Hyderabad: Calls have mounted for action against big drug makers that activists say are responsible for industrial pollution, after a medium-sized pharma company shut its manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Hyderabad on the orders of the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board (PCB).
The board asked SMS Pharmaceuticals Ltd, which trades on both the National Stock Exchange (NSE) and Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), to shut the plant located in Patancheru after protests by local activists.
Dangerous waters: A Swedish study found supposedly treated waste water in the Patancheru lake (above) had 21 active drug ingredients. Mahesh Kumar A / AP
The shutdown on Monday followed a probe announced by the Prime Minister’s Office last week into the results of a Swedish study that found supposedly treated waste water in the area contained a cocktail of 21 different active pharmaceutical ingredients.
The extremely high levels of pharmaceuticals were found in the treated waste water at a plant where about 90 drug factories dump their residues in Patancheru, AP cited the research as having found.
“There is some seepage from our plant but it is there from other units in the area as well,” SMS Pharmaceuticals’ chairman and managing director Ramesh Potluri said about the release of untreated effluents into a nearby water stream.
Potluri said the company had all necessary approvals and certifications from PCB and hoped to reopen the unit.
A team from the Central Pollution Control Board has already visited the area and collected samples. Water streams in the area are used by downstream villagers for farming as well as household use.
Bigger pharma companies such as Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd, Matrix Laboratories Ltd and Aurobindo Pharma Ltd “are also equally contributing to the pollution”, said A. Kishan Rao, president of the Patancheru anti-pollution committee. “It’s corporate terrorism.” Rao was also a member of the area monitoring committee appointed by the Supreme Court to monitor implementation of the court’s directives regarding litigation initiated by several Hyderabad-based non-governmental organizations against polluting industries in early 2000.
“While companies like Dr Reddy’s claim to be following green manufacturing practices in their own units, they outsource manufacturing of bulk drugs and other ingredients to smaller units who flout effluent disposal norms,” said G. Vijay, a member of the faculty of department of economics at the University of Hyderabad.
Vijay has done extensive research on the economic impact of such pollution on the agrarian and household economy in the region. “Further, most companies very often send partially treated effluents to the common effluent treatment plant, which is not equipped to properly treat such effluents,” he said.
Dr Reddy’s has four pharma manufacturing units on the outskirts of Hyderabad and two more at other locations in Andhra Pradesh.
“All our bulk drug manufacturing facilities do not discharge any effluent externally as they are zero liquid discharge facilities,” a spokesperson for Dr Reddy’s said. “Our formulations facilities have minimal effluents and these plants use the treated effluent for on-land gardening within the plant premises.”
Dr Reddy’s hires contract manufacturers “only after ascertaining that they comply with the necessary regulations on safety, health and environment”, the spokesperson said.
Aurobindo has six manufacturing units in the outskirts of Hyderabad.
“Question of release partially treated or non-treated effluents does not arise as we have our own on-site treatment plants,” said Aurobindo spokesperson J.V. Reddy.
Matrix did not respond to emails from Mint.
For at least 500 bulk drug and other pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturing units on the city’s outskirts, there are only two common effluent treatment plants.
The Patancheru anti-pollution committee said the common effluent treatment plants are under-equipped to process toxic effluents from the units that manufacture a vast spectrum of chemicals.
Shares of SMS Pharmaceuticals gained 4% to close at Rs77.95 on BSE on Tuesday as the benchmark Sensex rose 0.9%. On Monday, following the news of its manufacturing unit being shut, the shares had closed at Rs75, close to its 52-week low of Rs72.
Shares of Dr Reddy’s shed 2.31% to close at Rs437.90 while Aurobindo fell 4.75% to close at Rs143.40. The BSE HealthCare Index fell by 0.72 %, or 19.38 points, to close at 2,661.79.