ZLD

Bihar’s Toxic Textile Industry

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By Alok Gupta

The textile industry of Patwa Toli is polluting rivers and groundwater in the Indian state of Bihar, but businesses have failed to clean up their act claiming they provide essential jobs.

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Waste water from dyeing plants flowing into the shallow Falgu river in Bihar, India. Image: Alok Gupta via The Third Pole

The weavers of Patwa Toli in the Gaya district of Bihar manufacture two things in bulk: colourful textiles and engineers. While the former is their ancestral trade, the latter is apparently a product of recession.

From a distance Patwa Toli is a riot of colours. Threads of highly toxic red, green and yellow water seeps through the sandy banks slowly weaving itself into the clear waters of the Falgu River, a tributary of the Ganga.

Decades of effluents from dyeing, washing and pressing units have seeped deep into the groundwater of Patwa Toli and the Falgu River. The pollution has become so severe in the last two years that hand pumps in the village started dispensing multi-coloured water which gave off a strong stench, according to a report prepared by Sridhar Updhayay in June 2016, a medical officer of Gaya’s public health department.

The report, which declared the groundwater of Patwa Toli “unfit for human consumption”, was sent to the civil surgeon (a senior doctor, not necessarily a surgeon, appointed by government in a district) for further action. The civil surgeon advised locals to stop drinking water from hand pumps and asked the district administration to bore deeper wells to access clean water. But the work hasn’t started yet.

The poor suffer the most here as they have to drink this severely contaminated water.

Md Shafeeq, local doctor

The Marginalised Suffer the Most

The severe pollution has affected the lives of many local people. Shehnaz Praveen, a housewife, confronts every government official visiting the locality to inspect the pollution that is forcing her to walk for an hour further to fetch drinking water.  “I have to wake up an hour earlier to walk and bring one bucket of fresh water from a nearby locality. Even a glass of this hand pump water makes me and my children sick,” she says.

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For Shehnaz Praveen, the polluted water is very difficult to avoid. Image: Alok Gupta via The Third Pole

Those who cannot spend an extra hour to fetch fresh water often end up at the clinic of Md Shafeeq. The doctor refuses to answer questions about his medical qualifications, but his surgery is crowed with people since he only charges INR 20 per patient (USD 0.30). “Almost everyone in the locality is a victim of water pollution. A majority of people suffer from liver and kidney diseases,” he says.

Wealthy power loom owners avoid these health problems by using water purifiers or buying bottled water, Shafeeq claims. “The poor suffer the most here as they have to drink this severely contaminated water,” he says.

Kaushalendra Narayan, district president of the Swabhiman party, a political party leading the protest against pollution, says that there are nearly 12,000 Muslims living in Pehani, the locality of Patwa Toli. They mostly live in poverty and are the major victims of underground water pollution.

“Hand pumps are the only source of potable water for these families. They do not have financial capacity to buy water or water purifiers,” Narayan claims. Groundwater pollution has not spared the mosque where tap water has turned yellow with a strong stench.

The Swabhiman party sent the medical report to Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) demanding they take action. S Chandrasekar, member secretary of the Board told thethirdpole.net that chemicals from the dyeing and bleaching units of Patwa Toli are extremely dangerous.

“We fear that such unscientific disposal of effluent from dyeing unit might cause irreversible damage to Falgu River and also groundwater of Patwa Toli.”

He also adds, “Naturally present arsenic in the groundwater has further aggravated the groundwater pollution.”

Closure and Unemployment

In response to intensifying protests and massive pollution, the BSPCB directed the Gaya district administration to immediately close all unregistered dyeing and polluting units on June 15 last year.

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Shutting down dyeing plants has led to mass unemployment. Image: Alok Gupta via The Third Pole

With barely 100 registered power looms in Patwatoli, around 12,000 units came to a standstill, leaving nearly 60,000 people out of work. “We have seen many threads of life including recession, struggle and prosperity but we have got through them.

But this time, it’s difficult,” says Gopal Patwa, president of the Bihar Bunkar Kalyan Sangh, an association of weavers. He claims the district administration and pollution board are indulging in coercive measures instead of providing a real solution.

Power loom owners say the industry it is one of the major employment providers in an industry-starved Bihar. Finished textile products from Patwa Toli are sent all over the country with an annual turnover of more than INR 50 million (USD 750,000).

Gopal Patwa says looms owners have been operating in the area for nearly five decades “and no one complained or asked us to treat our wastewater. One fine day, we are asked to close down but we’ve not been taught how to clean our wastewater,” he rues.

Chandrasekar accepts that closing the power loom units is not a practical solution. It caused panic among banks that have given huge loans to power loom owners.

“Closing the looms will lead to starvation like situation for many families as they would lose their livelihoods.” Other textile hubs like Tirupur in Tamil Nadu resolved the pollution issue by investing money in zero discharge technology working through community and government partnerships.

Rather than adopt innovative measure to control pollution, the BSPCB, district administration and industry department, have resorted to an expensive and time consuming solution: to shift 12,000 units to a new industrial area.

“We have recommended the district administration shift power looms, dyeing and pressing units to an industrial area and set up a water treatment plant,” he told thethirdpole.net. In the meantime the BSPCB and district administration reopened the power loom units on June 30 last year in the same area.

Engineering Solutions

Patwa Toli is also known for having a high number of students graduating from Indian Institutes of Technologies (IITs) – among the most prestigious educational institutions in India.

In 1990s when recession hit the handloom sector, children in Patwa Toli studied hard in the deafening noise of looms and poverty to crack the country’s toughest engineering exam- the Indian Institute of Technology-Joint Entrance Exam (IIT-JEE).

There are now over 200 IIT graduates from Patwa Toli, but they, and scores of technocrats in the area, have also failed to resolve the pollution problem.

Keshar Prasad an engineer who graduated from IIT-Kharagpur in 2008 belongs to the family that has produced seven IIT graduates. Keshar is presently employed at Eco Lab in Pune. He argues that improving Patwa Toli’s drainage system to control the pollution would be cheaper than shifting the power looms.

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Innovative ways could help save the jobs as well as treat the wastewater, but they have not been adopted. Image: Alok Gupta via The Third Pole

“Both industrial and residential waste flows from the same drain. It would be easy to collect and recycle the dye wastewater if the industrial drainage had a separate outlet,” he says. Keshar’s solution would save millions of rupees.

Krishna Prasad, a graduate of Cochin University proposes a comprehensive pollution plan for Patwa Toli. “Let’s run looms on solar energy, plant trees and chemicals from dyes can be re-used,” he says.

Meanwhile, the power looms are back in business, further polluting the groundwater and Falgu River.  Residents, after staging over a dozen protest including demonstrations, road blockades and sit-ins over the last eight months, have now turned to the courts for help.

“We have hired an advocate to seek justice. We are also planning to approach the National Green Tribunal,” Narayan from the Swabhiman party says.

*This story first appeared on The Third Pole

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Dyers look for Rs. 200-crore grant

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R. Vimal Kumar

Owners of dyeing units affiliated to 18 Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) in Tirupur knitwear cluster are looking forward for release of Rs. 200 crore from the Centre which they sought through the State Government as a grant to offset their debts.

“Debts have arisen following the spending of Rs. 270 crore on research and development activities taken up over the last few years to improve the effluent treatment techniques and also to upgrade machinery, all with an aim to ensure we implement the zero liquid discharge (ZLD) norms stipulated by Madras High Court during the treatment of dyeing effluents,” said S. Nagarajan, president of Dyers Association of Tirupur.

According to him, a sum of Rs. 270 crore was raised by the dyeing sector entrepreneurs through bank loans and other borrowings.

The release of the grant was essential to replace some of the machines that had corroded over the years and to add more gadgets to ensure optimal utilisation of the installed capacity in the CETPs, he said.

The dyeing unit owners pointed out that utilisation levels presently stood at below 75 per cent of the installed capacity at the CETPs.

Meanwhile, a section of farmers, who had faced the brunt of industrial pollution that led to them move the court against the dyeing units, feels that the Supreme Court observation of ‘polluters pay’ in the ‘Dyeing unit owners versus Noyyal River Ayacutdars Association’ case should be respected.

“The dyeing unit owners should themselves bear the cost for any R&D activities as they were the ‘polluters’ who damaged the ecology of River Noyyal. It is their responsibility to restore the ecology and ensure further compliance of ZLD norms,” opined P. Sankaranarayanan, a farmer.

*This story first appeared on The Hindu.

Green norms proposal may shut units: Textile Ministry

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The Supreme Court had several years ago asked the textile units in Tirupur (Tamil Nadu) to ensure that they do not pollute the Noyyal river and that they bring down their liquid discharge to zero. The order had led to the closure of several units in the area.

The Environment Ministry’s proposal, to hastily implement a ‘stringent’ norm mandating nearly all textile processing units to eliminate liquid discharges, can result in closure of many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and trigger large-scale job losses, according to the Textile Ministry.

In his response to the draft notification by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Textiles Secretary, S. K. Panda, has said the proposed standards — mandating ‘Zero Liquid Discharge’ (ZLD) for textile processing units where waste water discharge is over 25 kilo litres a day — will be “too stringent” for the domestic textile processing industry that is largely unorganised and comprising of SMEs, according to reliable sources.

Around 94 per cent of India’s apparel workers are employed in firms with 50 workers or less, and less than six firms have over 2,000 workers, Niti Aayog Vice Chairman Arvind Panagariya had said.

The Environment Ministry also requires textile units in clusters (like Tirupur and Ludhiana) to establish a ZLD-common effluent treatment plants irrespective of their waster water discharge levels.

Setting up ZLD-effluent treatment plants will need huge initial capital investment as well as high recurring expenditure making it commercially non-viable, the secretary said.

Citing several representations from the textile sector against such norms, he also said insisting on ZLD could in turn result in closure of several units and unemployment for workers in those units.

Mr. Panda, therefore, said the environment ministry should consider implementing the ZLD only in a phased manner. He said the environment ministry should keep in view the larger interest of the textiles sector as well as the country’s economic development, and implement the ZLD only in a phased manner.

Meanwhile, the Textiles Ministry has set up a panel to look into the existing technologies of effluent treatment and suggesting the best available technology — after taking into account the financial and other related factors — that can be introduced in these SME units.

The Textiles Ministry has said, as a short-term measure, the best available technology will be adopted, but in the long-term, research and development will be pursued for developing cleaner and more cost-effective options.

One of the alternatives being tried out is marine discharge, where waste is recycled and the residue (which is substantially salt, and therefore considered safe) is discharged into the sea. But for that, the units will have to be located near the coastal region as setting up long pipelines from inland units to the sea will be non-viable.

The Supreme Court had several years ago asked the textile units in Tirupur (Tamil Nadu) to ensure that they do not pollute the Noyyal river and that they bring down their liquid discharge to zero. The order had led to the closure of several units in the area.

*This story first appeared on The Hindu.

Textile units in Tamil Nadu unable to bear expenses on compliance issues

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Textile units in SIPCOT unable to bear expenses on compliance issues

Textile units in Perundurai SIPCOT Industrial Growth Centre are reportedly losing out on competitive pricing of products due to large expenses on complying with the norms. It has been said that around 15 units out of 50 have shut their operations in last four years after suffering losses.

S. Selvaraj, Joint Secretary, Perundurai SIPCOT Textiles Processors Association (PSTPA) mentions, “We lose out as the units that do not comply with ZLD norms are able to sell their products for Rs. 15 to Rs. 20 lesser per kg in the export market. It is difficult to survive in the absence of a level-playing field. The units exiting from SIPCOT are moving to other States where the norms are not so stringent.”

The association has also urged the State Government to impose uniform compliance by all dyeing and bleaching industries as it has offered Rs. 700 crore package to establish CETPs in neighbouring districts of the state like Erode.

**This story first appeared on Apparel Resources here.