Is Ankleshwar estate an environmental time bomb?

Is Ankleshwar estate an environmental time bomb?

Ahmedabad: The Ankleshwar-Panoli-Jhaghadia belt in Bharuch, a district in southern Gujarat, is one of the biggest chemical and pharmaceutical hubs in the country, with units here earning estimated revenues of Rs20,000 crore. But its more than 2,000 units have earned it another tag — as an environmental time bomb.

The fire of 3 April at an inflammable toxic solid waste treatment facility run by the Bharuch Enviro Infrastructure Ltd (BEIL) may have focused public attention on the area, but the timer on this bomb has been ticking for some time.

In the past six months, the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) has issued notices to more than 140 units for improper discharge of effluents. The board’s actions were based on the findings of a report on water pollution commissioned by the state government in September that sho-wed the Ankleshwar-Panoli-Jhaghadia belt discharged far more effluents into the environment than allowed.

The effluent treatment plant set up under the aegis of Bharuch Eco Aqua Infrastructure Ltd (BEAIL) in 2002 was designed to treat 40 million litre per day (mld) of discharge. The flow of effluents from the Ankleshwar industrial estate was 22mld at the time, while Panoli pumped out another 4.5mld and Jhagadia 1.5mld. The number of units in the belt have increased since. This has forced the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation to increase its water supply there to 47mld, from 34mld in 2002.

Effluents discharged by the units in the three areas now total around 52mld, nearly 30% more than BEAIL’s capacity, the report stated. It is also more than the 46mld discharge permitted by GPCB.

“We smelt some foul play...and served notices to the units," said a GPCB official, who did not wish to be identified. The state government has now stopped issuing no-objection certificates for units that want to function out of the Ankleshwar industrial estate.

K. Srivatsan, secretary, Ankleshwar Industrial Association, which represents the manufacturing units in the region, claimed firms had cut down their excessive discharge. He added that units in the region were “better than others" and had reached an agreement with GPCB. “Many industries have resumed operations at earlier levels (of discharge)," he said.

Meanwhile, the state government is setting up a Rs300-crore pipeline to discharge treated effluents deep into the sea and to expand the capacity of the BEAIL plant to 60mld, which is expected to be complete by the year-end.

To treat toxic solid waste, the government is setting up a new incinerator with a capacity of 30 tonnes per day—nearly three times the capacity of BEIL’s existing facility. “The situation is not as bad as portrayed," said Srivatsan. “We were the first industrial estate to set up a common effluent treatment plant and a toxic solid waste disposal incinerator in the region," he said.

Srivatsan has been a resident of Ankleshwar for more than 23 years and is a director of one of the pigment units. “I have been staying with my family in the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation area without any health or safety issues," he added.

According to Kamlesh Udani, a director with JB Pharmaceuticals Ltd, a bulk drug manufacturer in the region, the overhang of soot in the area may not necessarily be harmful. “If you enter a pharmacy or a hospital, you get a particular smell, but it is not harmful. The pollution control board monitors the air quality in the region regularly and there is no scientific basis to say the chemical belt is harmful just because?it smells odd," he said.

District collector of Bharuch Arti Kanwar said the air pollution levels in the area are monitored regularly.

However, units here are now worried that the 3 April fire will draw negative attention to the belt just as it gears up for a second phase of growth.