The lethal zones

Print edition : December 09, 2000

The haphazard industrial development and the anarchic operations of the units have had a disastrous impact on Delhi's environment.

IN the context of the current imbroglio in Delhi over the relocation of non-conforming industrial units, the following needs to be emphasised from the perspective of industrial pollution. One, pollution from industrial units should be controlled whether they are in conforming (industrial) areas or in non-conforming areas. Two, even if an industrial activity in residential or non-conforming areas is non-polluting by itself, as in the case of a software or computer assembly unit, its indirect polluting im pact on the environment can become significant, if its size is large, through vehicular traffic, constant movement of people and other ancillary polluting activities that it may attract around it. Industrial units, according to the Master Plan of Delhi ( MPD), are non-conforming if they operate from residential areas or commercial use zones.

Dirty flows the Yamuna. Moreover, the river bed, the main recharge zone for Delhi's groundwater sources, is the dumping ground for tonnes of fly ash.-RAMESH SHARMA

In the last couple of decades, from a 'Service Town' the Delhi region has rapidly grown into a major industrial area. There were merely 8,000 industries in 1951, 18,500 in 1961, 26,000 in 1971, 46,000 in 1981, 93,000 in 1993 and 125,000 in 1996, accordin g to the figure (based on a survey by the Delhi government) given to the apex court when it gave the historic judgment in 1996 ordering the closure of 146 industries found violating the zoning regulations. According to the Centre for Science and Environm ent (CSE), 10 per cent are hazardous units, mostly based in the industrial areas of Wazirpur, Zakheera, Moti Nagar and Mayapuri. Large and medium industries, which have the wherewithal to implement some kind of pollution control mechanisms, number less t han 150. Moreover, the bulk of the small-scale industries (SSIs) are in non-conforming areas. According to the 1996 survey, 98,000 units are non-conforming ones, operating outside the 28 industrial areas of Delhi.

According to a 1988 survey, of the 12 zones into which Delhi is divided for administrative purposes, Karol Bagh (which is also a large residential area) is the most heavily concentrated zone with more than 20 per cent of the industries located there. The next is Shahdra with 18.5 per cent, followed by Paharganj 12.1 per cent. New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) areas and the Delhi Cantonment have the lowest concentration of about 0.001 per cent. Of the nearly 13,400 polluting industries, only one-fou rth are located in conforming areas. Karol Bagh also has the highest share (33.1 per cent) of polluting industries. Of these units, general engineering constitutes 27.1 per cent, hosiery and garments 7.4 per cent, PVC/plastics 7 per cent and food product s 6.4 per cent. While the absolute numbers would have increased greatly by now, the distribution may be expected to be roughly on the same pattern.

MPD-2001 had served as the basis for the Supreme Court's judgment on a public interest petition filed by activist-lawyer M.C. Mehta seeking a directive to relocate polluting industries away from Delhi. With regard to preventing pollution, the court's ord ers required that:

* 168 hazardous industries be moved from Delhi to suitable locations in the National Capital Region (NCR), or closed down by November 30, 1996;

* 513 and 334 extensive industries in residential and non-conforming areas respectively (H category in MPD-2001) be closed down by January 31, 1997, and relocated outside Delhi;

* 46 hot mix plants be closed down by February 28, 1997;

* 243 brick kilns be closed by June 30, 1997, and relocated outside Delhi;

* 21 arc/induction furnaces be closed by March 31, 1997;

* the Delhi administration ensure all (non-extensive F category) units operating in non-conforming areas, except light and service industries as permitted by MPD-2001 (employing less than 10 workers and consuming less than 1kW of power), be either reloca ted or closed down.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), immediately after the court order, 1,228 units were closed down. In effect, this meant that all the orders had been complied with except the last one, the most contentious issue that led to the wid espread demonstrations in Delhi. Indeed, there is no record of the exact number of non-conforming units, the registration of their activities or their polluting status. Figures vary from source to source. In response to a court directive, a high-power c ommittee was set up, which invited applications from non-conforming units for relocation. As of July 2000, 51,851 applications had been received by the Delhi State Industrial Development Corporation (DSIDC), which had been entrusted in March 1998 by the high- power committee to implement the relocation scheme. Of these, according to the DSIDC, 27,915 applications have been rejected on technical grounds.

Also, it is unclear whether these 51,851 applications represent the actual number of F category units because of the existence of a large number of unlicensed units, and the lack of proper registration procedures and monitoring of these units. Even the 1 996 survey, which is supposed to have generated the figure of 98,000, is apparently not reliable because it was done without fixing proper criteria or guidelines. It is learnt that school teachers were asked to collect the data for payment of an honorari um depending upon the number surveyed. The figure, particularly those of the non-conforming ones, could be unreliable, say officials in the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). Furthermore, as the steering committee constituted to review MPD-2001 observed, several units obtained licences declaring their operations to be non-polluting and within the allowed power-load. Subsequently, they changed their activities. With the implementation of municipal laws being ineffective and the number of unautho rised power connections growing, the polluting units have multiplied in number. Given this situation, exact current figures of the total number of industries and those operating in the non-conforming areas simply do not exist.

The problem began not so much as a result of any move to implement the 1996 order to relocate non-conforming industries but the steps taken by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) to implement the Supreme Court order of September 1999 that no ind ustry be allowed to discharge any effluent without conforming to the standards laid down by the CPCB. The steering committee on MPD-2001 Review (1996) had stated that, of a total of about 150 large and medium (L&M) units, about 85 per cent of the large u nits and 20 per cent of the medium units had installed effluent treatment plants (ETPs). While most of the L&M units with water polluting potential, except the three thermal power plants, had been shut down following the 1996 order, the SSIs, which compr ise nearly 99 per cent of the industrial units in Delhi, and do not have ETPs, were still operating. The DPCC identified 2,276 such water polluting ones. Despite the DPCC serving notices, ETPs were not being set up and when, failing to get an extension o f the six month deadline from the court, the committee began closure of units, trouble began. While that debate was on, the apex court has also sought to examine the Delhi government's compliance with the 1996 orders on relocation and has initiated proce edings to examine contempt of court charges. According to sources in the CPCB many of the closed water polluting small units have started reoperating after the recent trouble. CPCB officials also point out that this inventory has not included the 30-odd bus depots of the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), which discharge large quantities of effluents.

The combined impact of haphazard industrial development and the almost anarchic operation of industries and rampant corruption on the environment of Delhi has been perhaps disastrous. According to the White Paper on Pollution in Delhi - An Action Plan, a 1997 report of the MoEF, about 1,900 million litres a day (mld) of domestic waste water and 320 mld of industrial waste water is discharged. The contribution of the medium and large scale units to the total discharge volume is nearly half while the SSIs account for the remaining half. The quantity of industrial effluent may appear insignificant but their quality would have a greater environmental impact because of its toxic nature. Although the impact of the closure of L&M water polluting units would b e significant, data on industrial effluent discharge after the closure are not readily available.

THE Yamuna enters Delhi at Wazirabad in the north and leaves it at Okhla in the south, covering a distance of 25 km. The water in the stretch is severely polluted owing to heavy industrial and domestic waste water discharges. The Najafgarh drain alone co ntributes more than 80 per cent of the waste water entering the river. This drain passes through important industrial complexes such as Najafgarh Road, Lawrence Road, Wazirpur Industrial Area, Mayapuri, Kirti Nagar, Naraina and Anand Parbat. These areas are chiefly clusters of SSIs which generate significant amounts of effluent discharges. For a cluster of a given type of industry, the concept of common effluent treatment plants (CETPs), which has worked in other States, was mooted. Based on a survey an d the strategy suggested by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, a laboratory under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), 15 CETPs were proposed to cover the 21 industrial areas where effluent dis charges are significant.

The project has remained a non-starter for the last five years, largely owing to lack of adequate response from the industry. The DSIDC was entrusted with the task of erecting these CETPs. NEERI had estimated the cost of erecting the 15 CETPs at Rs.90 cr ores. The funding pattern was worked out on the lines of a similar World Bank scheme that is in place in other parts of the country. That is, half of the cost would be shared by the Centre and the Delhi government and the rest borne by the industrial uni ts concerned. For the industry component, a formula has been worked out by which the industry would put in 20 per cent while the rest will be raised through IDBI (Industrial Development Bank of India) loans. The first contribution is in: as against a tot al share of Rs.45 crores, a sum of Rs.21.46 crores has been received from industrial units until July 2000. As a result, work on only three CETPs - Wazirpur, Mayapuri and Mongolpuri - has begun.

According to informed sources, many controversies have dogged the CETP project. Besides the inherent unwillingness on the part of industry, the evaluation of individual units' contribution was not acceptable to the units. Industry sources say that the de mand that their entire contribution be paid in one go is unreasonable. Contributing to this is the fact that NEERI's calculations of the rate of effluent flow have been found to be faulty, according to B. Sengupta, Member-Secretary, CPCB. The problems ha ve been compounded by the fact that there is no single industrial association in each area to speak for the entire cluster. The last date for payment was May 31, 2000, and the government, according to the DSIDC, is taking measures to realise the unpaid s um from the defaulters.

THE level of industrial air pollution has definitely come down over the years, but vehicular pollution, which contributes about 64 per cent of the pollutants, is rising rapidly. The quantum of pollutants emitted daily has been estimated (1996) to be of t he order of 2,000 tonnes. According to the CPCB, there are about 20,000 air polluting units in Delhi (1996 data). The three thermal power plants (at Indraprastha Estate, Rajghat and Badarpur) contribute 16 per cent, the rest of the industry 12 per cent a nd domestic activity 8 per cent. Accordingly, industrial sources other than the power plants emit about 240 tonnes of pollutants every day. Of this, it had been estimated that the 243 brick kilns accounted for 33 per cent, the 20 pottery units 16 per cen t, the 70 large foundries/rolling mills/forging units 10 per cent and the hot mix plants 5 per cent. Now that the brick kilns and hot mix plants are reportedly shut down, the industrial air pollution would have come down to an extent.

Thermal plants emit sulphur dioxide (SO2), oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and particulate matter. All the three thermal power plants have electrostatic precipitators (ESPs) to control particulate emission. However, the poor quality of coal led to increased par ticulate emission, which has since been brought down by the use of beneficiated coal, according to the CPCB. SO2 and NOx emissions are controlled by regular monitoring of stacks from which they are emitted at specified heights for wider dispersal and gro und level concentrations are kept low.

The total quantity of fly ash coming from the three power plants is about 6,000 tonnes per day (tpd). While Badarpur and Rajghat have fly ash collection facilities, they do not have adequate storage facilities. The fly ash is generally disposed of in ash ponds. These, located near the river, tend to overflow, particularly during monsoon. Besides, groundwater could be contaminated from the leaching of heavy metals present in the fly ash. According to the CPCB, despite the regulatory directives none of th e thermal plants has an action programme for large-scale utilisation of fly ash. Some progress has been made in recent times. For new thermal plants, like the one in Rajghat, the regulation is that 20 per cent of fly ash should be used in the first year. With an annual increase of 10 per cent, 100 per cent utilisation is to be achieved by the end of the ninth year. In order to provide an impetus to the utilisation of fly ash (say, in the building of roads, making of bricks and so on) the use of topsoil has been prohibited for up to 50 km radius from a unit generating fly ash. Fly ash from the Rajghat power plant is being used by the Cement Corporation of India (CCI) for its cement plant in Delhi.

Vehicular pollution contributes about 64 per cent of Delhi's pollution.-

Even though the contribution of industry may seem less significant, their effect is more lethal because of the localised effect and the higher toxicity of the emissions. A component of industrial air pollution in Delhi, particularly in non-conforming are as, is toxic fumes from the electroplating and anodising industry. Obviously, the workers are the first to be affected by it. Rolling and pickling units too generate toxic gases. Some of the industrial areas like Wazirpur and Rajasthan Udyog Nagar, where there are many such units, are close to residential localities. With the expansion of the urban sprawl in Delhi, many residential areas are now dangerously close to industrial areas housing hazardous units. It is not even clear what solution even the cu rrently evolving MPD-2021 has for this growing problem. In fact, observing that Delhi is not an ideal industrial location, the steering committee drew attention to this problem and said that relocation of industries should be one of the major objectives.

Waste disposal by industrial units in general, and hazardous waste in particular, leaves a great deal to be desired. A major part of the problem stems from the fact that most of the hazardous waste generating units do not have the authorisation required under the Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989 (now amended). Usually it is dumped arbitrarily, to be collected as ordinary solid waste and taken to land-fill areas, only to contaminate groundwater. According to R.N. Jindal of the CPCB, one large chemical factory in Ashok Vihar, a non-conforming area, has been dumping toxic waste by the roadside for long and many eucalyptus trees in the area are dead. In January 1997, the MoEF delegated powers to the DPCC to close down units handling ha zardous wastes operating in violation of the rules. But without primary data on the units and a proper characterisation of the wastes, no action could be taken. The draft inventorisation and categorisation was only completed recently by the DPCC. However , according to Jindal, all the 70-odd lead units, serving mainly the countless unauthorised reconditioned vehicle battery units, have been shut down, which have since moved into the neighbouring States. As a result, battery units are still operating in t he city. Clandestine operations cannot be ruled out, says a CPCB official.

"But the data in the DPCC draft is completely untrustworthy," says Indrani Chandrasekharan of the MoEF. Even the exact number of such units operating is not available let alone the amount of waste generated, she says. The directive from even a body like the high-power committee under Dr. M.G.K. Menon to provide basic data was of no avail. She said: "I have data for every other State. For Delhi there is nothing. It is sheer anarchy." Now that the rules have been amended - we now have identification of su ch units by the (44) industrial processes employed rather than 18 kinds of industrial wastes generated in the earlier rules - the DPCC has carry out a fresh survey. But she wonders how this will be achieved without even ensuring registration.

Another aspect which has been virtually ignored is the implementation of the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemicals Rules, 1989, points out Jindal. The DPCC survey only covered the large petrol pumps and godowns of petroleum products, whe reas there are thousands of small units importing and using all kinds of hazardous chemicals, he points out.

NOISE is another important aspect of pollution, but not much attention is paid to it. Data pertaining to some industrial areas are available but this does not give the true picture. The values shown are averaged over very large areas whereas the effect o f noise pollution is localised. This is particularly true of non-conforming areas where isolated or a few units might be generating high decibel levels. Interestingly, the MPD does not characterise a permissible non-conforming activity in terms of noise pollution, or water usage for that matter, which can be high even if the power consumption is less than 1 kW and less than 10 people are employed. Indeed, the largest number of complaints about non-conforming units in Delhi that have been received by the CPCB are cases of noise pollution.

Under the Industries Relocation Scheme formulated in 1996, the DSIDC has acquired 431 hectares in Bawana and Holambi Kalan in suburban Delhi to relocate non-conforming units. According to the DSIDC, another 324 ha is being acquired and allotment against the 51,851 applications is in progress. Of course, these will hardly suffice to relocate 98,000 units. However, it is a moot point whether any assessment of the water and power requirements and other infrastructure needs in the new areas have been made f or the relocated industries to operate smoothly. Also, indiscriminate allotment of plots, irrespective of the nature of the industrial activity, could be counter-productive, says Jindal. Since land is scarce, multi-storeyed units should be built and appr opriate shop floor space should allotted depending on the nature of the activity. But with basic data lacking, haphazard development could be the norm even in the relocated areas, even if the relocation process gets under way in the wake the current cont roversy and the move to amend MPD-2001 and relax the criteria for light and service. However, this has been struck down by the court for now, but things could change. That is how things have been, are and will be in the NCR.

The Action Plan outlined by the MoEF's White Paper on Pollution in Delhi had set some targets to be achieved to control pollution in Delhi. Clearly, besides the issue of relocation, there are other gross measures to be taken which also have been delayed owing to apathy and lack of will on the part of the government.

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