On deadly grounds

A VILLAGE in southeast Nepal - Bansbari - is under threat from industrialisation. Largely populated by traditional farming families of Tahrus and Rajbansis, the area is infested with heavy metals, poisonous chemicals and sludge. Villagers say their pleas for a safer environment have fallen on deaf ears.

"We lodged a complaint with the chief district officer; he visited the area but did nothing in return," said Baduclev Adhikari, a retired civil servant whose six-member family depends on the yield from his field.

The most hazardous industries of the area are Himalaya Soap and Chemicals, Nepal Beverage and Good Products and Nepal Liquors owned by Brook Bank India, Everest Iron Industry, Pashupati Iron Industry, Hulash Wire Industry, Everest Flour mills and the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) owned Mult,ifuel Power Plant (,sipp) installed with Finnish grants.

Said Adhikari, "The commonest problem among the villagers living close to the industry is burning sensation in eyes and throat irritation." Convinced that the government has turned a Nelson's eye to the problems, he says, "in summer when the canals and fields are flooded with water, you can see oil floating far and wide."

"The diesel sludge, chemicals and poisonous substances released by the mpp, Hulash Wire and other industries spreads all over the area destroying the rice fields on which our life depends," said 70-year old Ghuran Chaudhary who knits fishnets during summer. However, there are hardly any fish to catch, the locals complain.

"I have treated cattle with swollen stomach and other problems for the last two years," said Krishna Kafic at the veterinary treatment sub-centre at Tankisinwari. "They died by drinking poisonous water or by eating slow poison through the greens," he confirms.

"The mpp does have bad environmental impact on the surroundings," admitted Jukka Uosukainen, environmental adviser to the Finnish International Development Agency. "I did the environmental impact of the plant on the area a year ago and found out that it causes serious noise pollution," said Uosukainen.

"There is risk of atmospheric pollution as the plant emits a lot Of nitrogen gases and also there is problem of oil flowing into the fields. However, the galvanising industry in the area also causes serious problem and the government must pay attention to that as well," he said. Since the sludge is said to have high calorific value, it is sold in two truckfulls every month to a focal contractor. Ridiculing NEA's competence, locals say they won't be surprised if NEA paid the contractor to have the sludge dumped elsewhere.