Gas chamber

the paddy crop in Siltara village near Chhattisgarh's capital Raipur has turned black. Farmers are in a fix because neither merchants nor the government are ready to buy it. Even the cattle refuse to eat it. In other villages, like Sandogri, Chholi, Gogaon, Sarora, Urla, Ravanbhata, Chikli, Kumhari, Sonara and Nimora, too, the situation is similar. The quantity of the crop has also halved. The colour of water in ponds has changed and it is causing skin diseases. Cases of people suffering respiratory and digestion problems have increased considerably. The fishery sector is suffering huge losses. The cause: pollution from factories established in the rush for industrialisation.

Disregard for pollution
Eighteen sponge iron units have been established in Siltara in the second phase of industrialisation in the state. None of these units took any pollution-control measures. R P Tiwari, superintendent engineer of Chhattisagarh Environment Conservation Board, Raipur, says that only four of these 18 units have got electrostatic precipitators (esps), that too after being constantly reminded by the board. About why no action has been taken against the rest, Tiwari replies: "These units have taken our permission for establishment, not for production.' Pressured by farmers' protests, the state government has warned 14 units in Siltara to get esps within two months, or face power cuts.

But the government's attitude to the problem can be gauged from a statement of the state's finance and industry minister Amar Agrawal: "We are not suddenly taking any strict action against some of the sponge iron units because that may convey the message that Chhattisgarh government is against industrialists.' Chhattisgarh has drawn an investment of Rs 7,778 crore in 2004. This is the highest investment attracted by any state in the country.

In creating an investor-friendly atmosphere, the pollution in Raipur has reached such alarming levels that environmentalists fear the occurrence of acid rains in the city. Black smog is already common everywhere in Raipur. A R Dalla, renowned physician and president of Chhattisgarh Horticulture Society, says the smog signifies high levels of suspended particulate material (spm) in the atmosphere. Acid rains can occur when fog gets mixed with these particles laden with sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxides and other chemicals. The quantity of rspm in Raipur's atmosphere is three to four times more than permissible.

Following an investigation by the district administration that revealed that the pollution in the region had increased tremendously, the government intervened in the matter and it was decided that the affected crop will be purchased by the industries responsible for the pollution. But the decision has not yet been implemented. Meanwhile, proposed industrial units in Banchhor, Chourenga, Kathiya and Bhumia villages are also facing strong protests. But how effective these will be is uncertain in view of the fact that over 25 industries have come up in the Raigarh region in the last two years despite such protests.