Nearly four years after a direct order from the Supreme Court asking them to set up facilities that can deal with industrial waste, 18 states have failed to act at all, potentially letting hazardous waste be disposed of in illegal dumps.
On top of the inaction, 13 of these states claim that they have not detected any illegal dumping even though a March report by a Supreme Court monitoring committee shows that industrial units in those very states generate 484,897 tonnes of hazardous waste annually.
“The critical question is where does the waste go? It is very simple. It is either dumped on any free land and thinly covered with soil, or it is dumped within the industrial premises itself and camouflaged with soil,” says an official closely associated with the investigations who did not wish to be identified.
The non-compliance with the Supreme Court’s orders is set to come up before the court on Thursday following an application by the committee.
As per the Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rules of 1989, states are required to construct a common hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facility.
But investigations, led by the committee, show that 18 states and two Union territories are yet to construct such a facility, making them non-compliant with the Supreme Court order of 14 October 2003. All the states and Union territories were also reminded on 27 February 2006 by the committee to comply with the order.
In Karnataka, for instance, though the site for such a facility was notified in 2003, nothing has happened since then. The report severely castigates Karnataka and proposes that the court take drastic action and order closure of all hazardous waste generating units there.
Apart from Karnataka, non-compliant states include Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Orissa, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Bihar, Chandigarh, Jharkhand, Pondicherry, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and Meghalaya.
The lack of any such facility, experts concur, often means that waste is being dumped elsewhere; typically in forests or low-lying areas. Indeed, the court order had also specified that no hazardous waste shall be stored beyond 90 days. The committee, in this case, has recommended issuing contempt notices to the states.
In addition to ordering the building of the treatment, storage and disposal facility, the 2003 order also issued detailed instructions about illegal hazardous waste dumpsites. It mandated that states identify them and prepare rehabilitation plans.
Acting on the Supreme Court’ directions, 141 hazardous waste dumpsites were identified and reported by 13 states. Out of the 13, only Maharashtra and Gujarat, to some extent, have made any effort to clear the waste, the report says.
Gujarat cleared 15 out of 22 identified sites and Maharashtra spent Rs7.8 crore on managing its waste.
The committee says that Delhi produces 18,000 tonnes of hazardous waste per year yet it doesn’t have a facility or a landfill.
And surprisingly, Delhi did not report sighting any illegal dumpsite either.
Similarly, Jharkhand, a large industrial belt, produces 1,81,227 tonnes a year while Chhattisgarh generates 73,001 tonnes. Neither have built disposal facilities.
J.K. Dadoo, chairman, Delhi Pollution Control Committee says, “Delhi state has already identified the site and the budget for the disposal facility. Unfortunately, villagers from the site of the proposed faciltiy have gone to the high court and the matter is stuck. Till that is resolved, hazardous waste generating units are supposed to store their waste in containers and keep it on their premises.”
Sunil Kant Munjal, managing director of Hero Cycles Ltd and a past president of Confederation of Indian Industries, says it critical that states set up facilities to treat hazardous wastes.
“In many processes where you handle effluents, it may not be possible to reduce it to zero waste,” said Munjal. “In such cases, there should be specified locations where such waste can be dumped. But most states have not done this.”
Munjal also notes that industry can get the blame in some states on effluent treatment even though the state itself has failed to put the necessary infrastructure in place.
Meanwhile, the court committee has recommended that states adopt a more scientific method of identifying illegal dumpsites by using remote sensing techniques. It has asked state pollution control boards to tie up with the National Remote Sensing Agency in Hyderabad.
However, a pilot study conducted by Maharashtra showed that remote-sensing would only work if it is supplemented by physical monitoring by each state.
The state pollution boards “are not equipped with adequate scientific or technological base to address or handle environmental protection,” says the same official.