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Goan village freed from polluting industries

Goan village freed from polluting industries

Does the Right to Live promised by Indian Constitution (Article 21) facilitate pollution free water and air? What about constantly overriding environmental damage caused by pollution from industries in the form of hazardous waste?

“THE LIFE of citizens cannot be endangered to allow industries to continue operating when all these years, these industries have taken no steps to follow the statutory requirements in terms of the hazardous waste management rules,” said the Bombay high court (HC) in its order.

In Focus The bench, comprising of justice Ferdino Rebello and justice Nelson Britto, has a 14-page order on the public interest litigation filed by Oscar Martins. It has upheld the right to live and access to pollution free water and air. The two-member bench said, “While recently ordering the closer of two polluting industries in Cuncolim village in south Goa, the high level pollutants generated by the industries and the ways adopted by the industries in discharge of hazardous waste are taken into account.” The court took serious note of the fact that high levels of cadmium and arsenic, which is carcinogenic, were found in the tests conducted on the soil and water samples taken from around the two companies. The court order further said, “The issue is not whether the industry in the future will provide environmental safeguards, but the question is whether it is complying with the requirements of law or not.” The two companies, which have been ordered to shut down, are M/S Nicomet Industries Limited and Sunrise Zinc Ltd. Nicomet has been India’s largest manufacturer of cobalt and has been operating since 1997 at Cuncolim Industrial Estate in south Goa. The other company, Sunrise Zinc Ltd, is extracting zinc and copper using zinc ash, copper and brass dross as raw materials. The Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) oversees pollution related issues in the state and has been pulled up by the court for failing in its duties in preventing pollution and turning a blind eye. Besides being asked as to explaining the steps they propose to take to decontaminate the surrounding areas of the heavy metals found in excess of the limits, they have also to explain the steps they propose to prevent such happenings in the future. The court has also sought to know why exemption was granted to Sunrise Zinc from providing an alkali scrubber in their factory as recommended by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). The petitioner social worker, Oscar Martins made a strong plea. He said, “The companies should be directed to shut down, as these have been operating in rank violation of law for the last ten years jointly generating around 20 tonnes of hazardous waste a day without having a secured hazardous waste disposal site as required by law.” The Supreme Court monitoring committee on hazardous waste comprising Dr DB Boralkar and Dr Claude Alvares had found many violations by the two industries in their 2006 report, and had said, “The committee visited the Cuncolim industrial estate and inspected the premises of Nicomet Industries and Sunrise Zinc. In both these industries – which are authorised to operate under the hazardous wastes rules – the committee found large-scale violations including illegal storages of vast quantities of hazardous wastes. “In the case of Nicomet, the committee was perturbed to see that more than 20,000 tonnes of hazardous wastes were stocked in the premises of the unit with no solution in sight for permanent disposal. Storage of such large quantities of hazardous wastes is in complete violation of the Supreme Court’s order dated 14.10.2003. The committee found a similar situation in the case of Sunrise Zinc as well. “The committee also visited the area outside the walls of the (Cuncolim) industrial estate where large quantities of slag of ferrous alloy units were being dumped and buried. Such industrial practices are not acceptable for a state like Goa and the industrial development corporation (IDC) should be duty-bound to ensure that units that generate such quantities of waste are not permitted in future. The present practice should be rationalised,” it said in its 2006 report. But how to dispose hazardous waste generated by industries is an issue that affects the smallest state in Goa with just one government site at Dharbandora. Proposals to start hazardous landfill sites in the respective villages have seen opposition from villagers, and Cuncolim is one of them. The Cuncolim Civic and Consumer Forum’s (CCCF) joint secretary, Rony Dias says that if the hazardous waste landfill site is allowed in the village, then it would be another Bhopal in the making. The CCCF, which has the backing of a majority of the villagers, is keen to save Cuncolim from becoming another impending environmental disaster. “We have suffered in the past on account of polluting industries and if permission is granted to set up hazardous landfill site in Cuncolim, god only knows what will happen to our next generation on account of the several side effects of contaminated air and water. The high court judgment has been a huge relief for all.” Till then, an uneasy calm prevails over Cuncolim.

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