Baddi: The ‘unprecedented’ air and water pollution in the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalgarh area has been in news ever since the region emerged as a major industrial hub. The area has been identified as a pollution hot spot even by the Ministry of Environment and Central Pollution Control Board. However, there is little awareness within and outside the state of Himachal Pradesh about the actual extent of industrial pollution in this area and the appalling impacts on the local environment. While the Sarsa river, a tributary of the Sutlej, is choked with effluents, dust and bad odour due to chemical leaks have become a nuisance across the industrial area.
A local environment action group based in Nalagarh, has now decided to take a lead on this with the help of an environmental activist from Tamil Nadu. Shweta Narayan. Narayan who has been running a campaign against pollution in industrial areas in Tamil Nadu under the banner of Community Environmental Monitoring Campaign, has evolved several simple methods by which communities affected by pollution can monitor and document the air, dust and water pollution levels in their areas. “People living next to polluted facilities are much more aware about pollution and do not need any educational degrees to identify when pollution levels are excessive. Documenting their common sense experiences in a scientific manner can provide the best evidence of pollution which cannot be refuted by Pollution Control Board and other agencies” says Narayan.
Narayan, who has closely worked with the Bhopal gas leak affected people, added: “BBN Industrial area is another Bhopal in the making as the toxic units here are ill planned and there is no environmental infrastructure in place and most importantly the communities have no information about the hazards of industries and their complaints have always been disregarded.”
The alleged dubious role of the Pollution Control Board is also evident from the fact that out of around 1,000 units that operate in BBN area, almost 200 do not have a valid license to operate. This data has been provided by the State Pollution Control Board under the RTI Act. “The poor role of the almost dysfunctional Pollution Control Board in the state has not been adequately highlighted and virtually no independent documentation and assessment of industrial pollution exists in the state” adds Manshi Asher, an activist and researcher who is also part of the organising team.
The team today concluded a three-day tour of the industrial area to identify areas most affected by pollution, besides community training in Kaduana, Baddi and Jhidiwala with almost 50 participants. Balkrishna Sharma, founder member of Him Parivesh, a participating organisation, said, “The objective of the training is not only to build community capacities and knowledge on pollution check and monitoring but also to build a body of local evidence to pressurise bodies like the Pollution Control Board into action”.
“It is truly appalling that in such a scenario, where people’s health, livelihoods and environment are at stake, the state government is demanding extension of the industrial subsidy package instead of making Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh free of polluting units” Sharma added.