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Home > Environment, Health and Social Justice > India: On Industrial pollution in Vapi, Gujarat

India: On Industrial pollution in Vapi, Gujarat

10 September 2012

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The Week, 14 August 2012

Slow poison

By Nandini Oza

Maheshbhai Patel is busy attending to customers in his small grocery shop in Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation estate in Vapi, Gujarat. Although the stench coming from the nearby chemical industries is choking me, Patel, who was born in this town, breathes normally. It has become a way of life, he tells me.

Only when these industries release gases does it trouble the local people. But they have slowly adapted to live with that, too. “We do not cover our mouths and noses with handkerchiefs anymore. Our eyes do burn, but we sprinkle some water,” he says.

Vapi tops the list of critically polluted areas in the country as per the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index of the Central Pollution Control Board. According to a report submitted by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board to the Central board, the estate houses 759 industries, of which 70 per cent manufacture chemicals such as dyes and dye intermediates, pigments, pesticides, fine chemicals and pharmaceuticals. The report also includes an action plan to curb pollution.

A few months ago, some people were hospitalised when one of the industries released gases which were probably harmful, says Patel, Workers at this industrial estate are his main customers.
Patel owns four bighas of land but, for the last several years, he has been cultivating just a single crop. “The ground water available here isn’t good. During summer, chemicals run from several hand pumps,” says Patel, who has an eight-year-old son, Hiren, and is looking for a healthy future outside the estate. Had it not been for financial constraints, he would have relocated his family elsewhere.

According to him, cough, asthma and skin problems are common in this region. “People come here, write about the place, take samples of water, but nothing happens. No medical survey has been undertaken in this region till now,” he says. “About 20 years ago, farmers here had a good number of livestock. Now we hardly have any.”
The stench is strong even in some of the residential areas. But the industrial cluster and nearby residential areas are not the only ones that suffer. The ill-effects of pollution are felt even 10km away from Vapi.

For 51-year-old Ramesh Tandel, fishing used to be a profitable business. It is no more so, because of the chemicals that the industries release into the river Kolak. Vapi was a rich village 25 years ago, with 700 homes and 100 boats. Now there are only 10 boats. “The variety of fish has also come down from 80 to 20,” says Tandel.

Tandel is a pagariya fisherman, who fishes near the shore. His catch has gone down steeply, and so has that of those going further into the waters in boats. “The industries are supposed to treat the effluents before releasing them. But most of the effluents are released untreated,” he says. The Kolak is foul with effluents released from industries in Daman as well.

At times the effluents are red in colour and sometimes they cannot be made out. During monsoons, it is difficult to judge the level of pollution as the flow of water in the river increases. “At least twice a month, effluents are released and these are the times when the catch goes down drastically. Fish die immediately and we just burn them,” he says.

The fishermen don’t eat the fish they catch from the Kolak. “Even people outside do not buy it, if they know that the catch is from the Kolak,” he says.

Skin problems, due to exposure in polluted water, are common among the fishermen. “It is slow poison. All that these fishermen do is come home and wash their hands,” he says.

However, Tandel is optimistic about the future and feels that some day the pollution will come down. And he plans to introduce both his sons to fishing.

Most polluted: Vapi, Gujarat
Elevation: 25m above sea level

How to get there: It is a five-and-a-half-hour drive from Ahmedabad (370km). There are frequent trains to Vapi from Ahmedabad, Surat and Mumbai. The nearest airports are at Ahmedabad and Mumbai.
Best time to visit: It is polluted throughout the year, so it is completely your call!