INDIA'S industrialists are yet to understand the basics of the 'polluter-pays' principle. They are only learning the hard way. The lesson is simple: while you can bluff, cheat and bribe pollution control authorities of the state governments, the courts and the civil society are a different kettle of fish.
Ask the textile processing industry of Tirupur in Tamil Nadu. The 800-odd dyeing and bleaching units reel under continuing directives from the judiciary. Having all but laid to waste the groundwater and surface water in a water-deficient area, this industry faces an onslaught by the judiciary after they were dragged to court by agriculturists.
A strong presence in the basin of the river Noyyal in Tirupur, agriculturists cannot use the little water that is available. It has been polluted beyond recovery by the industry. Untreated effluents have been let into the Noyyal for quite a while now and constitute the main flow of the river. Water in a reservoir, the Orathapalayam dam across the Noyyal, fies unwanted. The farmers want nothing to do with its water contaminated by effluents.
While the Supreme Court has given this water-intensive industry time till November 23 to set up common effluent treatment plants (CETPs), the Green Bench of the Chennai high court has issued a directive to the state pollution control board to seal all 'highly polluting industries' that are within a one-1 km radius of a waterbody. Caught in a quandary, industry and the pollution control board have both sought clarification as to which court order they are to follow.
Judicial action notwithstanding, Tirupur is replete with pathetic planning and execution. The Tamil Nadu state government had delicensed trade in the 1980s to attract investment in Tirupur. By 1995 when Tirupur's industry was earning Rs 2,000 crore in exports, there were only two pollution control officials in Tirupur. As if this was not enough, the industry expected substantial subsidies when discussions on setting up CETPs started in the early 1990s. It did not want to bear the environmental costs of its activities, wishing to externalise what should have been internal costs. This goes against the polluter-pays principle laid down by the apex court.
While the industry and the state government are awaiting the outcome with apprehension, this is a typical dash between desperate and sustainable development The pathetic planners and managers of the country be warned- This is what they will have to contend with unless they change their approach towards development that does not keep the well-being of the majority in mind. There can be no short-cuts. Civil society will not permit it. And the courts will ensure that there are none.