A question of industry

THE noose is tightening around the 1 lakh odd industrial units in Delhi. Close on the heels of its closure orders served on 9038 polluting industrial units in the non-conforming areas, the Supreme Court served notices on March 27 to polluting units in Wazirpur and Ashok Vihar industrial estates to clean up their acts or quit the city.

These latter units have been asked to install pollution control measures, like common effluent treatment plants, by June this year. The Department of Environment, Delhi, backed by a sympathetic apex court, is all set to commence an extensive unit-wise survey of the city's industries from April 15 to ascertain the nature of industrial activity and the pollution caused due to it.

Notices have also been served on the governments of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan to immediately identify areas within the National Capital Region (NCR) Master Plan 2001, for accommodating the industries which will be pushed out of the city.

The government obviously took the orders seriously. They very next day, P K Thungan, Union minister of state for urban development announced the drawing up of a decongestion agenda, including the shifting of a large number of government and public sector undertakings from the Capital.

The industry, however, is unfazed, banking, as it were, on the fact that this cleaning up of Delhi's Augean Stables will take years.

Somnolent for years, the administration's new green zeal has been boosted by the Supreme Court's orders against the industries, which account for 1/3rd of the 2,200 tonnes of pollutants ejected daily into the Capital's air, and the high degree of water pollution. Says D S Negi, Delhi's environment secretary, "Till date, any action by the pollution control authorities was countered by stay orders from the courts." The Supreme Court's orders mean that industry will not have that recourse so easily now.

In its March 24 verdict the court had directed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to issue notices to 9038 industries -- including Sriram Foods and Fertilizers Ltd, Britannia Foods, the government-owned Modern Foods, Kwality Icecream, Sylvania & Laxman, Pure Drinks etc., -- charged with causing air and water pollution.

The court also passed a verdict against 114 units which, despite being within the conforming areas, were not permitted in the Master Plan. The 2-judge bench remarked that a very grim picture emerged regarding the increase of pollution in the city. Says M C Mehta, environmental lawyer, "Not only are more and more industries coming up in the residential and commercial areas, but the activities in which these industries are involved are highly polluting."

The shifting of polluting industries had become a hypocritical mantra chanted over and over again since the 1st Master Plan was drawn up 30 years ago. Despite provisions of the 1st and 2nd Master Plans, the city administration continued issuing licences to new industries and ignoring those coming up illegally.

But, says I K Kapila, an environmental engineer with the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), "During the last couple of years activities against these industries has intensified as organisations like World Health Organisations and National Environmental Engineering Research Institute have placed Delhi as the 4th most polluted city in the world."

Delhi's water pollution record is horrifying. The Yamuna is a river of muck, carrying over its 25 km stretch through the city some 430 million litres of untreated sewerage and 20 million litres of industrial effluents everyday.

Negi adds, "What is more alarming is that more than 1 million litres of DDT alone flows into the river. While the norms say that all the national rivers should have water quality C -- fit for drinking after minor treatment and filtering -- the CPCB has found Yamuna water unfit for bathing."

Though the length of the river basin area of the Yamuna in Delhi is only 2 per cent when compared to Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the pollution loads contributed by Delhi are 71 per cent of the total waste water and 55 per cent of the total Bio-chemical oxygen demand (BOD) per day. In fact, a study by the Confederation of Indian Industries last year squarely blamed the industries in the non-conforming as well as the industrial estates for causing 'dramatic' upturn in pollution curves.

But while the CPCB estimates talk of 93,000 industrial units in the city, the CII reports insist there are over 1 lakh units. Only about 10,000 of these have environmental clearance from the DPCC and only 31,000 are registered with the civic bodies.

A mere 500 units have installed pollution control measures. There are 86,000 units in the 35 non-conforming areas and the 22 critically polluted industrial estates. The list of non-conforming areas, or those not meant for industrial activities include residential and commercial areas like Connaught Place, Shadipur, Daryaganj, Anand Parbat, Kalkaji, Shahdara, Nand Nagari, Sagarpur and Karol Bagh. In some of these areas can be found highly polluting industries, like rubber and lead reprocessing, poor quality hydrocarbon producers, arc smelters, foundries and tanneries.

Delhi is a magnet for industries: it is well connected by road, the electricity situation is better than in most other states, and raw material is easily available. It is the apple of the government's eye, and amenities are as easily available as lobbyists who can bend laws with alacrity.

But there has to be more determination than diatribe if anything concrete has to come out. The first toddling step in this regard had been taken only in April last year, with the constitution of the NCR Planning Board, under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary, Delhi. But former minister of state for environment and forests, Maneka Gandhi, told Down To Earth, "The apathy of the government and the administration can be gauged from the fact that till date there is no complete survey of the existing industries in the city. How can shifting be initiated when one does not even know who they are and what they do?"

Negi, however, counters this argument, "We are on the right path. As per the Master Plan and the Environment Protection Act, 1986, a detailed inventory is going to be drawn up."

However, the state government is not going to find it easy to relocate the industries. Jag Pravesh Chandra, leader of the opposition in the Delhi Assembly claims, "Nothing has been done to identify the areas where these factories would be relocated. It is a daunting task to find alternative sites for over 80,000 factories. And then, why should some other states agree to house these factories?"

Vijay Kumar Malhotra, member of the Rajya Sabha adds, "Between 1967-72 all the industries in the non-conforming areas were provided alternative sites. The land they vacated was not acquired by the government, and the proprietors set up other units on them. They now not only have 2 sites, but also bigger pieces of land at throw-away prices."

The 9038 units ordered to be closed by the Supreme Court are, however, in a fix. This is the 1st time that they cannot thwart any relocation or closure move by approaching the courts. The only breathing space for the others is the lack of land and infrastructure in the NCR. The governments of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab have been demanding funds from the Delhi government for creating the infrastructure for relocating these industries, which in turn is not forthcoming.

The authorities also anticipate an immense amount of public resistance to their plans. Almost 1/3 rd of the city's revenue comes from the industry sector. It provides employment to over 1 million people, a majority of whom face prospects of losing their livelihood. Thus, the administration has its work quite cut out.