THE inference drawn by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) that a liquor factory in Punjab’s Ferozepur district was injecting contaminated water into the ground through reverse boring is in line with what the protesting villagers have been claiming for months. An agitation was launched in Zira in July last year, demanding the closure of the ethanol unit for allegedly polluting groundwater in villages and also causing air pollution. Unlike boring, which is done to lift underground water, reverse boring involves drilling a deep trench to dispose of waste water. The latter gets mixed with underground water and pollutes it. The findings fly in the face of claims that it was a zero-liquid-discharge factory.
The CPCB report, submitted to the National Green Tribunal, found a high concentration of heavy metals in the water drawn from two borewells on the factory premises. Water samples drawn from 29 borewells near the unit were also found unfit for drinking, lending credence to the charge that the factory was causing ecological degradation. According to the report, most of the groundwater structures identified by the inspection team had been installed without obtaining permissions. Two sealed borewells were found within a few metres of each other instead of the mandated 200-metre distance.
Operations at the factory have been suspended since July last year, and the owners have moved court. Protests continue at the site despite the Chief Minister announcing a shutdown. The Zira protest not only exemplifies a just fight for environmental protection, but it’s also a call for fixing accountability. The regulatory authorities cannot be absolved of their laxity that resulted in a public health scare. A case for imposing a stiff environment compensation is made out. A stringent pollution audit of all industrial units would be in order.
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