(MintPress) – Water is probably India’s most precious resource, exploiting it for power and industry has fueled India’s rapid economic growth, but at what cost? India’s rivers, lakes and drinking waters are under threat from arsenic and toxins from business waste pollution. And city sewage treatment plants are ill equipped to cope with a sudden growth of population. Quite simply, India’s growing economic success is ignoring the one resource they desperately need: water.
In an HSBC survey, India expanded at a faster rate than China. Although India’s economy has slowed down from 10 percent in 2010, its growth of 5.3 percent in the last quarter reveals a strong economy for foreign investments. India already has attracted multinational companies — British Petroleum, Vodafone, Ford Motors, Samsung, Hyundai, Reebok, General Mills and Nestle — as well as developed its own steel, oil and gas industries and refineries. This rapid economic expansion has created jobs and produced a huge migration of workers. Cities like Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore are all experiencing huge increases to population and alarming health risks.
Sewage on the city streets
Bangalore is a growing city, attracting people, brands and companies from across the world. It also now carries health warnings and water droughts. Bangalore is suffering from an old crumbling underground drainage system and, in certain cases, an absolute absence of any drainage system. This has led to a steady polluting of the city river and the city streets. The city currently doesn’t have the capacity to treat all the sewage. It’s producing 721 million liters per day of sewage and can only treat 300 million liters per day. In a statement, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board said:
“We are wasting a lot of valuable resource. I have suggested few ways to treat the sewage water where we can create a channel to the Sewage Treatment Plant. The water may not be used for drinking purpose but it can be used for other purposes if treated.”
The young and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to effects of raw sewage water. Sewage water may contain toilet paper, feces, urine, bacteria, worms, cleaning detergents and dirt, so the health risks are equally severe. Common symptoms are diarrhea, fever, tiredness, worms, Hepatitis, stomach cramps, skin fungus and sudden weight loss.
Many environmental commentators are concerned about the rate of growth of industry in the cities putting pressure on an old infrastructure. Environmental chemist Pravin Singare of Bhavan’s College, Mumbai, said,
“The speed of urbanization has put untold pressure on India’s infrastructure. Industry and its byproducts are killing India’s water resources.”
In his study of lakes in Thane, Maharastr, Singare reports that “Thane’s burgeoning population, thanks to its proximity to Mumbai, and the metro’s heavy industrial profile, are apparently choking its six lakes, with the unchecked discharge of sewage, pesticides and industrial effluents.”
In his report, he analyzed lakes in Loktak (Manipur), Ropar and Kanjli (Punjab), Sukna (Chandigarh), Bhopal and the Pong dam (Himachal Pradesh), all revealed harmful levels of contamination. He showed a pattern where the toxins in water are passed from plant to animal to human.
“The growth of water hyacinth, a wild weed, became instrumental in causing endemic diseases. Studies show high levels and at times harmful levels of lead, cadmium, arsenic and manganese in the lakes, which find their way into the fish consumed by people, posing health risks.
“By polluting the lake, rivers and drinking water, India is not only destroying a valuable resource but its own future.”
India’s booming economy is partially created by urbanization of cities and growth industries of information technology, and partially by the “green revolution” of rural industries. Today’s rural India not only consists of agricultural farming but also mills, steel, coal, cement industries and quarries. This vast open rural landscape has been exploited by the business but it also has made it hard for authorities to police. Indian authorities have struggled to avert many pollutants entering groundwater and also failed to save lives.
Victims like Dhruv, a 25 year old living in Pathanamthitta, said he feels, “There is no justice for the poor.” He, like so many hundreds of people, are still fighting Plantation Corporation of Kerala (PCK) for compensation for the crippling and debilitating effects he received after exposure to the pesticide Endosulfan.
Today, survivor Dhruv has the mental capacity of a toddler. The pesticide attacked his brain and central nervous system leaving him in a state where he can not care for himself.
According to Leelakumari Amma, organizer of victims of Endosulfan poisoning, at least 1,000 people died, and it’s believed that there are 10,000 victims still suffering. Symptoms can be mental deterioration, gynaecological problems, physical deformities, skin diseases, epilepsy, respiratory problems and several unusual malignancies. Although the pesticide was banned over 10 years ago, some farmers have used it illegally. Discovering the hidden and illegal use of this pesticide pressured India’s Supreme Court of Justice to look at the current problem.
In its report submitted before Justices Swatanter Kumar and Madan B Lokur, the Joint Expert Committee said:
“India is a signatory to the Stockholm Convention and Rotterdam Convention and is committed to discontinue the use of endosulfan. The Committee recognizes that almost all the countries which have banned endosulfan have a phase out plan. The plan ensures that all the stocks available in the country are utilized and exhausted completely in a desirable time frame.”
It said, “The Ministry of Agriculture is informed, if no further import of raw material is allowed, the existing stocks should be depleted within a period of two years.”
Under this recent ruling, farming regions in Kerala and other neighboring rural districts will be Endosulfan-free by summer 2013. The fight to get any compensation from PCK and manufacturers Hinolustan Insecticides and Makhteshim Agan continues, but the cost of Endosulfan to ground water supply, aquatic life and human life is still being counted.
Getting the right balance between business and local interest is always difficult. So when a company has been caught several times dumping its mining waste and industrial material into rivers, it raises questions about the authorities’ regulatory powers. Ramanjit Singh, a resident of Nepar village, is furious with the Punjab Pollution Control Board’s inability to make companies comply with the law and dispose of waste legally. In his village, soap products from hundreds of small-scale soap businesses routinely contaminate the river and groundwater. Ramanjit Singh said,
“The leftover of soap from manufacturing units contributes significantly in polluting the underground water and our river. In view of the fact that people consuming water are fast falling prey to health ailments. The PPCB should ensure that they are brought to book.”
Many businesses seem to have a complete disregard for the law. Mining companies, like VM Salgaocar and Chowgule & Co., have 11 reported instances of illegal dumping of mining material in water bodies. Chowgule & Co. have eight instances of dumping of rejects and SFI four infringements. In that year, Goa State Water Resources reported, fined and prosecuted 62 instances of water pollution from mining companies.
District authority fines have little effect on businesses, so authorities are force to use stronger measures to stop illegal dumping. Authorities have targeted the closing of illegal pipelines, which businesses create to hide waste flow into rivers. Chadda Sugars Ltd and distillery A B Grain Spirits Ltd in Gurdaspur district were caught discharging untreated effluent from an illegal pipe into a natural water source and into the tributary of Beas River. Authorities not only charged them but also shut down the illegal pipeline.
Enforcing laws and regulation is difficult. Companies will go to great lengths to hide their waste problem. Companies believe that the system of waste management is slow and corrupt. Presently, businesses have to apply to authorities and pay for a waste disposal plan appropriate to their business needs. But companies have complained that the system is overly bureaucratic and slow. They have no confidence that authorities have the ability to manage efficient, working waste disposal.
India’s infrastructure is struggling cope with the growing demands of a vibrant economy. It needs help. It needs vast sums of money to replace antiquated pipes and water treatments plants. With many businesses refusing to pay for the disposal of waste, it seems that the problem will not be solved overnight. And so the status quo continues: India will keep striving forward to a future of more economic growth, while looking over its shoulder to see if the land can sustain this type of punishment. Environmental chemist Singare of Bhavan’s College, Mumbai, warns:
“Around the world as countries are struggling to arrive at an effective regulatory regime to control the discharge of industrial effluents into their ecosystems, Indian economy holds a double edged sword of economic growth and ecosystem collapse. The present experimental data indicates that there is a high level of pollution along many rivers in India. The experimental data also suggests a need to implement common objectives, compatible policies and programs for improvement in the industrial waste water treatment methods. The existing situation, if mishandled, can cause irreparable ecological harm in the long-term.”
India has a difficult decision to make. The choice between continuous economic prosperity or supporting infrastructure, people and water.