated condition in the Environment clearance. The main purpose of the buffer zone is to avert the effect of negative impact of pollution on the surrounding rural residential and agricultural areas. No action has been taken against these defaulting industries even after repeated letters about the violations.
Keeping in mind the above alarming facts and undisputed realities by CPCB, GPCB, Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited, and the industries located in this area, we can surely declare this grave situation as a major “Chemical Emergency”. In order to reduce further harm to the people and the environment, the following immediate steps must be taken by the concerned authorities:
- File a criminal case against all the industries around ECP demanding exemplary action against their main personnel / officers for the undisputed contamination of surface water and land and groundwater till they prove that they are not responsible for contamination of surface water and lands or groundwater and the case should be heard in the Special Court on a day to day basis.
- File a criminal case against the Chief Secretary, the Additional Chief Secretary of Forest and Environment Department of Gujarat State, the Chairman of GPCB, the Collector(s) of Vadodara District who are and were holding these posts from 2000 – 2019, for their failure in performing their duties astutely and timely manner, in spite of repeated complaints, in preventing the contamination of surface water and land as well as the groundwater at irreversible level.
- Take exemplary action against all the industries that have not provided the stipulated and required buffer zone around their industries.
- Take exemplary action, including cancellation of “Consent to Operate’ (CTO) and ‘Environment Clearance’ (EC), against all the defaulting polluting industries located in Nandesari Industrial Estate, Vadodara Industrial Complex, and the ‘ECP industrial Cluster’.
- Cancel the ‘Consolidated Consent and Authorization’ (CC&A) of ‘Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited’.
- Implement the direction of closure notice dated 13.12.2018 given to the ‘Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited’ immediately instead of giving them the extension for the implementation of the closer order.
- Initiate criminal case against all the concerned and responsible officers of ‘Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited’ and defaulting industries.
- Monitor, using latest flow meters and other required and reliable instruments, the use and misuse of surface water and land as well as the groundwater by the industries from their premises and check the tankers, which are coming from a faraway distances.
- Allow the use of present remaining sources of clean water, outside the industries, by the farmers and villagers (and animals, domesticated or otherwise) of the affected areas for drinking and agricultural purposes only and not for any commercial or industrial use.
- Ensure Ad-hoc Exemplary Monetary Compensation along with medical services to the farmers and villagers who have suffered from the surface water and land as well as the groundwater pollution. This should collectively be decided by CPCB, GPCB, affected farmers, and the representatives of the Voluntary Organisation working in this area on the basis of monthly instalments per contaminated well until decontamination of well is done by way of short-term and long-term latest remedial measures, including but not limited to technically and scientifically sound holistic nature restoration of polluted and damaged land and water areas based on the “Polluter Pays Principle”.
- Immediately pay lump sum Ad-hoc Compensation of Rs. 2 Lakhs per well/bore well whose waters are contaminated over the last 3 years, Rs. 5 Lakhs per well/borewell whose waters are contaminated over the last 3 – 5 years, and Rs. 10 Lakhs per well/borewell whose waters are contaminated for over more than 5 years. Pay lump sum ad-hoc compensation of Rs. 15,000 per month per well/borewell until decontamination of the groundwater is achieved and real actual compensation is paid to them.
- Immediately pay per day per animal, the value of milk yield, to the farmers engaged in animal husbandry and are having affected buffalos, cows, and other animals that are drinking contaminated groundwater and/or their fodder is grown using contaminated groundwater.
- Immediately pay Ad-hoc Compensation per season per acre to the farmers whose surface water and lands are contaminated and who are forced to use contaminated groundwater for irrigation of agricultural land and, hence, are facing several severe problems.
- Appoint a competent expert committee, including key people from the local villages and the Voluntary Organisations, to assess the ongoing and past damages to quantify the real compensation payable to the farmers for the damage done.
- Appoint a team of experts to determine and monitor the quality of surface water and land as well as the groundwater and their levels on a periodic basis.
- Devise short-term and long-term plans for remedial measures to decontaminate and remediate / restore the surface water and land as well as the groundwater levels and quality based on the “Polluter Pays Principle”.
- Declare a ‘Chemical Emergency’ in the ‘ECP Industrial Cluster’ and include ECP area as a Critically Polluted Area.
- Impose an immediate moratorium on expansion of the existing industries and for any new industries in this area.
- Devise an option of shifting of known polluting industries from this area in the interest of life, livelihood, and environment of the area. These efforts must ensure regenerative design principles, follows all environment related laws in letter and spirit, and not just shift the same type of conventional industrial activities to other areas.
- Implement, at the earliest, the Order, dated 22.02.2017, of the Supreme Court in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors) and National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, Delhi Order, dated 03.08.2018 and 19.02.2019, in Original Application No. 593 of 2017, (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors) in letter and spirit.
- Appoint a high level committee of the MoEF&CC, CPCB, GPCB, local state authority, representatives of affected villagers and the representatives of the voluntary organisations working in this area on environment and independent expertise to help design, monitor, and evaluate all these works carried out in the area and submit its reports to the concerned authorities and the local peoples affected by the pollution and contamination, as well as the voluntary organizations working in this area, on a regular basis.