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Goa faces the onslaught of industrial pollution

Goa faces the onslaught of industrial pollution
Armstrong Vaz, 08 May 2008, Thursday
Goa is not a leader on industrial front, but small pockets of
industrialisation have been confined to areas far away from the scenic
coastline. One such village, Cuncolim, has been facing the brunt of
industrial pollution for the last two decades.
CUNCOLIM CITIZENS Action Committee member Oscar Martins' forefathers
fought Goa's first war of independence against the Portuguese way back
in 1583. Today, Martins and his fellow villagers have risen up to save
the village from pollution ridden industries.

Martins has warned the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) that
the people would be forced to take drastic steps to the extent of
repeating the 1583 history if the land is acquired for any
service-related and housing projects under the guise of

The IDC was trying to oblige the Delhi-based Vigneshwara Developwell
Pvt Ltd by acquiring five lakh square metres of land, in Cuncolim, to
set up IT based industries, besides housing and retail shopping near
the Cuncolim industrial estate.

But there are other issues involving industries in the village. One of
them is the construction of a hazardous waste disposal site. The
pollution-laden industries have been in the news for all the wrong
reasons and are toying with the health of the villagers. The latest
move to construct a hazardous waste disposal site in Cuncolim has set
the alarm bells ringing in the village, which is already suffering
from pollution related issues from the industries, which first set
shop in the early 90s.

The Pollution Control Board (PCB) had cracked the whip in 2006,
declaring the closure of three industries. The three industries were
Sunrise Zinc Ltd, Nicomet Industries Ltd and Karthik Alloys Ltd.

The industries are playing havoc by throwing safety regulations to the
wind. Industrial units continue to discharge solid and liquid
effluents and polluting the ground water even today.

"Just shutting down the three polluting units in the Cuncolim
industrial estate is not good enough. The owners of these units should
bear the costs of cleaning up the contamination they have caused or
face rigorous imprisonment for life. Such heavy metal and solvent
contamination caused birth defects and even death in the case of
nearby residents in the Silicon Valley in the 70s and 80s due to the
contamination caused by companies in the 60s and 70s," says Dr Carmo
D'Cruz, a Goan and an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology,
now settled in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida.

"So before any such serious health problems come up in Cuncolim, the
owners of these polluting units should be made to pay for and conduct
the cleanup of the ground around the polluting units. And stringent
EPA-type guidelines should be imposed on these units. The health
effects of these ground water pollutants on the local population
should be closely monitored.

"The bureaucrats and the politicians, who sanctioned permission for
these units to operate while continuing to pollute the groundwater
with deadly heavy metals like zinc, cadmium, copper and nickel and
deadlier solvents, should also be thrown out of office unless they
take responsibility for cleaning up the pollutants and have the area
tested to be contaminant free. Otherwise a catastrophic environmental
disaster is waiting to happen and impact future generations of
Cuncolkars living in that area," he added.

It remains to be seen how authorities decontaminate the affected areas
surrounding the industrial estate of metal waste found in soil and

The PCB needs to undertake the exercise of decontaminating the areas,
where the heavy metals are present in excess of the prescribed limits.

Meanwhile, the Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering
Research Institute (NEERI) is conducting a detailed study of the
pollution level within and outside the Cuncolim industrial estate. The
exercise began in January and will take months before the report is
compiled and submitted to the board.

Now the question is, who will pay for polluting the ground water
resources. The pollution board is waiting for the NEERI's report to
throw light on the extent of pollution caused by the two industries.
Accordingly, the affected people will be able to approach the
appropriate quasi-judicial forum to claim compensation and relief.

But relief at what cost, questions Nilesh Kunde, a resident of
Cuncolim. Human life is precious. The dangers of pollutions are too
manifold to risk the continuation of the polluting industries in the
village. It is the start of a long drawn-out struggle. Permanent
closure is the long-term solution for such polluting industries and
the villagers need to build a strong case for the closure of the

Chronology of events leading to the closure of industries at Cuncolim:

    *  Dead fishes surface in a rivulet in Cuncolim, in 2000

    *  The dead fishes are sent for testing

    *  Test results are not made public

    *  Citizens get agitated

    *  Citizens find voice in the form of a Cuncolim Citizens
Committee, in 2005.

    *  Concerned citizens file public interest litigation before the
Goa bench of the Mumbai High Court in Panjim.
    *  Meetings over the pollution issue are organised by both the
local municipal council and the citizens committee to inform the

    *  Water samples are taken for testing.

    * Test results confirm villagers' fears about the contamination of
ground water.

    *  High court orders the government to provide safe drinking water
to areas affected by pollution in Cuncolim.

    *  Goa State Pollution Control Board orders closure of three
industries in September 2006.

    *  The Goa bench of the Mumbai High Court in Panjim orders the
closure of two industries, Sunrise Zinc and Nicomet Industries, to
forthwith cease all their operations on the grounds that both units
have failed to setup captive land fill sites, in Dec 2007.

    *  Supreme Court admits petition from Nicomet industries, and in
April, orders for the de-sealing of the company and the commencement
of operations, subject to conditions.
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