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Open Letter to Narendra Modi on Heavy Pollution in Gujarat

Written By Krishna on Wednesday, December 14, 2011 | 10:17 PM

To,

Shri Narendrabhai Modi
The Chief Minister of Gujarat
Government of Gujarat
1st Block, 5th Floor,
New Sachivalaya,
Gandhinagar - 382 010.

Shri Narendrabhai Modi
The Chairperson
The Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority
Block No. 11, 5th Floor,
Udyog Bhavan, Sector - 11,
Gandhinagar - 382 017

Subject: Requesting you to clarify the position of your government on some major people’s issues when you are in Vadodara on 15th December 2011 for your ‘Sadbhavna Mission’.

Dear Sir,

We would like to raise certain issues for your response when you are in Vadodara on 15th December 2011 for your ‘Sadbhavna Mission’. We do not want to raise the issue by protesting in public by shouting slogans but we are sending you our questions in advance so that when you are in Vadodara you can give your response. We are also sending the copy of the letter to the press so that you can also give your response to the press. These are not new; we have repeatedly raised these same issues in letters sent to your various departments and directly to you but we have yet to receive a proper reply. Your office always referred these letters to the so-called concerned department even when straight questions were addressed to you. We are ready for dialogue in an open meeting with you. We are also prepared to attend a press conference to discuss these issues in the presence of press. We assure you that we are eager to engage in dialog with you, and are sending you our concerns in advance so that the discussion may be thoughtful.

(1) Your book CONVENIENT ACTION – Gujarat’s Response To Challenges of Climate Change selectively presents information and data which are convenient to defend the ‘development model’ being pursued by the state. Even the Gujarat Ecology Commission report acknowledges the abysmal status of the environment in Gujarat. Why did you base your book on cherry-picked evidence that ignores the level of irreversible environmental degradation in the state of Gujarat?You have included in your book on page 132-133 a photo of the 'Common Effluent Treatment Plant' of Vapi, a facility which has not been able to fulfil the environmental norms prescribed by Gujarat Pollution Control Board since many years. While the photo is very large, there is no discussion about the functioning of CETP of Vapi. Your book completely ignores the failure of all major ‘industrial effluent treatment facilities’ of Gujarat. Why?

(2) On 17th September 2011, an RTI application with your office, seeking information regarding the ‘Sadbhavna Mission’ was filed by Rohit Prajapati and Trupti Shah. The RTI application sought to know how much money was spent on the 3 days (17, 18 & 19th) programme, who were the sponsors, and under which policy or rules this programme was conceived and carried out. The application was forwarded to the home department and home department is saying that they can provide the information about their department only and about other question lot of other departments are involved so we should approach the other department. A request was made to your office to forward our application to other concerned departments so that we could receive responses to our application. Why has your office failed to forward the application to other concerned departments? We would like to know your position on this issue.

(3) We had also launched a complaint against residential & commercial complexes coming up in the vicinity of hazardous solid waste sites in Ahmedabad (Vatva & Naroda) in violation of GPCB notification on industrial hazardous solid waste and The Hazardous Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 1989. These complexes were in violation of the CPCB & GPCB guideline and norms requiring a 500 meter safety distance from TSDFs & CETPs to residential complexes. Instead of punishing the violating builders/contractors, The Forest & Environment Department and Urban Development and Urban Housing Department of Government of Gujarat decided, in the meeting dated 5-9-2011, to relax the required 500 meter safety radius to only 100 meters for the purpose of legalizing all illegal residential complexes which came after the notification. For future, it was decided that the 500 meter distance would be enforced.The original guideline was issued with the intention of preventing risk to the health and safety of the people. The revision obviously looks at the profit margin of unscrupulous contractors, not the innocent residents who will suffer in future.This post-facto regularization of illegal residential complexes sends a clear message that the safety norms can be bent to accommodate economic interests. This is going to be a disastrous action on the part of the concerned authorities as far as the health and safety of the people is concerned. It is clear that such a decision can only be due to immense pressure from the rich and powerful.It cannot have been a suo motto decision. Instead of taking firm action and enforcing the regulations, these departments are succumbing to pressure from all sides from powerful rich people who want to legalize their illegal residential complexes.Any post facto relaxation in the present environmental guidelines and norms is nothing but manipulation of present environmental norms to legalize illegal construction activities in order to favour powerful rich people who can pressurize the Government to act against the interests of ordinary people. We are opposed to the proposed dilution of norms, and have expressed this and written letters to you. We would like to know your position on this issue, especially the acceptability of changing laws to accommodate violators.

(4) As treatment facilities of Gujarat continue to be unable to meet the Gujarat Pollution Control Board‘s (GPCB) norms, a moratorium on opening new industries or expansion of existing industries was declared for the Ankleshwar area on 7-7-2007, and now the Ministry of Environment and Forests has extended it up to 31-3-2012. Later on, on 13-1-2010 a moratorium was declared for other areas like Vatva, Bhavnagar, Junagadh, Vapi, etc. The moratorium was subsequently lifted for the Vapi, Bhavnagar, and Junagadh area because of the pressure of the Gujarat Government. We objected to the lifting of moratorium for Vapi because treatment facilities of Vapi are still not able to meet the GPCB norms. Today the moratorium for Vatva, Ankleshwar is extended till 31-3-2012. This has rightly stalled the projected huge investment in these areas of Gujarat. However, we believe that as responsible citizens, we are not and cannot be concerned only with the quantum of investment, but also with what is being invested, what the goal of the investment is, and how it affects the people in general. The Gujarat Government has perpetually opposed these moratoriums, despite obvious need. Given that the industries are facing moratoriums from the Ministry of Environment and Forests for unabated cycle of pollution which continues to impact adversely all kinds of lives – human, agriculture and livestock, we are interested to know what you have to say regarding the industrial moratoriums in our state.

(5) Why does your government fail to have land use policy? Why is an abundance of chemical industries allowed in fertile land, including the 'vegetable basket' of India like Padra Taluka of Vadodara District?

(6) On 7-5-2004 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 657/1995, the Supreme Court ordered Gujarat State to provide clean drinking water to residents of villages near Vapi, Ankleshwar, and Effluent Channel Project of Vadodara, where the water supply was irrevocably damaged by industrial activities. Yet, there are ongoing actions contrary to what the Court has ordered. This order is waiting for its implementation. When will your government implement this order? The quality of groundwater in Gujarat has reached at critical stage and yet it is being contaminated continuously. Orders for clean drinking water are passed based on the visit of the Supreme Court committee, and the committee is not able to visit all the affected villages of the Golden Corridor. The groundwater of about 14 districts and about 74 talukas of Gujarat are critically affected by pollution. Even if we take the routine parameter like Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), Total Hardness (TS), Dissolved Oxygen (DO), Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), and some heavy metal like Cadmium, Copper, Lead, Mercury, Iron etc. Thus condition of the groundwater of Gujarat requires immediate attention as the rural population is deprived of the very basic need of safe drinking water and clean water for their animals and crops.

Ahmedabad, Daskroi, Mehmedavad, Vadodara, Ankleshwar, Bardoli, Choryasi, Kamrej, Mangrol, Olpad, Palsana, Valod, Vyara, Navsari, Sanand, Dhoraji, Jetpur, Okha Mandal etc talukas are critically polluted. Amreli, Jambusar, Junagad, Mandvi, Kalol, Morvi, Upleta, Mahuva, Chorila, Dhangadhar, Limdi, Bansda, Umbergaon etc talukas are found moderately polluted.[1]

If we talk about Vatva to Vapi - Golden Corridor it is clear that 70% of the groundwater is contaminated and it has reached the irreversible level. When you are going to act on this serious issue of contamination of ground water?

(7) The air pollution situation is also alarming in the Golden Corridor of Gujarat. The Gujarat Pollution Control Board admits[2] in writing “5. PROBABLE POLLUTANTS: … (B) Air: HCL, SO2, NH3, H2S, NOx, PM2.5, PM10, VOCs, PAHs, PCBs, VINYL CHLORIDE. Note: Benzene, VOCs, PAHs, PCBs, vinyl chloride are not being monitored by GPCB, as no measuring facility is available with GPCB. This statement speaks for itself. In an advanced state like Gujarat, why do we not have facilities to take these basic measurements? Moreover, when will you take actions to clean up the air quality, which has become some poor?

(8) You are the chairman of the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority and the same authority has to implement ‘The Gujarat State Disaster Management Act, 2003. The Act clearly states ‘(2) (h) “ disaster” means an actual or imminent event, whether natural or otherwise occurring in any part of the State which causes, or threatens to cause all or any of the following: (i) widespread loss or damage to property, both immovable and movable; or (ii) widespread loss of human life or injury or illness to human beings; or (iii) damage or degradation of environment;’[3] but the web site of Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority states ‘The GSDMA has been constituted by the Government of Gujarat by the GAD’s Resolution dated 8th February 2001. The Authority has been created as a permanent arrangement to handle the natural calamities.’[4] What about environmental disasters? There is no ‘Comprehensive Chemical Emergency Plan’ with the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority. The Director, Health & Safety Department has an ‘Off Site Emergency Plan;’ but when we demanded a copy of it, we were told that it is secret. Kindly clarify your position on the crucial issue of a disaster management plan and its transparency.

(9) A direct outcome of our persistent efforts since 1994 has been forcing GPCB / Government to act against Hema Chemicals of Vadodara which was responsible for illegal dumping of hazardous chromium waste in Gorwa area of Vadodara. As per the direction of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee the company has been ordered in year 2004 to pay Rs. 17 Crores as first instalment towards remediation of the site. Why has your government failed to remove the hazardous waste dumped by Hema Chemicals, recover the Rs 17 Crores fines from Hema Chemicals, per the direction of Supreme Court?

(10) In Gujarat the Final Effluent Treatment Plant (FETP) of Ankleshwar which was inaugurated by you continues to be unable to meet the Gujarat Pollution Control Board’s norms. The Project is designed to divert industrial pollution from Amla Khadi and the Narmada River. The FETP is operated by Bharuch Eco Aqua Infrastructure Ltd, (now known as ‘Narmada Clean Tech Ltd.’). The FETP was built by the sweat of tax payers. Out of a total project cost of Rs 131.43 Crores, the industries paid only Rs 21.75 Crores (about 17%); the rest of the tab (Rs 109 Crores) was picked up the Central Government, Gujarat Government, and Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) - all of which ultimately draw from public money. It is a familiar story: the profits are distributed privately, but the institutional costs and environmental burden are borne by another segment of the population. Why did you inaugurate the FETP pipeline project despite its non-compliance with the GPCB norms? Why do you endorse the public paying when industries pollute?

(11) Which law allows the effluent that does not meet Gujarat Pollution Control Board norms to be discharged from Tadgam Sarigam Pipeline, from FETP, Ankleshwar, ECP, Vadodara, CETPs of Ahmedabad? We would like you to clarify your position on the issue of such an open and blunt disregard of environment laws.

(12) The Vadodara Mahanagar Seva Sadan is dumping its municipal solid wastes into the ravines, ditches, hillocks of Vishwamitri River by violating the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000. The action of the corporation is directly violating laws which provide that water bodies should not be permitted to be polluted. Instead of protection and preservation, the government and its corporation are themselves are destroying a Vishwamitri River with their unlawful and unethical dumping of Municipal Solid Waste. Many times this has also led to terrible floods from River Vishwamitri.On 25th of May 2005 the Chairperson of Gujarat Pollution Control Board had given clear direction to the Municipal Commissioner of Vadodara Municipal Corporation: (1) To stop dumping of Municipal Solid Waste on the bank of the river “Vishwamitri“ and recollect all the waste from about 70,000 sq. meter area and dispose it on the landfill site. (2) To recollect solid waste from the bank of the river and clean up national water way to avoid the flooding during monsoon season. (3) To recollect solid waste from site near Akota Garden and on the bank of the river near VUDA Circle and dispose it at the landfill site. (4) To stop burning of Municipal solid waste all over the city immediately. (5) To direct the concerned personnel to be more vigil and careful. (6) Directed them to comply with the direction issued in the authorization granted.

Now VMSS do have the so-called legal site but still direction dated 25-5-2005 is not implemented by the VMSS and still illegal dumping is continued at the illegal site. This is nothing but butchering of the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000. Why there is no legal action under the act as initiated against the VMSS by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board?

There is little to debate regarding the factual basis underlying our concerns. We have also made our perspective clear: the environment and the well-being of people in general should be treated with more respect than industrial/profit-making interests. By writing this letter, we are soliciting your stance on these issues in writing. In the interest of democracy and transparency, we feel we are entitled to a response from you.

Rohit Prajapati
Swati Desai
Trupti Shah
Anand Mazgaonkar
Amrish Brahmbhatt
Shivani Patel
Rajni Dave

[1] State Environmental Action Programme - Industrial Pollution Phase III – Sectoral Report, Volume - I, Gujarat Ecology Commission, April 2002
[2] Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Abatement Action Plan – Vapi Industrial Cluster – Gujarat, GPCB, Gandhinagar 2010
[3] http://www.gsdma.org/dmact.pdf[4] http://www.gsdma.org/profile.htm
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