Despite the Supreme Court (SC) being apprised of high pollution levels in Ulhas and Waldhuni rivers near Mumbai, untreated effluents continue to be discharged by industries in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). An inspection report submitted in SC by the environment group Vanashakti, last week, showed pollutant discharge at the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) area at Sonarpada, Dombivli, had turned the river water turquoise and foamy.
“Effluents are being discharged by industries at unauthorised locations entering stormwater drains and polluting a 1.5 km stretch of Ulhas river. The violations are going unnoticed as there is preferential treatment meted out to Dombivli MIDC textile and chemical industries,” said Stalin D, director, Vanashakti.
Following this, a complaint has been filed with the state environment department and Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB). A stream passing through Dombivli was identified carrying effluents to the main channel, the complaint said.
The inspection also revealed that untreated industrial effluent discharge into the Waldhuni river by Ambernath MIDC and Anand Nagar Additional MIDC has caused a section of the river to turn black. This is the same area where MPCB had issued closure notices to seven firms earlier this year for violating water pollution norms. “The brazenness of the polluters, backed by active support from state agencies, has killed the Ulhas and Waldhuni rivers,” added Stalin.
MPCB said they initiated an investigation into the source of pollution. “On taking cognisance of the SC petitioner’s complaint, a team has been directed to undertake a site visit and submit a report on alleged violations. Necessary action will be taken based on the report,” said SL Waghmare, regional officer (Kalyan), MPCB. In May, a section of Waldhuni river had turned red due to water pollution forcing MPCB to issue a Rs 5 lakh penalty on the Badlapur wastewater treatment plant.
Ulhas and Waldhuni are among 53 of the most polluted rivers in Maharashtra, highest for any state among 351 most polluted rivers in India, according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). Ulhas supplies drinking water to over 30 lakh residents of the Badlapur-Thane belt.
MIDC officers said they identified a textile industry in the belt using finishing dyes, which had released its effluents in the river. “The frequency of violations have risen. Only essential industries are being allowed to function, and this industry is not one of them. We will ask MPCB to take action against this industry for violating norms,” said Kalidas Bandekar, MIDC superintendent engineer for MMR.
Another Vanashakti member Nandkumar Pawar countered, “Despite repeated violations, there is mere lip service by authorities that action will be taken but nothing happens on the ground. Amid all this, MPCB has tripled the consented capacity of perennial violators.”
During inspection, it was also found that common effluent treatment plant (CETP) at Dombivli and Ambernath were dysfunctional in curbing industrial waste. “Discharge of effluents is going on in broad daylight. The CETP is being bypassed and untreated effluents are being discharged into the stormwater drains,” said Stalin adding, “After seven years of fighting to save the Ulhas river, we have now realised that the MPCB has taken an adversarial stand to support the violating industries.”
Ulhas river was much cleaner during lockdown: MPCB
As repeated complaints of water pollution from Ulhas and Waldhuni rivers pile up, the state pollution control board’s water quality assessment of Ulhas river showed that the water quality had improved during the lockdown. The water quality index reflected non-polluted status based on samples collected from six regions along the river. “Apart from a drop in industrial effluents, other activities such as the washing of vehicles, jeans washing units, service centres, etc. all had stopped, thus improving Ulhas water quality,” said YB Sontakke, joint director, MPCB.