Lessons for Ludhiana

IT TOOK 50 years for the Municipal Corporation (MC) of Ludhiana to shake off its stupor and gear up to rid the city of garbage accumulated over these years. Although better late than never, authorities now realise that the powerful industrial lobby of the city - one of the most industrialised in the country - are loathe at spending adequately to clean up their mess. Two proposed projects, which are likely to curb the very high pollution levels in the city, are the Sutlej Action Plan - modelled after the Ganga Action Plan - and a solid waste management plan in collaboration with Western Paques India.

Ludhiana contributes to the 50 per cent of the pollution of the river Sutlej. Under the Sutlej Action Plan, the government aims to lay a 100 per cent sewerage system in the City and lay a lining to the Buddha mullah running through the city, to prevent floods. The nullah, which was once a beautiful creek, has now become a virtual sewage drain. To top it all, the MC is pumping raw sewage into the drain at 12 points while household and industries pour waste at 25,000 points. The World Bank will be providing assistance for this project which is slated to be completed by AD 2001. Under this project, the government plans to build three sewage treatment plants in the city.

Sanitation is another area where much work has been planned. To manage the solid waste of the city properly, the MC is entering into a contract with Western Paques and install a plant at the cost of Rs 30 crore which will recycle the waste to produce electricity. The plant is expected to start operating in 1998. Ludhiana's groundwater, which was considered pure even 40 years ago, has become grossly polluted due to the release of untreated sewage, dairy discharges and industrial effluents - said to be contaminated to a depth of almost 30.5 m. This means that almost half the city's population is consuming contaminated water. According to a recent study carried out by the civil engineering department of the Punjab Agricultural University, most of the pollution parameters of groundwater have concentration that far exceed the potable water limits.

In Ludhiana, there are about 30,000 industries which include dyeing, electroplating, spinning and weaving which emit untreated effluents into the drain. These industries contribute to nearly 70 per cent of the business in Punjab and provide employment to about 45 per cent of the population of the city. Only big industries like Hero Cycles, Avon, Vardhman and Oswal use pollution control methods as they can afford it.

While replying to queries, the municipal commissioner, K L Siddhu, said, "A few years ago, people were not aware of the immensity of the problem and even if they were, the corporation did not have the money to install treatment plants." This statement comes as a surprise as the Ludhiana MC is supposed to have a whopping budget of Rs 100 crore - one of the highest in the nation.

The district collector, the chairperson of the improvement trust and the municipal commissioner, meanwhile, pass the buck to the state pollution control board (SPCB). Gulshan Rai, an environmental engineer with the SPCB, blames the situation on the powerful industrial lobby and political interference. Rai says, "We can only issue challans which industrialists are ready to pay as it amounts to nothing. Court cases go on till five years. By this time, the particular industry is fully established or the officer gets transferred."