Are you running a business in India? Do you plan on starting a business in India? Think again! The Government of India can shut down your business without notice and for no fault of yours. I’m not kidding, its true!
I’ll share with you a true story of a polluted lake in Bangalore, India and how the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) has made the world believe that it was caused by 488 industries and closed them.
Bellandur Lake is one of the large lakes in Bangalore and it is highly polluted. It is well documented that it regularly bellows snow like white foam and that it catches fire! The National Green Tribunal (NGT), which is head quartered in New Delhi, passed on Order (M.A. 440 /2017) asking the Karnataka Government to shut down all industries in the lake’s catchment area. The literal extract of the order says:
“All industries which are located in the catchment area of the Bellandur Lake and are discharging their effluent (treated or untreated) into the water body are hereby directed to be closed forthwith. No industry directed shall be permitted to operate unless they have been subjected to an inspection by the joint inspection team and their analysis of the effluent are found to be within the permissible limit.”
Based on the NGT order, the KSPCB, which is the enforcement agency for pollution for the State of Karnataka, ordered the shutdown of 488 industries on its website (http://www.kspcb.gov.in/) on 05 May 2017.
I downloaded the list of 488 industries that were shut down and computed the total effluents generated by them. In fact, the totals are also listed by the KSPCB at the bottom of that list. According to it, these industries generate 0.003586 MLD (million liters per day) of Trade Effluent (from industrial processes) and 12.455 MLD of Sewage Waste (toilets and day to day people use), for a total of 12.45869 MLD.
The KSPCB cleverly projected that these 488 industries are the root cause for the pollution of Bellandur Lake. They proudly reported the closure to the NGT, the Indian and global media, and the people of Karnataka. The KSPCB Chairman, Lakshman, and his team of Evironmental Officers were the new saviors of the environment, akin to the legends of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table.
Sounds wonderful? But, hear me out!
I was curious with a simple question – “What is getting into Bellandur Lake?”
When I travel around Bangalore, there are locations where the stench is obnoxious and unbearable. It is like a toilet stuck deep inside your nose. No matter which time of the year I visit these locations, the stench is prevalent. I set out tracing the locations of these stinky places in Bangalore on Google Maps and I was astonished at the end result!
The image in this post is a result of my analysis. You can zoom in on the image and you will see little colored (red, orange, magenta, green, yellow, black and blue) circles that I’ve placed on it. For a live interactive map see https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Q3gTo0SMicfBWPut4yLfILn3KUk&usp=sharing.
Do you see a pattern? The top part has 3 open sewage channels that drains into the Ulsoor lake. The Queens Road Stream is marked in magenta red circles, the Benson Town Stream is marked in purple circles and the Banaswadi Stream is marked in pink circles. The Ulsoor Lake drains via a circuitous long path (orange circles) directly into the Bellandur Lake, via Indiranagar.
The middle of the map has 2 open sewage channels, the JWR Stream (red circles) and the Victoria Layout Stream (orange circles), which merge and drain (pink circles) into the Bellandur Lake via Koramangala.
At the bottom we have 3 open sewage channels, the BTM Stream (green circles), the Tavarekere Stream (olive circles) and the HSR Stream (purple circles), which drain into the Bellandur Lake.
It is obvious that the domestic water waste from half of Bangalore is ending up into the Bellandur Lake. Half of Bangalore population would be about 6 million people. The BWSSB (Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board) estimates the usage of 164 liters per day per person (https://bwssb.gov.in/content/about-bwssb-2). For 6 million people this translates to 984 MLD. The total BWSSB installed sewage treatment plants (STP’s) is 721 MLD in the whole of Bangalore. If we assume that they are working and we consider that 50% of these cater to this part of Bangalore, the STP’s can only treat 360 MLD. There is a deficit in treatment of 624 MLD. Where is it going? It is simply dumped into the open sewage channels and it merrily flows down into Bellandur Lake. By the way, if you can spot the BWSSB STP’s on Google Maps in this part of Bangalore, you will see that there are insufficient units. The actual domestic sewage effluent flowing into Bellandur Lake is much more than 624 MLD.
We are dumping much more than sewage into these open channels and eventually into the Bellandur Lake. Massive amounts of household chemicals also are dumped. In today’s modern lifestyle, we consume an exotic concoction of surfactants (anionic, cationic, zwitterionic, fillers and builders and cleaning liquids (ammonia and alkali based, acids, hydrocarbons such as phenyls/phenols/alcohols/terpenes/ketones). At 10 grams usage per day per person, this computes to an added 60 MT (metric tons) per day of household chemicals dumped in the Bellandur Lake.
Now comes the icing on the cake. Domestic households are dumping more than 624 MLD of untreated sewage (984 MLD of domestic sewage waste) and 60 MT/day of household chemicals into Bellandur Lake. The 488 closed industries are producing a total of 12.5 MLD, all of which is disposed as per the KSPCB consent permits and not into the Bellandur Lake. This is about 1.2% of all the waste that enters the lake.
Hasn’t the KSPCB fooled the world?
This blog is about the challenges one will face in India. I still have to finish my story. It’s crazy that the Government can shut down working industries with zero due process, fairness and justice. Is it Above the Law?
The NGT order clearly states that “only industries who are discharging their effluent into Bellandur Lake should be closed”. However, the KSPCB issued a closure order to 488 industries, in gross violation of the NGT order. For example, I run a company that is in this famous list and we are 14 Km away as the crow flies. By road, it is about 25 Km. We do not get any supply of water from the city of Bangalore (BWSSB) and we cannot discharge any water since the city has not provided us with sewage drains for the past 35 years! We get our water from bore wells or sometimes we buy it in tankers. We consume about 800 liters of water per day for domestic use and the toilet waste goes into a soak-pit located on site. We produce about 4 liters per day of trade effluent, which we send to a CETP (Centralized Effluent Treatment Plant), as per the KSPCB consent permit. Further, there are no water channels, either natural or manmade, between our location and the Bellandur Lake. The probability of any effluent, even by accidental discharge, reaching the Bellandur Lake is zero!
The KSPCB further empowered other departments to cut off electricity (BESCOM) and water (BWSSB)! How can an industry take care of its non-operational activities? People need to use toilets. They need access to water fountains and pantry facilities. Companies have to use their computers, phone and internet to carry out other activities such as filing of mandatory statutory returns stipulated by the Government of India. They also have a legal obligation to pay their liabilities to vendors and banks.
The hard reality for anyone shutting down an industry even for a few days is staggering. Employees are the first to be hit hard. With no pay, their families suffer the most. The industries default on statutory obligations, since they have no tools to fulfill them. In a modern electronic world, without electricity and internet, life comes to a halt.
Simply put, the KSPCB issued closure orders to all industries in a 20 Km radius from the Bellandur Lake, who had secured proper operational permits and who were in its database. They did this with no prior verification whether an industry was discharging effluent into Bellandur Lake or not. They have not even defined the catchment area. The logic of identifying the 488 industries is bizarre. However, the KSPCB has many reasons for this approach. The motive is spectacular and I’ll write about it in another post.
Their approach has been – shoot first and ask questions later. They have blatantly violated the fundamental rights guaranteed to every citizen under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Article 21 states:
“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal property except according to a procedure established by law.”
Article 21 is a fantastic right and mirrors other similar fundamental rights in countries around the world. It also guarantees the right to “livelihood”. Deny this right and it is no longer a democracy.
This is the way it is in India. It’s like a patient who goes to the doctor for a heart surgery, but instead they operate on the kidneys! I have encountered this type of insaneness with every Government Department. But, the KSPCB takes the gold medal, at least for now.
As they say in Kannada, which is the state language of Karnataka – “swalpa adjust maddi”. It translates beautifully to “please adjust a little.”