While the Agarias wage a constant struggle with the forest department, the government has allegedly turned a blind eye to pollution by two soda ash-making units run by major industrial groups. At Mithapur in Jamnagar district's Okha taluka there are charges of pollution against a salt-and-soda ash unit run by Tata Chemicals Limited (tcl). The Dalmiya group-operated Gujarat Heavy Chemicals Limited (ghcl) unit in Junagadh district's Sutrapada taluka faces more serious allegations: it has refused to comply with a high court order for more than a year, after violating salt lease conditions for about 20 years.
ghcl occupies around 6,070 hectares (ha) in the taluka. The company, set up in 1988, was given a 20-year lease to operate salt pans in Kob, Chikhli, Zafrabad Port Victor and Bherai.The lease stipulated that ghcl maintain a "buffer strip between salt works and agricultural land' and construct a trench to obviate damage to agricultural land. Salt pan bunds have to be plastered with cement so that the brine does not percolate into nearby subsoil. The company has flouted all of these. Not only that, it has no intention of complying with government recommendations in the future. "Who reads all conditions while signing the agreement? If we obey every condition, we will not be able to run a business. In any case, these conditions are not technically feasible,' T Malhotra, ghcl's general manager at Sutrapada, told Down To Earth.
The people paid the price. In 2005 farmers of Kob complained of salinity in their agricultural lands. The Junagadh district collector decided not to renew ghcl's lease in that village. The company challenged the decision in the Gujarat High Court arguing that if the lease was cancelled, many people would lose their jobs. The court constituted a three-member-committee which testified that the salt pans did contribute to salinity of soil in Kob. "Saline water from the salt pans seeps out...and percolates to groundwater causing salination