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Toxic Ambernath plant shut; MIDC's future in doubt

Pollution control board shuts down 87 chemical plants, whose owners allege they are being victimised even after they took things in their own hands to launch clean-up operations

The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board last evening shut down the Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) at the Additional MIDC, Ambernath, where toxic waste had been accumulating for the last 10 years.

The decision, which follows a series of reports by mid-day, comes 24 hours before the National Green Tribunal is to hear the issue.

AAMA said they were not to blame, as pollution levels are on the rise because toxic sludge is finally being flushed out of the tanks at CETP. File pics
AAMA said they were not to blame, as pollution levels are on the rise because toxic sludge is finally being flushed out of the tanks at CETP. File pics

The MPCB has also shut down 87 chemical units, big and small, who say the total per-day loss for them will range from R50 crore to Rs 100 crore. Their water and power connections will be disconnected. These units were sending their effluents to the defunct plant. The stop work notices to the 87 units have been issued under Section 33A of Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974.

So far, AAMA workers were allowed to access and operate the CETP, but after MPCB’s notice, the treatment plant and the entire industrial centre will shut down
So far, AAMA workers were allowed to access and operate the CETP, but after MPCB’s notice, the treatment plant and the entire industrial centre will shut down

A senior MPCB official told mid-day that as of June 20, the level of Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) of the plant was 450 mg and the Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) was 1,520 mg.

COD is the total measurement of all chemicals (organic and inorganic) in the waste water. BOD is the measure of amount of oxygen required for the bacteria to degrade organic components present in the waste water. The idea ratio of COD/BOD for this plant is 500mg/750 mg. While the COD is marginally under control, the crucial BOD is more than double the prescribed value.

Additional Ambernath Manufacturers’ Association (AAMA) president Umesh Tayade alleged that the action is a deliberate attempt by the MPCB to safeguard its position when it appears before the NGT today.

“Such abrupt notices cannot be issued to manufacturing units without prior intimation and sufficient safety time for shutting them down, especially those that work round the clock,” said Tayade. “We will incur a daily loss of R50 crore to Rs 100 crore. MPCB accused us of skipping a June 28 meeting, but the truth is we got no such correspondence. And we established this to MPCB member secretary PK Mirashi on July 4. The entire fault lies with the BOTP operator M/s Ambernath MIDC CETP Co. Pvt Ltd, who has locked the main gate of plant. And we are suffering now.”

‘Punished for good work’
Tayade said the pollution level has gone up in recent days as AAMA has taken over operations and started pumping out sludge from the tanks.

“Pollution levels will be high till we remove all the sludge, which will take a month or two,” he added. “We have already appraised the MPCB about the same, but yet they decided to shut the plant. This is selective action. In Ulhasnagar, the denim washing industry is directly dumping hazardous chemicals into the Waldhuni nullah and nothing has been done. And here, we took responsibility to operate the plant as per norms, but our units have been shut. Some of these units belong to MNCs and big Indian companies and they will interpret Make in India as Break in India.”

Ashvin Thakker, AAMA secretary, added, “We have already filed relevant papers before the NGT and have voluntarily become party to the ongoing case. We cannot be punished for the faults of government officials who ignored the working of the CETP until date. The NGT is our last hope and we pray that we get some justice.”

MPCB Joint Director Yashwant Sontake refused to comment, saying the matter is sub-judice.

The other side
MPCB Member Secretary PK Mirashi said, “We have taken action according to the norms. Once the industrial units comply with MPCB standards, the units will be allowed to run. We do not want to go into the internal disputes AAMA is referring to. We have to ensure pollution is kept under control and take necessary action when it doesn’t happen.”

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