Dyeing units emit slow death
LUDHIANA: Foul smell of chemicals, clouds of black smoke and blackish water of Budha Nullah — the drain passing through city — welcome you as you enter this industrial hub of Punjab. It is almost impossible to move on both sides of Budha Nullah, Jalandhar bypass and Tajpur roads without covering your nose, as a large number of dyeing units are causing water and air pollution.
About 200 dyeing units in Ludhiana are polluting the water of Budha Nullah and air of the city by emitting fly ash and discharging industrial waste without treatment. A number of them have even encroached upon the Nullah’s land to extend their premises. Ironically, all this is happening under the nose of the Punjab State Pollution Control Board and Municipal Corporation in clear violation of the directions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
The situation is grim in Balmiki Ghatti, Guru Arjun Dev Nagar, Adarsh Nagar, Beant Pura, Jagdish Pura, Indira Puri, Maya Puri, Vijay Nagar, EWS colony and Sector 32. The disposal of industrial waste in the Budha Nullah and fly ash and burnt particles in the air have badly affected the ground water and air quality of the surrounding areas.
According to a recent WHO study conducted here, about 3,000 industrial workers were afflicted with tuberculosis, mostly working in dyeing units. Dr Satish Nauriah, President, Ludhiana TB Eradication Society, associated with the project, said: “The actual number of TB patients in the dyeing units alone must be over 10,000 since the industrialists do not allow proper diagnosis of the workers. Once their health deteriorates, their services are terminated and they will leave for their home in UP or Bihar.” He added that dust particles, unhygienic working conditions and obsolete technology were causing chest pain, asthma, eye irritation and other diseases among workers and residents of neighbouring colonies.
According to industry insiders, the directions of the Supreme Court to check pollution, strong opposition from community and seriousness of the state government had in fact resulted in on increase in the ‘monthly commission’ of the officials concerned. They said, the monthly rate had increased in recent months from Rs 2000 per month to Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000.
Mr Tittu Tandon in Balmiki Mohala, who was running a dyeing unit till recently, said: "On an average, each dyeing unit shilling out Rs 3000 to Rs 5000 per month to the officials concerned to close their eyes.” Those who do not pay money, run their units at night, on weekends or during early hours, when the officials are resting at their home."
Another dyeing unit owner disclosed: “On an average, each unit is processing about 500 kg material per day and it will have to spend at least Rs 1 per kg additional for treatment of water and to use high quality fuel like brickets, coal or gas. But then who would like to spend over Rs 2 lakh extra in a year if he can save his skin by paying Rs 40,000 to 50,000 to officials and lower rank employees.”
The residents agree that the situation had marginally improved in the past three years and some of the units had even taken measures to check pollution. But about 200 units were still running without any fear. It was affecting the health of about three lakh population living in the vicinity. Some of the units were owned by the local leaders of the ruling and opposition parties and municipal councillors as well.
A visit to Guru Arjun Dev Nagar, Adarsh Nagar, Beant Pura, Jagdish Pura and other localities on both sides of Budha Nullah revealed that most of the units situated on the banks, were discharging their industrial waste without any treatment. The foul smelling black coloured water of this drain could make any person sick. Interestingly, most of the effluent treatment plants installed outside the units were non-functional.
Dr Pawan Mehta, President, Anti-Pollution Society, who had participated in a number of agitations against industrial pollution, claimed, “The units are discharging industrial waste, which include sodium chloride, sodium nitrate, potassium, other acids and chemical colours, without any treatment. We can not sit on the roof of our house because of the problem of fly ash. The unburnt particles often cause irritation in the eyes. The pollution has badly affected the health of women, old persons and kids.”
Mr Pashu Prashad, a labourer working in a dyeing unit, said: “The owners use low quality fuel like raw rice husk, dry fodder, cow dung, wood, burnt oil and even plastic and rubber pieces to run their furnaces. We are not provided any mask or any medical treatment.” The workers said since most of the employees were migrant labourers, the employers would simply hand over a sum of Rs 10,000 or so whenever they fall sick. About 40,000 employees are working in these units, and a large number of them are suffering from asthma, eye irritation and chronic diseases especially tuberculosis.
Defending the role of Punjab Pollution Control Board, Mr Harveer Singh, XEN, said: “We are doing our best. About 25 dyeing units have already been shifted to the focal point, that have taken preventive measures to check the emission of fly ash and untreated water.” But he declined to disclose how many units were prosecuted during three years for causing pollution.