State is struggling to provide clean water despite efforts

 The country’s Supreme Court mandated in late February that all polluting industries must ensure that their wastewater discharges meet quality standards by installing primary effluent treatment facilities by March 31, 2017.

In India, river and lake pollution has become a major issue. The regulatory inertia towards industrial wastewater exacerbates the problem. The court’s ruling represents a turning point in the management of natural resources.

India has been making progress over the last decade in providing its citizens with access to water through comprehensive water augmentation. Has included, among others, building the Narmada Canal network in 2002, constructing check-dams, and harvesting rainfall.

A 2010 Ministry of Environment and Forests Moratorium for new construction in eight of Gujarat’s most polluted clusters of industrial areas curtailed the expansion of industrial clusters. It required “immediately” the closure of noncompliant factories.

Vishwamitri river, near Vadodara in Gujarat. Bhupesh N. Niranjan. Pathak/The Maharaja Sayajirao university of Bardoda. Author provided

The ban, though criticized as having a negative impact on employment and output, had regulatory effects. Gujarat Pollution Control Board compelled noncompliant units to adopt a set of strategies for reducing water and air pollution in industrial clusters. The Gujarat Pollution Control Board did not impose fines, but they could face closure or restrictions on their operations if the industrial units do not meet their environmental obligations.

The state’s industrial policy, which covers five years, has introduced a variety of financial incentives that will help improve the quality of wastewater and reduce usage. This follows recommendations from the Gujarat government Water Resource Department made in 2015. It allows investments of up to 500 million rupees ($7.5 million) for pollution reduction, such as common effluent plants and recycling treated wastewater. It also offers targeted financial support for the adoption of cleaner, more water-efficient production technology“.

The refinery of Essar oil in Vadinar in Gujarat state, India. Amit Dave/Reuters

The Gujarat Pollution Control Board used its eGovernance platform to reach out to industries. It leveraged the Extended Green Node software in order to increase the inspections without having to hire additional staff.

The results of these steps are already beginning to be seen. The agency’s annual report states that industrial use of pollution abatement technologies has reduced chemical oxide demand as well as ammoniac nitrate in water sources.

The discharge of industrial waste into rivers, creeks, and lakes increases the need for oxygen in order to sustain aquatic life. If pollution levels are too high, the biodiversity of the waterbody will be compromised and it will no longer be suitable for human use.

Based on monthly monitoring results, the average annual chemical oxygen demand for the river Amlakhadi that runs through Ankleshwar’s industrial area has been declining every year since 2008.

Nevertheless, the pollution levels in rivers were four times higher than the national standard for domestic use. Neither state nor federal environmental control has improved the water quality in Gujarat’s lakes, rivers, creeks, and coastal areas that are not part of the industrial clusters.

Gujarat still faces a challenge in ensuring that it has access to clean, reliable water. To provide safe drinking water and to maintain sufficient water supplies for agricultural and economic purposes, it is important to preserve the quality of surface and groundwater bodies.

Water is scarce

In late 2016, the moratorium was lifted on Ankleshwar as well as three other industrial clusters. The industries faced a crucial decision: either return to their old ways of doing things and potentially face a similar shutdown in the future or move ahead proactively by building water efficiency into their production processes.

A water spray is used to dampen coal at the Essar Power Coal-fired Electrical Plant in Gujarat. Amit Dave/Reuters

Business as usual has become more dangerous since the recent Supreme Court ruling, which set a March 31 deadline to install effective wastewater treatment systems. The many new incentives from the Gujarat government are aimed at improving industrial environment governance. These investmentsinvestments needed to upgrade environmental protections are not so unprofitable. This innovation, which is now both financially viable and could help industries insulate against future water shortages in the state, can also be used to protect them.

The role of sustainable industrialization in water governance is crucial. The 2014 Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change highlighted the potential of industrial symbiosis in special economic zones and clusters to be a laboratory for innovative pollution-mitigation techniques.

The recent Vibrant Gujarat 2017 demonstrated that industrial Gujarat continues to attract significant national and international investments for brownfields projects, mining, petrochemicals, and other projects.

For the state to continue its sustainable development, it will need a comprehensive plan for water conservation that incorporates environmental protection into industrial activities. Gujarat’s success could be a model for the rest of the country.

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