Guest blog by Manu Moudgil
This story of Bandi River from Rajasthan is sixth in the series of online stories of urban rivers from across India. Please share your feedback and provide us with suggestions (read more in appendix). If you have any urban river stories or images that you might want to share, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Pali, a small town but prominent industrial centre lies around 70 km from Jodhpur in western Rajasthan. Bandi, a tributary of Luni river, flows through the town carrying its industrial and domestic sewage which turns into a bane for the villages downstream. The low rainfall in this region means the river gets little fresh water through the year to dilute the pollutants.
The town has three major industrial zones. While phases I and II are located in the North, phase III lies on the bank of river Bandi. The city has the fifth most polluted industrial area as found in the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index[i] of the country. It scored 82.71 points due to critical conditions of water and land.
The viewable functional map can be seen here : https://drive.google.com/open?id=1bkR9uqOjqmkK9tXzkdbWhzfKec0IuRK0&usp=sharing
A visit to the industrial area makes the impact evident as industrial solid waste lies piled up on the riverbanks. The black-coloured water contaminates several wells along the river stretch, turning the farmland in around 50 villages downstream redundant. Several studies, including one by the Centre for Science and Environment[ii], have indicted the textile industry for the high pollution levels.
India’s first common effluent treatment plant (CETP) was set up in Pali in 1982 to treat industrial effluents, but expansion of textile units means the treatment capacity never matches level of pollutants. Of the 800 textile units in the town, 600 are under Central Pollution Control Board’s ‘red category’, denoting that they are highly polluting units.
The four CETPs in the city are based on dated technology and not working at full capacity. The high running cost[iii] also acts as a deterrent for unit owners to send their waste to the plants. Of the samples of water collected from different locations, around 80 per cent of the surface water samples were found unfit for drinking[iv]. In 2009, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests declared the area as critically polluted and banned expansion of any industry in the area.
The area’s livestock population also appears to be affected by skin, gastric and waterborne diseases. The Rajasthan Ground Water Department has found that since 1978, ground water pollution has increased[v] upto 15 km down the river since ground water also flows in the same direction as river water.
Even after years of litigation[vi], the contentious issue is far from getting resolved even as the National Green Tribunal ordered shutting down of textile units operating without consent of the Rajasthan State Pollution Control Board.
Sri Kisan Paryavaran Sangharsh Samiti, a local farmers’ group, spearheaded the campaign, which included litigations against water pollution in and around Pali. A group of organisations, including Tarun Bharat Sangh and Jal Bhagirathi Foundation, led a river march to save Luni in 2008.
Bhagirath Prayas Samman (BPS) Award 2017 and a positive story
The 2017 Bhagirath Prayas Samman (BPS) award in individual category was given to Shri Mahaveer Singh Sukarlai of Rajasthan, who has been diligently working on issues related to the Bandi River. The award by India Rivers Day Organisations is an attempt to acknowledge and celebrate outstanding, inspirational, unsung initiatives in river conservation.
Alarmed at the huge ecological and health impacts of the contaminated Bandi, Shri Mahaveer Singh Sukarlai—then a fresh graduate — took up the cause of freeing Bandi from pollution. With this objective he founded, in 2004, the Sri Kisan Paryavaran Sangarh Samiti—a community based organization—and sensitized and mobilized farmers living downstream to demand their right for a clean river.
Several petitions and meetings with the Industries, District and State authorities neither yielded response nor relief from pollution. In February 2008, protesting against the short term and piecemeal approach, Shri. Sukarlai mobilized thousands of farmers who agitated for 20 days on the Bandi river and succeeded in attracting the immediate attention of the District Collector, who ordered rotational operation of the industries to meet the capacity of the Common Effluent Treatment Plants.
Business as usual continued. Not satisfied with the ad hoc manner in which decisions were made, Shri Mahaveer Singh Sukarlai through the Sri Kisan Paryavaran Sangharsh Samiti filed a Public Interest Litigation in the High Court of Rajasthan in 2012 demanding long term solutions including zero discharge of effluents in the river and compensation for the loss of ecology and wellbeing of farmers resulting from pollution. This case was transferred to the National Green Tribunal in 2014.
Shri Sukarlai’s legal interventions led to the closure of 200 units operating in non-industrial areas of Pali. This along with various directives of the High Court ensured that the volume of effluents generated came down from 34 million litres a day to 12 million litres. In 2016, all 500 industrial units were closed for 10 months by the National Geen Tribunal’s order and perhaps for the first time the farmers received uncontaminated water from Nehra dam for irrigation purposes.
In over thirteen long years of committed work against pollution, Shri Sukarlai has combined campaigns, advocacy and litigation to help reduce the effluent load on the river and thereby arresting the trajectory of pollution.
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About the author: Manu Moudgil is the founder editor of GoI Monitor, a web magazine managed by a group of activists, journalists and web developers. He also writes for India Water Portal, a website that shares knowledge and builds communities around water and related issues in India.
As part of the India Rivers Day 2017 event, we held an exhibition based on this year’s theme – ‘Rivers in the Urban Context’. Responding to our call for entries, many individuals and organisations shared urban river stories/documentation from across India, making it a lively and diverse collection.
However, a concern shared by the organising committee and many of our visitors, has been the limited distribution of these important and insightful river stories if restricted only to the physical form of the exhibition. It is in this stead that we’re starting a series of blogs where we will share these various river stories, though the experience of the exhibition can only be justified when visited in personal capacity.
If all goes well, we will soon announce dates for the exhibition to be open in more venues across Delhi and other cities too. If you want to or can help us taking this exhibition to a local venue near you, please contact us at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org