Delhi Allows Polluting Industries to Reopen

By Devinder Sharma

DELHI, India, January 17, 2000 (ENS) - India's capital district of Delhi, the fourth most polluted city in the world, allowed 372 of the 650 industrial units served with a closure notice for pollution in December, to reopen this week.

With the Delhi government ignoring the Supreme Courtís directive and allowing the polluting industries to spew effluents unabated, there is no relief for the Yamuna River that flows through the city down to the Ganges plains and into the Bay of Bengal.

Justifying the decision to allow these industries to continue, the chairman of the Delhi Pollution Control Board (DPCB), Rajiv Talwar, said "these units have been allowed to reopen and start functioning only after they had provided photographs or had given affidavits stating that they were no longer polluting."

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Chandni Chowk, one of the main markets of Delhi. (Photo courtesy Delhi Tourism)
This decision has angered not only environmentalists but also some government officials, who consider Delhi governmentís decision to be based on politics and not on basic realities.

It is believed that physical verification for installation of the effluent treatment plants (ETPs) has been carried out in less than 100 industries, only a third of which have been able to meet the quality norms.

Speaking on assurance of anonymity, officials told ENS that a large number of polluting industries have furnished the exact same photographs to prove installation of the treatment plants. "Industrialists consider ETPs to be a dead investment. So they find ways and means to circumvent the administrative order," the senior official explained.

The Delhi Pollution Control Board has received about 900 applications requesting a review of the closure order. Talwar says that his department will re-examine the status of each industrial unit. Nine teams - each team headed by a sub-judicial magistrate and including a technical officer of the DPCB - have been constituted for this purpose.

An inquiry report submitted by the DPCB to the Supreme Court has acknowledged that the "operation of the industrial units was not satisfactory' because the size of the effluent treatment plant they were using was not adequate. Many units had "bypassed arrangements" which discharged untreated water into drains and sewers, the report said.

In September 1999, Indiaís highest court issued a directive to close down all units whose effluents were turning the Yamuna River into an open sewer. The Supreme Courtís deadline for the installation of the effluent treatment plants ended on November 1, 1999.

"We are aware that the industrial units are the major source of the rise in water pollution levels. In order to control the emission of hazardous wastes from the industrial units, the installation of ETPs is the first step. Apart from the installation of these ETPs, we will also start monitoring the performance of these plants so that these function properly," Delhiís Environment Minister, Ashok Kumar Walia stated.

Environmentalists scoffed at the statement saying that such promises have been made umpteen times by successive ministers without results.

Of the estimated 5,000 water polluting units in Delhi,closure notices had been served to 1,384. Of these, only 983 have so far been sealed by the DPCB.

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Delhi street (Photo courtesy Keith Samuelson)
With the reopening of 372 of the sealed units, the governmentís message to industry is crystal clear: it will continue to protect the industrial interests at the cost of the environment, human health and safety.

In another case involving the air polluting industries, the Delhi government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court asking for two more years to relocate the dirty and hazarduous industries. The Supreme Courtís deadline for relocation of the polluting industries out of Delhi came to an end on December 31.

If the government had not filed an affidavit, thousands of Delhi industries would have faced closure for not applying for relocation. Only 52,000 industries had applied for relocation for which the government had made available 1,065 acres of land outside the city limits. "We will need another 800 acres for complete relocation of the polluting industries," Narendra Nath, the Industry Minister said.

While the political wrangling continues, Delhiís ten million residents are faced with an environmental debacle. Delhiís drains are choked and overflowing, garbage lies piled and spread at every corner. Travellers on the road in the evening appear to drive through a tunnel of smoke. Yamuna, the river which was once the lifeline of the capital, today is virtually dead.