Kumbh Mela hazards: Adityanath govt's order to temporarily shut industries has left both owners, workers in distress, hit economy

Prayagraj: After ordering tanneries in the Unnao-Kanpur cluster to shut operations between December and March, the Uttar Pradesh government recently extended its order to other industrial units, including textile and paper mills, slaughterhouses and distilleries, in the western region of the state, in a bid to ensure that clean water fit for bathing flows in the river Ganga ahead of the Ardh Kumbh Mela, being held at Prayagraj from 15 January to 4 March.

The order may be a sigh of relief for the sadhus and pilgrims thronging the Ardh Kumbh 2019 for a holy dip, but it has left in distress those depending on these industrial units for a living, including both the owners and the workers. With the sugarcane crushing season around the corner, the distilleries are bound to suffer huge losses, which will eventually pass down to the farmers, as well.

Cleaning the Ganga has been a top priority of the BJP government that floated the Namami Gange project in 2014 with a budget of Rs 20,000 crore and a deadline of 2019, which has now been extended to 2020. The National Green Tribunal, in its 6 August, 2018, order mentioned that according to information submitted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), only five out of 70 monitoring points across the stretch of the river have water fit for drinking, and only seven points had water fit for bathing. The NGT had asked the CPCB and UP Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) to display through digital boards the water quality information at every 100 km on the course of Ganga between Gaumukh and Ganga Sagar.

Sadhus gathered at Prayagraj Kumbh Mela want the govt to end caste-based reservation. PTI

Representational image. PTI

In the same order, the NGT also pointed out the high discharge of chromium as effluent in the Ganga near Jajmau and Kanpur. Unable to improve the efficiency in effluent treatment in this belt where tanneries have been a source of severe pollutants, the state government found it better to shut the units until the Ardh Kumbh gets over.

Distilleries around Bijnor, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Hapur and Ghaziabad have stopped functioning after the UP government passed an order in November and followed that with a roster issued in January this year for some industrial units in Meerut and Baghpat.

According to the roster, the industries have to shut operations on 12, 13, 14 and 21 January. Later, the shut down dates in February are 1 to 4, 10 to 12, 19, 23 to 28, and 4 March.

According to regional officer of PCB for Meerut region, RK Tyagi, the industries have to shut down as per this roster only. “Failure to follow the roster will draw severe consequences,” Tyagi says.

Punished for following rules?

Rajesh Kumar, chief general manager at Simbhali Sugar Ltd, Hapur, believes the three-month shutdown is enough to cripple the industries in the belt. He says that being asked to stop operations, despite having followed all pollution control norms, such as setting up 24x7 live cameras in industrial units and implementing Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD), has left industrialists dejected.

As per the norms of the UP government, licences — particularly Pollution Under Control (PUC) certificate — would only be issued to industrial units that install live cameras and share their IP address with the concerned government authority in order to maintain transparency. The underlying idea behind such a step is to keep an eye on units that fail to follow pollution controlling norms.

Kumar says that during the crushing season, the immediate product to be looked after is the molasses, which is used in distilleries. “Imagine what will we do when molasses cannot be taken into production.”

He says that all sugar industries, as per an agreement with the government, supply ethanol to oil companies on a daily basis. Failing to do so attracts a penalty of around 10 percent per day. As per government guidelines, oil companies blend this ethanol with petrol.

With the sugar industry already under distress, the temporary shutdown is expected to affect the production of liquor and oil as well, leading to revenue loss that would run into crores.

A senior employee at a Muzaffarnagar-based distillery, seeking anonymity, says only those industrial units that have been found releasing pollutants into the Ganga should be asked to close down.

“We are already following every norm and have invested crores (of rupees) on Zero Liquid Discharge. This order is only a harassment. Our question is does the municipal corporation follow these rules, do individuals not pollute? Everyone knows what is happening and who is doing it. There are other areas to focus on if pollution is to be curbed, why only industry?” he says.

ZLD is an advanced water treatment process which purifies and recycles the wastewater collected after an industrial process, leaving zero liquid waste behind.

Loss of workforce

Chander, a transport and labour contractor, in Daurala, Meerut, foresees hard times ahead for the workforce in these industrial units.

“Sugar industry involves seasonal work and hires workforce accordingly. There are both types of labourers — those on contract and those on rolls. Those on payroll are financially safe to some extent but what about the contractual ones? They are paid as per the work they do,” says Chander.

He adds that the transport industry is bound to suffer losses similarly as the demand for tankers and trucks is high during the crushing season. No production for next couple of months implies there would be no demand for tankers as well, he says.

According to TU Khan, the chief environmental officer with the UPPCB, the order to shut the operations of industrial units has been passed by concerned departments and the PCB is keeping a proper check on its implementation. “Our sewage treatment plants are working at full capacity and are enough to tackle the waste coming out of industrial units, but there are many units who had in the past discharged their waste directly into the Ganga river,” says Khan.

A senior officer of the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam says that the STPs in Jajmau, Hapur and Ghaziabad are working efficiently. The Jajmau STP was not completely operational until a while ago, but funds were released for its repair, he adds.

Tanneries too bear the brunt

Hafizur Rahman, the president of Small Tanneries Association (Jajmau), says that the government order will leave thousands of workers without food and other basic needs.

“Our tanneries are closed since 18 November. We opened it for a week in first week of January when the officers told us that we can operate up to 50 percent capacity but we were asked to close our units again. This decision is killing our industry and we do not know how we are going to survive. I would blame the Jal Nigam for this as they are not able to treat the waste water and it is because of them that thousands of workers are suffering,” alleges Rahman.

Lucknow-based economist OP Tiwari believes the ban on industrial units will have an adverse effect on industrial production. The decision may result in reduction in the GSDP (Gross State Domestic Product) which is bound to impact the national income as well, since the economy of UP occupies a major chunk in country’s economy, says Tiwari.

Adding that the order will affect the livelihood of daily wagers who work in these industries, Tiwari says, “The process of development does not necessarily incorporate only economic prosperity in terms of industrial output. So, thinking about the environment is also an important factor and we should not forget that Ganga is the lifeline of this country and also a matter of faith, so cleaning it is the responsibility of the government.”

Anwaral Haq, president of the Uttar Pradesh Leather Industries Association, says the blanket ban on tanneries is taking a toll on the lives of over four lakh workers engaged in these units and many who have left Kanpur-Unnao in search of employment may not even return. “The major cause of concern is that foreign buyers who relied for supplies from us are now looking at other avenues, especially our neighboring countries.”

(Authors are Lucknow - based freelance writers and a members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)

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Updated Date: Jan 21, 2019 08:46:55 IST

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