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5. Vapi, India
Location: Vapi, Gujarat, India, a major chemical industry center
Vapi is a region overwhelmed by industrial pollution. More than 50 industries poison the local soil and groundwater with pesticides, PCBs (carcinogenic chemicals), chlorine, chromium, mercury, cadmium, dyes, and lead. (2) Industrial pollution is a severe problem in all of India.
The affected area is the 400 km industrial belt of Vapi in south Gujarat’s Valsad district. It is fifth on this year’s list of the ten most polluted places in the world, according to a new report by the Blacksmith Institute, a U.S. environmental watchdog. The study ranked these places based on the seriousness of the industrial pollution and the number of people at risk. (1) The area affected includes more than 71,000 people.
The major source of the crisis in Vapi is industrial pollution. Located at the southern end of the Golden Corridor, a belt of 1,402 chemical industries, Vapi’s water and soil are being inundated with chemicals, dyes, pharmaceuticals, paints, and plastics. Engineering, glass, and paper industries also dump industrial pollution into rivers, streams, and groundwater. According to the Blacksmith report, hazardous materials such as heavy metals, cyanides, pesticides, and polychlorinated biphenyls are discharged as industrial waste from local industries. The report states, “Mercury in Vapi’s groundwater is reported to be 96 times higher than WHO standards. Effluents drain directly into the Damanganga and Kolak rivers; water downstream of the Kolak is now unable to support much biological life.” (1) The main problem in Vapi is the Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP), which does not comply with CPCB or GPCB (i.e.; two pollution control boards) norms for controlling industrial pollution. The Vapi Industrial Association (the industries) has said that it will correct problems with the CETP. However, little has been accomplished. Most industries still dump untreated pollutants into the rivers.
People, Animals, Plants and Waterways Effected
In Vapi high levels of mercury in the groundwater and untreated industrial pollution from industries in the Vapi Industrial Estate are being discharged into the Damanganga and Kolak Rivers. In Kolak village, “Sixty people have died of cancer in the village in the past 10 years, while 20 others are fighting a losing battle,” states Ganpat B. Tandel, former head of the village council. (4) Twenty years ago, there were many fewer cancer cases. Most of the villagers eat fish from the polluted rivers. “The organochlorines and other persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the industrial effluents are known carcinogens,” says Michael Mazgaonkar of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS), a non-governmental organization in Gujarat. Eighty per cent of India’s drinking water is drawn from groundwater. Down To Earth sent reporters to areas where groundwater pollution has been reported. They brought back samples from Haryana, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh. The samples were analyzed at the Facility for Ecological and Analytical Testing (FEAT) of the Indian Institute of Technology. There were traces of heavy metals (iron and zinc) in all the samples, cadmium in five samples, and lead in three. All the samples had levels of mercury that were dangerously high. (4) In Vapi, the mercury level was 90 times the recommended level.
Clean up Activities
So, what is happening to save the people? Not much. Some time ago, there was talk of battling the industries in the courts and through non-governmental organizations. But, there is no point in depending on government agencies to handle the crisis. There is a clear government bias in favour of the polluting industries. Some public interest cases did bring the polluters into court. In 1995, the Gujarat High Court ordered 756 industrial businesses in the area be closed, ordering them to compensate the villages affected by industrial pollution. Many of these businesses are operating today and are still polluting.
It is places like Vapi in India that Commerce Minister Kamal Nath is trying to revamp the housing development for those living in the area.
“The failure of the court had an extremely damaging effect as even the last institution of democracy failed to check pollution in Gujarat,” decries Girish Patel, a Gujarat High Court advocate. (6) Most recently, the Indian government has avoided addressing the industrial pollution crisis by allowing even more industries into the affected areas. No provisions for the control of groundwater and river pollution or soil pollution were made.
How You Can Help
Greenpeace, the international environmental group, is appalled by the ''harm being caused to the environment by polluting industries in India.'' (5) The group has decided to create offices in Delhi and Bombay and urge industry to focus on "clean production rather than end-of-the-pipe solutions.” (5) Greenpeace plans to accept memberships for a fee of 500 rupees or more, from those who want to support the cause of stopping industrial pollution. (Contact the group via email at: email@example.com.) Nityanand Jayaraman, Greenpeace Asia hazardous waste’s campaigner, said that Greenpeace has been establishing a “modest campaign presence” for four years in India. (5) He stated that “India is an ecological heavyweight with capabilities to decide the environmental fate of the globe. This is so because of its sheer size, the vast variety of problems from various interests, and mindless liberalization of the economy.” (5) Greenpeace advocates that industrial pollution in India, particularly chlorine and heavy metals, be eliminated, especially in Vapi, “India’s most polluted province.” (5) The group intends to internationalize cleaning up industrial pollution, a formerly local issue. "One of our strengths is that all our campaigns are based on solid scientific finding. We identify issues first and then use science to address these issues. This is followed by awareness-building exercises, along with lobbying. We believe in taking action…” (5) You can help solve the problem of industrial soil, river, and groundwater pollution in Vapi, India by contributing to the efforts of Greenpeace.
- http://www.worldproutassembly.org/archives/2007/09/orissas_mines_v.html (1)
- (The World Prout Assembly is a non-profit organization affiliated with
- Proutist Universal Global Headquarters, Kolkata, India.)