Industrialists and regulators are unclear on best practices in India's wastewater management in the textile sector, which generates 1,750 million litres a day (mld). Says Mangilal Gandhi, owner of Sankeshwar Fabrics, Pali: In Pali, though the common effluent treatment plants (CETPs) were designed for effluents from cotton processing, introduction of synthetic fabrics changed the waste composition, making the treatment less effective.' In Tirupur, CETPs have a treatment capacity of 42.5 mld compared to the 120 to 150 mld wastewater that is generated. Industrialists express their inability to address the issue despite investing huge amounts on treatment. Kandasamy, president, Tirupur Dyers Association, says, We spend over Rs 2 crore a month at the rate of Rs 6 per kilolitre to treat the waste.
Regulators do not have the capacity to guide polluters, but they have the power to punish. The 2004 report of the Loss of Ecology (prevention and payments of compensation) Authority in Tamil Nadu found that 68 villages in the Noyyal river basin were affected by pollution and ordered Tirupur dyeing units to pay villagers a compensation of Rs 25 crore.
All over India, total dissolved solids and chloride content in textile effluent is a major problem. Down To Earth was informed that treatability studies were not undertaken to establish the nature of pollutants in the effluents when CETPs were upgraded in Pali. Now Tirupur is trying to find ways of achieving zero-discharge status. Though the high court and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board are insisting on reverse-osmosis (RO) technology, experts are not sure that it is safe and sustainable. There are several concerns. First, RO does not follow the established principle of dilution, instead, it concentrates waste. Second, if it is not accompanied by an evaporation technology, it could be dangerous this technology is expensive and no one is talking about it. Third, membranes used in RO are not meant to treat wastewater.
With RO getting a push, other alternatives are languishing. D Rajendran, owner of R R Colours, a small dyeing unit, tried out enzymes to treat waste. He says, "Despite the Madras High Court order of July 2005, the pollution control board did visit but did not validate the technology.' Validation would have cost just Rs 7 lakh.
That's peanuts compared to the Tirupur Dyers Association and Tirupur Exporters Association's proposal to transport treated effluents some 300 to 400 km away and dump it in the Bay of Bengal. If cleared, the Rs 450-crore project will take four years to complete. Even if that quixotic proposal goes through, it won't solve the problem of the heaps of sludge textile towns piling up. No one seems to be thinking about this.
With governments showing little interest in cleaning up, villagers in Chennimalai near the Orthupalayam dam which stores Tirupur's effluents, who are badly affected by groundwater pollution, are threatening direct action.