Silver chemicals and Hindustan Agro chemicals Ltd started producing ‘H’ acid chemicals which lead to the contamination of the aquifers, small monsoon ponds and wells in the villages. The situation worsened to an extent that people didn’t have any water left for drinking and the village land became unfit for irrigation. Owners of the factories have fled without providing any compensation to villagers, though, one-time compensation wouldn’t have paid for the environmental loss and financial day to day loss of people. The production of this acid produces enormous quantities of highly toxic effluents which mainly comprises of iron based and gypsum based sludge, which if not treated properly could pose a huge threat to the environment and since these companies allowed the toxic untreated waste to flow out freely and because the untreated toxic sludge was thrown in the open in the local water bodies and around the village, the toxic substances have percolated deep into the bowels of the earth polluting the aquifers and the sub-terranean supply of water. The water in the wells and the stream has turned dark, resembling the color of sewage, and filthy leaving it unfit for consumption by human beings.
The water had become unfit for drinking, for the purpose of irrigating the land and this has led to a situation in which people of these villages depend on tankers for their small needs and these tankers do not come on time, people have to order private tankers which increase cost of their essential needs. Furthermore, the soil has also become polluted that is considered unfit of cultivation which is the main stay of the villagers. The villagers comprising of around 6000 residents were being affected on a large scale because of the spread of disease, death and disaster in the village as well as surrounding areas.
This issue of degradation of Earth and water was discussed in the Parliament; however, no action was taken on the spot. As a result of which, the villagers started protesting and section 144 CrPC was imposed. In 1996, a writ petition was filed by an environmentalist organization that brings into light misery of people living in the area’s dominated by chemical industrial plants in India.
Bichri is a small village in Udaipur district of Rajasthan. To its north is a major industrial establishment, Struggle began around 1987 when Hindustan Agro Chemicals Limited started producing certain chemicals Oleum, which is the concentrated form of Sulphuric acid and single super Phosphate. The struggle added up when Silver Chemicals started production of ‘H’ acid in a plant located within the same locality.
National Environmental Engineering and Research Institute (NEERI) estimated that the toxic chemicals had turned 350 hectares of prime wetland into barren wasteland. As many as 77 dug wells, seven tube wells and streams within 2 km of the factories were highly contaminated and unfit for human consumption. NEERI put the total damage suffered by the villagers at Rs 3.4 2 crore. In addition, NEERI calculated the damage to the environment at around Rs 37 crore”.
In 1989, the Court had provided a decree to the industries to contain the effluents but the administration restored to putting it in un-lined ponds and spraying it on nearby hill slopes. As the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, which was asked by the Court to study the region, noted in its report that this only amounted to extensive seepage and percolation of the effluents into groundwater and their spread down the aquifer. Later, when asked by the courts to store the sludge in a safe spot, they tried to hide the waste by blending it in with soil and covering it with Earth at various places. In 1992, the Hindustan Agro Chemicals commenced producing toxic and hazardous chemical oleum without clearance from the RPCB.
Similarly, both the industries producing ‘H’ acid started producing the acid without obtaining the NOC from the RPCB. The acid requires sophisticated treatment plants to neutralize the pollutants but neither of the two factories took the necessary steps to establish them.
“At present, the RPCB authorities are busy sealing the factory premises. Naturally, the 200-strong workforce, which has not received salaries for the past two months, is resentful, said the workers’ union president, Chunnilal: While we have been thrown out on the streets, the owners have fled. They have already removed the costly equipment from the factory. They have also siphoned off funds to other companies of the group.”
At present, the cattle consumes the contaminated water andgraze on contaminated plants. Sukh Ram Dhuda, a trained veterinary assistant in Bichhri, claimed that out of every 60 attempts at artificial insemination, only 10 cows finally calve. As a repercussion of which, a drastic fall in the production of milk could be witnessed. Earlier, every 10 families contributed around 150 kg of milk to the cooperative but now, having nothing left to sell, the villagers could only produce that much which was needed to meet their own basic requirements.
Similarly, the polluted water also degraded some parts of agricultural land and destroyed standing crops. Land which earlier yielded up to10 bags of rice per bigha (an Indian unit of measurement, which varies from 1.5 per acre to 3.7 per acre), now gives only about two bags. They can no longer grow vegetables or even fodder crops. Wali Bai, a middle-aged adivasi woman from Nora basti in Bichhri needs no prodding to talk about how the factories ruined her life. “I have a plot of land, but no water to grow anything on it,” she says. “Grain is Rs 10 per kg in the fair-price shops. How can I afford to buy anything to feed my family? Nobody even wants to buy my land.” There are seven members in Wali Bai’s family. She has a cow and four buffaloes but does not get enough milk to sell to the cooperative. The cattle cannot even eat leaves, she says, because gases from the factories have killed most of the trees long ago. This is how these industries producing ‘H’ acid has affected lives of people in this village.
This case was considered as a landmark judgment where first time the court was ordering a polluting industrial unit to pay the huge amount of damage caused and also the compensation to the villagers. The court further asked the government to attach its immovable property and machinery to recover the amount of damage caused if needed.
Though the factories have been shut down, but the consequences of their actions still remain to exist.
At present, there is no fit water for drinking from the natural sources for either human beings or the animals of the village Bichri. Agriculture has touched rock bottom. Each monsoon, rainwater surges over the sludge, and progressively toxic chemicals seep into the aquifer. The water has gotten carcinogenic. The villagers have been sitting tight throughout the previous nine years for compensation. Yet, none is coming forth. For about 15 years, the polluters have sought to legal tactics to delay the enforcement of the court’s 1996 judgment. The court’s most recent decision concludes by saying that this is an exceptionally uncommon and remarkable litigation wherein 15 years of the last judgment of the court, the suit has purposely been kept alive by filing one interlocutory application or the other so as to maintain a strategic distance from compliance of the judgment. This is a classic example of how by abuse of the process of law even the last judgment of the pinnacle court can be bypassed for over 10 years and a half.
The bichri case additionally underlined that while one erring group of companies has been taken to task, there are around 70 units in the nation manufacturing the harmful ‘H’ acid and several others that keep on violating pollution laws, jeopardizing lives and causing untold damage. The Supreme court’s order should help guarantee compliance by at least some of them However, the implementation part on behalf of the government seems to be weak as people of the villagers have not yet received the adequate compensation for the lifetime of the troubles caused.