The price of pollution
The Patancheru industrial belt is an industrialist's dream but an environmentalist's nightmare. Local villagers suffer the ill-effects of violation of environmental norms.
Collecting water samples The highly polluted lake in Medak district. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf
TILL tragedy strikes, doomsday scenarios remain in the realm of fiction. But what happens when man-made disasters knowingly wreak havoc in the lives of poor people?
Villagers in Kazipally, Bollaram and Patancheru in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh are dying die a slow death due to severe health problems like arthritis and bone deformities, skin cancer and tumours, visual and neural disorders, premature deliveries and abortions. This is the result of blatant violation of all environmental norms by pharmaceutical and industrial units.
Water from Kazipally and Patancheru has such a bad name that the farmers and milkmen do not find customers if they reveal their address. "Falling prey to polluted waters means we are losing health, business, livestock...everything," says Boeera Agamayya, who is around 30 years but looks at least 20 years older. His elder brother, Narasimhan, says, "From a prosperous agro-based economy, we have been reduced to paupers for no fault of ours."
Wahab Himayat rues how acres of green have turned into barren patches, milch animals have disappeared and aquatic life has become a thing of the past. Sivahmma, 58, says: "Youngsters now suffer joint pains, kidney problems, low immunity. Gums have a blue lining (indicating mercury and lead poisoning). Many suffer burning and redness in eyes. Recently two babies were born with eyelids but no eyeballs."
Since 1971, 800 industries (including big bulk drug companies, chemical and paints units, stone cutting and polishing, welding electrodes, locomotive and mosquito repellent manufacturers) have been pumping their toxic effluents into the environment. Toxic emissions and the "coloured water fall" have found their way into rivers and ponds.
Older residents recall the area as wide green expanse with lush paddy fields interspersed with clear ponds brimming with aquatic life. Today, 2,000 acres of agricultural land has been destroyed. Long-standing tamarind, banyan and neem trees are wilting. A historic tank constructed 600 years ago in Kazipally was the pride of the village. The tank, which had sustained the village with good quality water, has also fallen victim to pollution.
Similarly the numerous open and dug wells, small self-sustaining tanks and water bodies have been rendered useless due to the high concentration of hazardous chemicals like Copper, Cadmium, Chromium, Arsenic, Nitrate, Nickel, Uranium, Fluoride five times more than the permissible limit.
Ironically, the Patancheru industrial belt, one of the 22 environmental hotspots of the country, is just 40 km from Hyderabad. The Central Pollution Control Board identified nearby Medak as one of the 22 critically polluted areas.
Interventions on behalf of the people have been made but with little effect. Private individuals and NGOs conduct free medical check-ups and also keep the issue alive.
The Apex Court, in fact, ordered closure of 60 per cent of the most polluting industries, payment of compensation to villagers and installation of Effluent Treatment Plants in the rest. "But there is a huge gap between directives and implementation," laments activist Rajasekhar. Only 18 industries were closed.
Protests have fallen on deaf ears. Dr. A. Kishan Rao, who filed the first PIL in 1986, has now threatened mass action. He confirms that health ailments are on the rise. The Greenpeace has moved in to empower people to prove environmental disregard with self-test kits.
Says Bidhan Chandra Singh: "The Government should declare a state of chemical emergency here without any further loss of time." Lawyers, medicos, environmentalists, activists have dubbed the place as a "mini-Chernobyl" and a "hell on earth".
But nothing has changed for the people. Only industrial revenue has grown to Rs.5,000 crores. Will people ever be more important than profit in our country of billion plus?
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