In relief for locals in Patancheru and Bollaram industrial areas, who have complained of pollution for decades, the Telangana government has constituted a committee for utilisation of a corpus fund called â€œPatancheru and Bollaram Environment Relief Fund".
As per a Government Order (GO), the committee will use the fund for "restoration of the environment in the entire attached areas of Patancheru and Bollaram Industrial area.
Based on an order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Telangana State Pollution Control Board (TSPCB) issued directions to the Chief Accounts Officer and an account in the fund's name was opened with the Andhra Bank's Secretariat branch.
The Committee will have nine members including the Chairman of the TSPCB, who will act as the Convenor. Other members include the Chief Secretary, and the Principal Secretaries for Forest Department, Irrigation and Water Resources Department and Industries and Panchayat Raj Department.
Professor Nirmala Babu Rao, Department of Botany, University of College of Science, Osmania University, VV Krishna Reddy, National President, Bulk Drug Manufacturers Association, P Janardhan Reddy, Vice President, Society for the preservation of Environment and Quality of Life (SPEQL) are the remaining members.
For decades now, locals in the areas of Patancheru and Bollaram in the outskirts of Hyderabad -- both notified as industrial areas by the government -- have complained of air and water pollution.
Locals welcome move
Prabhakar, a resident of Jinnaram mandal says, "We are unable to drink the water here because of the pollution. In villages in and around Gaddapotharam, life expectancy has come down drastically due to health problems caused by the pollution. There is also a stench that hangs in the air, which makes it difficult to even breathe."
Asked about the constitution of the committee, he says, "We welcome the move but the members should be well aware of what's happening on the ground here. If they sit in Hyderabad and remain unaware of the ground reality, then it is no use for us. The funds should be utilised properly to ensure that it reaches the victims."
Speaking to TNM, Surender Reddy, ex-sarpanch of Gummadidala village in the area says, "The pollution officials are unable to take any action. In areas like Kazipally, the water has been completely polluted. Even taking a bath with this water will result in rashes on the skin."
"We took a resolution when I was sarpanch that we will not allow industries to set up here. Though Gummadidala isn't polluted yet, we aren't unaffected either. There are factories in the neighbouring village which affect our water quality," he adds.
For the locals, the latest order comes after a long legal battle.
Dr Kishan Rao Allani, president of the Patancheru Anti-Pollution Committee, an NGO says, "We have been fighting this case from 1986. We had got directions from the High Court, but as we didn't get a sufficient response, we filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with the Supreme Court."
"In 2002, SC passed orders and directed the HC to implement it. The case finally went to the NGT and we got the orders. Every minute lost in court, saw more destruction of the environment on the ground. Lives have been lost and that is the real cost of the legal delay," he adds.
The locals now demand that the factories should take steps to clean water bodies which have been polluted and ask authorities to construct a 100-bed hospital for the victims affected by the pollution.
'No local representation'
Some also point out that the committee did not have any local representatives.
"As an NGO we have been fighting for more than 30 years. A new NGO has been included in the committee instead. How it will help us without knowing our problems is a big question mark. It would have been better if they would have appointed a local NGO," Dr Kishan Rao Allani said.
"People should also be vigilant to ensure that the funds are implemented properly," he added.
Dr Narasimha Reddy, an independent policy expert, said, "The constitution of the committee is not proper because they have not included a representative of the victims. They are the ones who fought for the fund in the first place."
"This also comes two-and-a-half years after the NGT judgement. This shows that the government is still trying to protect the industrialists rather than the victims and the farmers who are suffering due to the pollution," he alleged.
Narasimha Reddy also pointed out that the terms and conditions of the committee are also vague.
"They mention 'attached area of Patancheru and Bollaram'. What does it mean? There is a need to clearly define the territorial area. If this committee has to work, the guidelines have to be established and they should consult the local population before going ahead with how the funds will be managed. The GO doesn't outline these procedures," he said.