Bengal pollutants defy orders openly

At least a dozen pollutant industries in Bengal have been ignoring closure orders from the Central Pollution Control Board, The Telegraph has found while following up on the apex agency’s reprimand to a Hooghly factory for sitting on such a directive.

Environmentalists told this newspaper that bypassing the top pollution watchdog’s directives had become routine in Bengal, with the state agencies responsible for enforcing the orders choosing to mostly look the other way.

“The unit has not stopped its manufacturing operations immediately i.e. closure direction…. (This) is violation of CPCB direction issued under Section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, and for which appropriate legal action shall be taken,” the central board’s chairperson, S.P. Singh Parihar, wrote on August 1 to PMC Rubber Chemicals India Private Limited.

While PMC clarified that it had eventually closed down, though after a delay of several months, this newspaper has found that many others have been holding out, apparently with the administration’s connivance.

The central agency, which functions under the Union environment ministry, recently issued closure orders to some 20 Bengal industries – in both the private and public sectors — on the ground of environmental violations.

Among them were central government units like the Ordnance Factory in Dum Dum, Gun and Shell Factory in Cossipore and the Dankuni Coal Complex. The private firms included PMC Rubber, Gondalpara Jute Mill, three slaughterhouses in Chandannagar and at least eight sponge iron factories.

Three of the 20 closure orders were later revoked after the recipients were apparently able to prove compliance with the environmental norms. This newspaper, which has copies of the closure orders, spoke to more than a dozen among the other units under the scanner, and found that none of them had actually closed.

Some of them said they too had secured revocation of the closure order but could show no documents to prove the claim.

Representatives of the Gun and Shell Factory and the Ordnance Factory confirmed they had not closed the units.

“We stopped our gas production but did not close the unit,” a senior official of the Dankuni Coal Complex said.

Subhendu Bhattacharya, secretary of the association of sponge iron units in Bengal, admitted that “none of the units have actually stopped operations” but added: “Industries are trying to comply as soon as possible.”

A senior official of the central agency told this newspaper: “Any industry that fails to comply with the directions of the Central Pollution Control Board will have to face the consequences, which may be both a fine and imprisonment.”

He said it was the responsibility of the state pollution control board and the local administration to ensure execution of the central agency’s orders. But the state board washed its hands of the matter.

“We have nothing to do with it because the Central Pollution Control Board directly passed the closure orders and merely informed us,” said Kalyan Rudra, chairman of the state pollution control board.

State government sources, seeking anonymity, said the district administrations with the responsibility to execute the closures had been informally asked to sit on the central board’s orders.

A PMC Rubber representative told this newspaper the factory had only closed in June although the closure order had been issued in February.

“We had received the order late, and had then applied to the central board seeking time to close down,” he said, explaining the delay.

Eventually, sometime after closing in June, the factory wrote to the agency saying it had now complied with the environmental norms and sought permission to reopen.

The central board then revoked the closure order in the August 1 letter, while indicting the company for the past delay in shutting down, a central board official said.

Biswajit Mukherjee, former chief law officer with the state pollution control board, said: “This (failure to comply with the central board’s orders) is a dangerous trend that will only cause pollution to increase.”

He said that at least 40,000 workers depended on the units that had been ordered to close, and that he had written to the Central Pollution Control Board chairperson to force the factories, when they were eventually shut down, to ensure that these people’s livelihoods were protected.

Mukherjee said the Supreme Court had directed that the financial interests of the workers of any factory should be protected if the industry had to shut down for violating pollution norms.