The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has pulled up the Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board (HPPCB) for failing to prevent the discharge of toxic effluents containing residue of antibiotics like ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin, azithromycin by pharmaceutical manufacturing units of the state into water bodies. Stating that it poses threat to aquatic life and increases the risk of antibiotic resistance, NGT, in a recent order, sought an explanation from the chairman and member secretary of HPPCB.
The tribunal on June 23 asked a joint committee consisting of a nominee of Environment Ministry, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), HPPCB and District Magistrate, Solan to conduct inspection of the area and give a report of the status of violations and the remedial action taken within three months.
With over 270 operational pharmaceutical companies, Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh (BBN) area is one of India's biggest pharmaceutical manufacturing hubs. Sample study conducted by HPPCB to understand the extent of damage caused by antibiotic discharge into river Sirsa had shown 100 random test positivity, thereby calling for a detailed, wide and more in depth study of the antibiotic discharge into river.
The NGT directive has come while hearing a petition by Veterans Forum for Transparency in Public Life for remedial action against discharge of waste from common effluent treatment plant (CETP) at Baddi and from Acme Life Sciences, Nalagarh and Helio Pharmaceuticals at Solan, to prevent pollution of rivers Sirsa and Satluj. The petitioner had raised serious allegations against the way effluent is treated in Himachal Pradesh's pharmaceutical manufacturing hub.
According to the applicant, the CETP is not connected to pharmaceutical units at Barotiwala and Nalagarh who are discharging their effluents directly into the rivers. The petitioner expressed concern that even after treatment in effluent treatment plants, pharmaceutical ingredients may still be coming out from the industries unless such plants are specialised for the purpose.
"The present CETP is not designed to neutralise Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API). The TSDF does not receive sludge generated from the industrial units at Nalagarh. The industries located at Baddi area are generating 20779 KLD of industrial effluent, out of which 17894 KLD is being treated at CETP and remaining 2885 KLD is being disposed of by the occupiers directly into river Sirsa. There is no existing sewerage system in BBN area and no demarcation in residential and industrial area. Concentration of Ciprofloxacin in the effluent discharge of Acme Life Sciences work out to be 13,455 times of the prescribed limit. The increasing occurrence of multi-resistant pathogens is a serious global threat to human health and it is finding its way into the water bodies and drinking water through industrial discharge and also due to heavy use of antibiotics in human and veterinary medicine," the petitioner had pointed out.
The Green Tribunal has also asked CPCB to suggest monitoring mechanism for API residue through a credible system so as to cover all pharma industries in the country discharging API residue directly or indirectly in river systems.