Activists red-flag industrial park project: PPCB unaware of plans

River Sutlej near the Mattewara forest in Punjab
River Sutlej near the Mattewara forest in Punjab

While the Punjab government has earmarked over 1000 acres of land close to the banks of River Sutlej and near the Mattewara forest range to be developed as an industrial park, the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) says that it has no information about the proposed industrial development in Ludhiana. Amid rising criticism of state Cabinet’s recent decision to give a go-ahead to the project, the government on Monday categorically stated that no part of the 2,300-acre Mattewara forest was part of the proposed 1000-acre development. It added that it was alive to the importance of protecting the state’s rivers.

A government spokesperson on Monday said, “Government is very much alive to the importance of keeping our rivers clean including Sutlej. A six-lane high-level road along the Sutlej river will come up acting as an embankment against floods, and will also ensure that no pollutants can be let into the river by anyone. Also planning of the estate will be further done keeping only green units, logistics, offices, workers’ residences, hotels, recreational activities near the river front.”

However, the PPCB reiterated that it has not given any permission for setting up of any industry near any water channel or river since 2018 Beas river disaster.

PPCB chairman Satwinder Singh Marwaha said, “I have read it in the news only. I do not know the industrial park plan officially. Whenever PPCB chairman makes some observation then definitely Punjab government takes note of it, but so far we have also not received any communication from the government over not allowing setting up of industry along the river bank.”

After the molasses spillage into river Beas in 2018, then PPCB chairman Kahan Singh Pannu had said that PPCB will push for the regulations so that no industry can be set up on the bank of any river in Punjab in future.

Government clarifies stand

A Punjab government spokesperson Monday said that government and panchayat land of villages Haidar Nagar, Sekhowal, Salempur, Sailkiana and Machian-kalan would be used for the proposed industrial/mixed land use estate and the panchayats will be adequately compensated for the land.

It is learnt that panchayats of Garhi Fazli, Sekhowal and Salempur have already agreed to give a part of their panchayat land for this project.

About the proposed industrial park being close to Sutlej banks, Ludhiana DC Varinder Kumar Sharma said, “It is true that part of it touches Sutlej River. Park has to be developed by housing development board. Proposal is in initial stages. It is yet to decide what kind of industry will be established here. There will be environmental assessment before setting up the industry.”

The DC said that Punjab Urban Development Authority (PUDA) is to see the transfer of this land and further its development as per environmental norms.

He added, “Land in question is of Animal Husbandry Department, Horticulture Department and even some part is of panchayati land of few villages. Proposal has nothing to do with forest and no one is disturbing it at all. Panchayats of three villages have also agreed to give their panchayat land. Ecology of the area will be maintained. No doubt forest is nearby, but forest land is not being used. Already three km away from this place, Cycle Valley is coming up and hence this will be an added facility.”

Sibin C, Director, Industries and Commerce, Punjab told,”1000 acres of land has been earmarked for this industrial park near Mattewara forest .Yes, we are eyeing industry coming from China to find Punjab as a favourite hot spot. Though this land has been earmarked, there is no specific deadline to acquire the land as of now. We will comply with environment norms to shift industries from non-planning zones to planning zones and will have modern central effluent treatment plants (CETPs) for environmental compliance.”

Environmentalists worried

Sutlej is already the most polluted river of Punjab and the PPCB had noted that Sutlej water quality had shown little improvement even during the lockdown period, when all natural water bodies in the state become nearly free of pollution.

Dr Sandeep Jain, member, State Animal Welfare Board, Punjab said, ”Even if industry is being proposed near the forest land and not on it, it can deplete groundwater level, pollute Sutlej water and air and cause sound pollution impacting the natural habitat of forest nearby.”

Gursharanjit Kaur, executive member of Environment and Health Protection Society has, meanwhile, written to the NGT asking the tribunal to intervene in this matter.

Even industry is not totally sold on the idea of this industrial park. Ranjodh Singh from Auto Parts Manufacturers Association said, “Green cover will be impacted if industry comes near Mattewara forest. I don’t think land near forest should be used for any industrial activity. When the industry is not keen, what is the hurry behind this project.”

Beas water at Harike Barrage due to molasses spillage in 2018
Beas water at Harike Barrage due to molasses spillage in 2018

No lessons learnt from Beas tragedy

The lack of communication between PPCB and government on the proposed industrial park is also worrying as Beas is yet to fully recover from the 2018 spillage of molasses by Chadha Sugar Mill and its two subsidiaries into the river near Kiri Afgana village in Batala. It had caused significant damage to aquatic life in Beas river within 24 hours.

“Beas is still recovering from the ecological loss happened due to molasses spillage in 2018. It’s second breeding season for the fishes which are important component of food web and are essential prey base for endangered species like Gharial and Dolphins,” said Gitanjali, Coordinator, Aquatic Biodiversity, WWF-India.

Also the PPCB is yet to fully recover Rs 5-crore fine imposed on the sugar mill owners. Not only this, the PPCB has also failed to come up with any policy to avoid such disaster in future. On pending fine, the PCCB chief said, “Rs 5-crore penalty was imposed on the sugar mill. We have recovered around Rs 2.5 crore out of it from the owner. We have been spending this money on rehabilitation of the river after the damage caused by the disaster. Owners will release rest of the money as and when we ask for it.”

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