Redevelopment of Eloor-Edayar region

The Times of India report, “CPCB report shows need for urgent action” (Aug 24, 2016), illustrates another instance of decentralized responsibilities resulting in gridlock, health hazards, and government agencies lacking purpose.

“A report submitted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) before the NGT (National Green Tribunal) on action to be undertaken in the Eloor-Edayar contaminated area, says remediation measures are to be given utmost priority.”

In addition, “It says that multiple contaminants including DDT, endosulphan chlorobenzenes and metals such as manganese, vanadium, zinc and chromium have been found in soil, groundwater, sediments and surface water and that immediate remediation measures must be taken to rejuvenate the water body.”

Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) had informed CPCB that “the four main industries identified (causing the pollution) were Hindustan Insecticides Ltd (HIL), Fertilizers and Chemicals Travancore Ltd (FACT), Merchem and Indian Rare Earths (IRE).”

The report adds, “A preliminary investigation of the Eloor area [2] was carried out in 2006 wherein it was found that the soil and sediments in Kuzhikandom Thodu (creek) and the adjoining paddy fields are contaminated (pdf) with DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) [2, 3, 4], BHC (Benzene hexachloride) [2, 3] and endosulphan [2, 3, 4],” and more.

Besides, “The NGT is hearing a petition filed by local residents demanding zero-discharge by industries into the Periyar. Periyar Maleenikarana Virudhha Samithi (PMVS), an NGO which is in the forefront of protests against the pollution of the river has a Clean Periyar Green Periyar action plan on the lines of the Ganges Action Plan.”

The report adds additional details: “The Eloor-Edayar industrial cluster is home to more than 280 industrial units, out of which 75 are in the red. The discreet discharge of trade effluents and waste in slurry form into Periyar has turned the river into an illegal “Treatment Storage and Disposal Facility (TSDF), the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on hazardous waste has observed.”

Many state and central government agencies are involved in controlling or preventing the Periyar river pollution. But the net result, as the Supreme Court says, is “the river Periyar has has turned into an illegal ‘Treatment Storage and Disposal Facility.” Even with all these agencies, pollution control is practically non-existent, and “massive fish kill is a frequent phenomenon downstream of river Periyar.” (“75% of waste water released back into river”)

One thing striking about the situation is that in spite of the state and central government agencies (Central Pollution Control Board, Kerala State Pollution Control Board. National Green Tribunal) to protect the environment, it is the NGO, Periyar Maleenikarana Virudhha Samithi (PMVS), that is actually trying to do something about it through legal action.

Greenpeace India reports, “Eloor has become one of the most toxic parts of the country and figures on the list of most polluted areas put out by the Central Pollution Control Board in India. Poisoned land, waters and air, hreaten the health and very existence of people and the ecology of the area. Polluted rivers transport the toxins over much larger distances endangering more people and other living creatures.” [2]

In addition, the Status of Human Health report says, “Contrary to the expectations based on the initial literature survey about possible increases in particular types of diseases due to air and water pollution; this health assessment has discovered that there is an overwhelming increase in most types of systemic diseases across Eloor (target village) when compared to Pindimana (reference village). Broadly one can say that the cocktail of poisons in the air and water of Eloor affects all body-systems adversely. Potentially the immune system seems to be affected too.”

The Kerala State Pollution Control Board produced a “preliminary” report stating that there is a serious problem in 2006. The polluted Eloor-Edyaar site was selected as one of the priority sites in the country needing remediation under a National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) project to be executed by CPCB. The Central Pollution Control Board produced a report and submitted to the National Green Tribunal, which is conducting a hearing on the issue. It looks the state and central governments are geared towards producing reports and conducting legal proceedings, but not taking action. Since nothing was been done even after the 2006 report, the NGO (PMVS) petitioned the Supreme Court, which concluded that the polluted site, which in reality should be nourishing river, has turned into a “illegal Treatment Storage and Disposal Facility” for highly toxic pollutants.

Finding a real solution means going into history to understand the causes of the current problems. The origin of the problems started in the 1930s with the decisions of the Travancore Administration to establish chemical industries for economic development. “A policy decision of the Travancore administration in the 1930 — to attract large-scale, chemicals-based industries to the State by the advertisement of cheap hydroelectricity as the basis for industrialization,” says Jayan Jose Thomas, an an Associate Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. Unfortunately, it was an administrative policy decision lacking sound industrial development plan and follow-up actions.

Industrial scale chemical production, to be viable, need to act as a feeder to a strong supply chain manufacturing derivative products. Downstream industrial ecosystem failed to develop for the these chemical factories. Most of the industrial production, especially chemical industries, are centered around the MumbaiPune [2, 3] metro-regions in Maharashtra [2, 3, 4] and Gujarat [2, 3, 4]. With underdeveloped transportation systems, it was not feasible for Kerala based chemical industries to be viable suppliers to those distant regions. As a result these industries have been stagnating, except when India operated a centrally planned economy. Most of these industries now are not profitable, making it impossible to implement effective pollution control systems.

The logical solution is to disband results of the 1930s failed industrial policy and create a redevelopment plan for the region. However, it needs to be implemented after a careful review of the possibilities. Some parts of the chemical factories and businesses in the Eloor-Edyaar region are profitable and can be self-sustaining. A redevelopment plan need to be formulated consisting of these components:

  • Identify factories and businesses with current and long-term sustainability
  • Identify factories and businesses without current and long-term sustainability
  • Implement assistance programs to strengthen factories and businesses with long-term sustainability to incorporate strong pollution controls
  • Implement assistance programs to help factories and businesses that do not have a sustainable future to exit or migrate to other areas/ sectors
  • Develop and implement a cleanup plan for the Eloor-Edyaar region to remove accumulated pollution
  • Make Eloor-Edyaar redevelopment part of a Kerala Transformation Plan

Such a comprehensive approach is necessary to solve the pollution problems in the Eloor-Edyaar region. Bandage efforts like offering financial loans will not produce a permanent solution.

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Topics and issues related to Kerala economic development challenges.

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