On June 16, 2016, the streets of Vinayaknagar, Bangalore, were stained blue by chemical effluents that had been released into the tap water by three illegal dyeing companies. The issue was promptly brought to the notice of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) by the President of a local NGO called Future India Organisation, and an official complaint was lodged the very next day.
Fast forward 311 days, and the taps of residents are still spouting coloured water, reportedly polluted by the very same companies. And the authorities who are supposed to be putting an end to the pollution are allegedly dragging their feet on the matter.
"In the month of June 2016, we had lodged a complaint with the KSPCB, stating that in Vinayakanagar, Shantinagar, Ward 117, all the public water lines and drinking water lines were contaminated by chemical effluents. We wanted to know where the effluents are coming from,â said Rowland Soans, President of the NGO.
âLater, we came to know that in the said area, around 3 illegal silk yarn dyeing units were operating. So immediately we lodged a complaint with the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board,â he added.
Almost a year on, Rowland and his NGO wanted to speak to the KSPCB about the progress in the case - but despite their efforts, they were not allowed to talk to the Chairman of the pollution control board. It was only after they protested for five days last week that Rowland and other members of the NGO were allowed to meet the Member Secretary of the Board.
âWe presented a letter to the Board on an A1 size sheet of paper to get their attention,â Rowland said.
But despite this A1 size letter - and the complaint from last year - little has been done in the case.
The Office of the Senior Environmental Officer of the KSPCB sent show cause notices to three people on July 4, 2016: Murugan, the Proprietor of a dyeing unit in Sri Lakshmi Nilaya in Vinayaka Nagar, Ramakrishna from Jalakanteshwarapura Main Road, and Mallairaj from Jalakanteshwarapura Cross Road in Vinayaka Nagar.
The notices were sent after the Office of the Senior Environmental Officer of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board inspected the units on June 23, 2016.
Subsequently, two other inspections were conducted on the units - one by the Regional Senior Environmental Officer on October 6, 2016, and the other by the Regional office on April 6, 2017.
According to the report sent by the Senior Environmental Officer of Bengaluru to the Member Secretary of the KSPCB, the following observations were made in the last inspection:
While one of the units was locked from outside, there were people inside the building, who were working, but claimed that the unit was not operational. The inspectors noted that this claim couldnât be accepted.
The second unit - which did not have a board - was working âintermittentlyâ, according to the proprietor whom the inspectors spoke to. The inspectors noted that the effluents from the dyeing unit were sent into the underground drainage system without treatment, and that the unit was using firewood for its operations, which could cause air pollution.
The third unit, too, was found to be discharging effluents into the underground drainage system without treatment. And both the second and the third unit, according to the inspection report, did not have the consent of the Board for the operations.
The Senior Environmental Officer sent these inspection reports to the Member Secretary of the KSPCB on April 17.
But when contacted, the Member Secretary of the KSPCB, S Shanthappa, refused to give too many details. He told TNM that the KSPCB had âissued the closure orderâ to the three illegal units, and claimed that the NGO did not mention water pollution.
âThey never mentioned that water was being mixed with chemicals, they only said that the units were running illegally,â Shantappa claimed.
Rowland says that while the KSPCB has been in denial, 14 other dyeing units have cropped up in the area.
Pressure from politicians?
According to him, once the PCB takes up a complaint, a committee in the Board is supposed to examine the veracity of the issue. But, Rowland alleges, that this committee is made up of politicians, and as long as any industrial unit has political backing, there is little chance of justice.
âWe have submitted the report to the committee 3 to 4 times, but the committee members are forcing the officials to give a false report in the case,â Rowland alleges. While clarifying that the officials have not given any false reports, Rowland says that there is pressure on them to do so.
While the bureaucracy and the politicians tussle, and the illegal dyeing units continue their operations, for the people of Vinayakanagar, all of this is just noise. 311 days after they lodged a complaint, their drinking water is still blue in colour. The residents of the area fall sick regularly - some even had to get surgeries done reportedly because of the contaminated water.
And until that is cleaned up - until action is taken to ensure that the pollution in their drinking water source is controlled, no number of inspections or reports are going to be of any use to them.