Officials at the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) confirmed on Tuesday that the explosion of a digester which caused spillage of distillery spent wash in a private sugar mill in Mandya district, was caused by negligence of the owners of the mill.
Days after the explosion at NLS Sugars in Koppa in Mandya, officials from KSPCB are working around the clock to minimise the damage caused by the spill. "The digester which exploded was not in use and the owners of the factory have stored spent wash in it without informing officials. They have not checked the unit for stability nor has it been certified. There is major negligence on the part of the owners of the mill," confirmed Savita, KSPCB District Officer for Mandya.
The digester, which had a stock of 80 lakh litres of spent wash, exploded due to suspected pressure build-up. The owners of the mill planned to treat the chemical waste collected in the plant in December before the explosion occurred.
A preliminary inspection by district authorities found that 30,000 people in over 20 villages in Maddur taluk in Mandya were affected by the incident.
KSPCB officials are testing water samples in the Shimsha River, which flows downstream of the sugar mill, to ensure that it is fit for drinking. The same water flows to Bengaluru. "We have advised people to not drink the water from the river directly. The water can be used for agricultural purposes but we are awaiting the results of the tests conducted to confirm if the water can be used for drinking," Savita added.
Drinking the water can cause dysentery and bring about ulcers in the mouth, wheezing and skin diseases apart from other problems. Officials are also worried that the spent wash can contaminate the ground water in the area.
Following the incident last week, officials estimated that crops in about 150 acres of land surrounding the mill had been affected. A survey was conducted by district authorities after which it was concluded that the spent wash came in direct contact with 50 acres of agricultural fields. "In these 50 acres, crops have been damaged and the soil cannot be used for cultivation. The district administration will ensure that the owners of the factory compensate the farmers until they can cultivate crops in their fields," confirmed MR Rajesh, Mandya Assistant Commissioner.
Farmers and residents of the areas have staged multiple protests outside the mill and in areas like Maddur and KR Pete demanding compensation for the loss of their crops. The farmers have also complained of a strong smell emanating from the area since the explosion. "We will continue the protests until we receive compensation for the crop loss we have faced. Many of us were growing sugarcane and paddy in this area and some were also growing ragi. All the crops are now rendered useless and there is a smell coming from the area. We may not be able to grow anything for years now", Sudheer, a member of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha in Mandya told TNM.