Industrial pollution at Behala and Community Action
On 21 February,1997, there was an unusual scene in the Calcutta High court. A number of housewives from east Behala were narrating their experiences on environmental pollution in front of Green Bench of the High court. Indian urban centres are facing a new kind of problem. Already in Delhi, the issue of pollution from industries within the city area has caused several court cases and Supreme Court ordered all industries in non-industrial zone to vacate. Other cities need to take a lesson from that. But is Kolkata learning from that?
Behala is located in the south west part of Kolkata. The area under concern is Kolkata Municipal Corporation Ward Nos. 116,117 & 121. The area was rural in character three decades back and there were some big rice mills. There were a number of ponds, wetlands, fallow lands. A number of factories were set up later and a large number of small scale industries were set up without any planning in the defunct rice mill premises.
After 1990, the industrial pollution in the area became a matter of serious concern. Shri D.P.Bhattacharya, one of the founder members of vasundhara , organised local people to protest against this problem. Most of the local industries had no clearance from West Bengal Pollution Control Board. A PIL was filed against some chemical industries in the Kolkata High Court. The High Court after going through the reports of WBPCB and All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health severely indicted the factories for neglecting pollution control and closed them. Meanwhile the case was transferred to the M.C.Mehta Vs Union of India & others case in the Supreme Court since the two factories figured in both and for similar charges. Later the WBPCB filed favourable status report to the Supreme Court and the Apex Court allowed them to function as they reportedly installed pollution-control. Dissatisfied with the environmental clearances from the statutory authorities, the local residents filed a case in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court directed NEERI for inspection and report. NEERI found the pollution control measure inadequate and the Supreme Court directed all these industries to relocate from east Behala. Vasundhara provided the scientific and technical support to the case.
On February, 1997, the housewives of the locality addressed a letter to the Green Bench of Calcutta High Court complaining about serious degradation of the environmental quality of the area. High Court ordered WBPCB to survey the area. The survey report revealed that there are 141 plastic reprocessing units, 55 spray painting units, paints and printing ink manufacturing units, 230 engineering & fabrication units, 20 electroplating/galvanizing units and 30 chemical units. None of these units have any clearance from WBPCB. Most of the units are causing pollution. But WBPCB failed to monitor industry specific pollutants. So we are still at dark about the nature of pollution in this area.
The local people are complaining of different kind of physical problems. A number of local physicians wrote to the Minister and the High Court about this. Till now nothing has been done from the administration.
New polluting industries are being set up in the area. The ponds are being filled up. The open spaces are filled with hazardous waste. Dirty plastic wastes are heaped around the residential places. Still after analysis reports from All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, NEERI and the survey report of WBPCB, nothing has improved in the area. It is hightime that the authorities take proper actions to make the area safe for living and also solve the problem of industrial locations in urban residential areas.
What happened in Delhi
On application of Mr. M.C.Mehta in 1985, Supreme Court ordered relocation of 8738 (later increased to 9164) industries in March 1995 because of violation of Delhi Master Plan -2001and shifting of those industries in the area designated for industries. 168 hazardous industries were ordered to close immediately and shift outside Delhi as Master Plan does not permit such industries. Authorities were ready to offer plots.
For the workmen the Supreme Court ordered that a)The workmen will have continuity of service during shifting b) The workmen will be paid full wages during this period c) One year wage will be given as shifting bonus d) The workmen of the industries not willing to shift will be paid 6 years wages. e) The workmen not willing to shift will be paid according to Industrial Disputes Act and one year's wage.
For the vacated site, the Supreme Court ordered that a) Upto 2000 sq. m (0.2 ha) land, the owner can sell or develop in accordance with Delhi Master Plan b) 0.2 ha - 5 ha. , the owner can sell or develop 43% of land in accordance with Delhi Master Plan .and 57% of land will be used for tree plantation and open space. c) 5-10 ha: the owner can sell or develop 35% of land in accordance with Delhi Master Plan .and 65% of land will be used for tree plantation and open space. d) More than 10 ha: the owner can develop 32% of land in accordance with Delhi Master Plan .and 68% of land will be used for tree plantation and open space.
The Critique of the Judgement:
a) The case was filed 10 years back, why it took 10 years to decide the fate of workers or was it dragged out from old files for some purpose? Will judiciary reply?
b) As most of the workers are not officially permanent in these small industries, they will not be able to get the compensation. There is no safeguard for them. Who will take care of them?
c) As the industries violated the Master Plan, why DDA (Delhi Development Authority) officials should not be punished for allowing these industries continue for many years?
d) Why pollution control board administrators should not be pulled up for allowing such a situation to develop? Why they did nothing till the court order?
e) 64% of air pollution of Delhi is due to automobile emission and cars numbers are highest in the country. No action was taken on that field.
f) No detailed study of pollution from these industries was ever done. Authorities did not suggest any pollution control measures.
Some Basic Facts about East Behala
( Ward No. 116, 117, 121) -1991 census
Total Population : (1991) 78,529 Projected (2001) : 94,000
Female to Male Ratio:
881 per 1000 male (W.B. average: 917), shows the trend of an urban/industrial zone.
Male Literacy :
77% (W.B. average: 67.8%) Female Literacy: 64% (W.B. average: 46.6%)
Manufacturing - 31.2% Transport - 13.3%
Construction - 4.6% Trade - 24.6%