Pollution threats

Print edition : June 20, 2003

Pandurang Patil in his potato field covered by dried paper sludge. - RAVI SHARMA

EVEN as the issue of the Dandeli Mini Hydel Project is being debated and even as environmentalists worry that eventually the Karnataka government will clear it, the river continues to be polluted at many points along its course. One of the culprits here is West Coast Paper Mills, located on the banks of the Kali at Dandeli. The integrated pulp and paper mill (installed capacity: 157,750 tonnes; established:1955) is one of the biggest of its kind in India. According to the member-secretary of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), B. Ramaiah, the mill "does not conform to pollution control norms".

Lumps of paper pulp that float on the river just metres from where the mill releases its waste water, are snapped up by crocodiles. The water that is used by farmers for livestock and on the fields is contaminated by waste sludge, which dries out into a cake.

Environmentalists allege that waste sludge and effluents including caustic soda are being let out in the raw into the Kali, although the water is being used for drinking by people and cattle downstream and also by wild animals. Effluents from this industry have a complex chemical mix. Nearly 250 chemicals are present in it, of which 180 are chlorinated compounds comprising phenolics and chlorophenolics, besides trichloromethane, trichloroethane, pentachlorobenzene and dichlorophenol.

Villages and tribal hamlets along the Kali, including Halamadi, Kariamyampali, Mynad (with a population of 2,000) and right up to the Bommanahalli dam 20 km away, are affected. Chemical analysis of water downstream from the mill has shown that the "water sample is found to be within permissible limits except in case of odour and appearance (dark brown coloured water) and hence non-potable".

Pandurang Patil, a farmer whose tomato fields border the point where effluents from the mill enter the Kali, said: "Farmers like me who pump up the water are badly affected by the waste sludge. The problem has become especially bad in the last two years. Because the water is not potable, the mill management has been providing us drinking water through pipes. Now, after we complained about the sludge, they have threatened to cut off our only source of drinking water. There are no borewells in the area.''

The mill is also stated to be guilty of atmospheric pollution. The pollution from wood and chemicals that occurs during the manufacture of paper and pulp and during the recovery process can be felt all over the Dandeli, almost round the clock. The mill is accused of dumping fly-ash next to an anganwadi, instead of at the designated spots 12 km away, at the disused mine pits at Shirroli.

The KSPCB is looking into the issue, and according to officials the mill management has sought time till September to put in place an upgraded waste water treatment plant that will cost Rs.8 crores. But many local residents are sceptical. A farmer said: "Our only hope is that the rain will come and wash away the pollutants. The mill management keeps making promises but nothing has been done."

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