Birgunj–It took a long period to get healed leg injuries that Sunil Sah of Bhawanipur in Birgunj Metropolitan City-18 got while crossing contaminated Sirsiya river to reach his farm every now and again.
At the beginning, he had a skin itching problem followed by big sores. He visited doctors in Birgunj and Kathmandu for the treatments and finally got healed after three months of medicine intake. Now, he fears to put feet on the stream water. “I walk a curved road to cross the river from a bridge at Jagarnathpur instead of taking a straight one,” he said.
Currently, it is like a trend to mix the industrial effluents in the industrial city of Birgunj to the rivers without treatment. Its impacts on human health are severe and Sunil Sah is a single representative figure. Many people residing on the banks of rivers in Bara and Parsa districts are suffering from similar health problems.
Ganesh Majhi of Hardiya earns wages in Ambe Cement. Currently, he is severely affected from the chest and skin related infections while other workers in the factory have also faced the same fate. They are completely unaware of the precautionary measures against the occupational health hazards despite different measures are implemented to reduce the health risks in the industrial areas.
Birgunj, also the gateway of the country, is an economic hub and industrial city with around 3,400 big and small factories, according to the District Small and Cottage Industries Development Committee. Birgunj witnessed the transformation of many industries into the industrial corridor since 2036 BS. And, the contamination of water from the industrial waste is really dreadful here in the city. Most of the industries here are run by violating the environmental standards.
Industries are run here without environmental impact assessment, claims Jaspal Singh chairperson of Sakriya Prakriti Sewa Foundation that advocates for pollution reduction. It is reported that a total of 51 industries in Parsa are adding to environmental pollution, violating the existing laws. It is for sure that the industries are the backbone for country’s development but the rivers in and around Parsa are losing their existence due to the industrial residues.
And, many rivers here have changed into the drains in the last two decades. Some monitoring jobs are ongoing from the officials to control the pollution in the rivers but they are too ritual and insufficient to meet the ends. The factories releasing the pollutants are not brought to the ambit of legal framework while the industrialists and local residents are at loggerheads over the issue of pollution. The officials are pressed for clean campaign since 2067 BS institutionally by establishing the Clean Environment Formation Campaign, according to Campaign’s secretary Anil Kumar Sah.
In a status report released eight years ago by ‘Sirsiya River Pollution Monitoring, altogether 47 industries along the Birgunj-Pathalaiya Industrial Corridor in Bara and Parsa districts were named for polluting the river through the discharge of their waste water into the rivers. Those 47 included 33 from Parsa alone. Currently, the level of pollution has increased further compared to the situation eight years ago.
Monitoring jobs state that the pollution in the rivers caused by industries’ sewerage has adverse effects on human health, rivers, environment and grazing lands as well. With the pollution, the local residents are even deprived of access to river bath.
But, the industries’ seem comparatively reluctant to reduce pollution. The sheer negligence of cement, leather, plastic, chemical and soap industries and the pharmaceuticals are causing pollution on seven big rivers including Sirsiya, Uriya, Makhariya, Gangol, Naurangi, Tilawe and Sotkhola.
Furthermore, the condition of workers in those industries is equally vulnerable. “Not only the workers, the local residents are also obliged to face the problems caused by pollution,” Cardiologist Arun Kumar Karn of Narayani Sub-Regional Hospital cautioned. Patients visit the hospital with more complicated cases due to the factories’ pollution. Change in heart beat, diarrohea and eye ache are the frequent health problems witnessed after the rise in pollution.
“We don’t see accomplishments of health precautions in the industries. This is affecting many community dwellers,” Dr Karn painted the bleak pictures of industrial health measures. As the industrial waste water from the industrial corridor is mixed into Sirsiya river, the local residents from Prasauni, Sabaithawa, Ramgadhawa, Maniyari, Bhawanipur, Lalparsa, Prasotipur, Belwa and Chorni have witnessed skin infections and wounds. The number of patients visiting the health posts in Chorni, Belwa, Lalparsa and Bagahi in the last July also confirms the grave situation of locals. According to Statistics Officer of District Public Health Office, Parsa Nabal Kishor Sah, a total of 604 cases of skin diseases, 82 of trachoma, 91 of heart diseases, 247 of respiratory related patients and 115 of diarrhoea were recorded in a month of mid-July to mid-August of 2018. Sah shares that most of the cases reported are of eye, chest, abdominal and skin diseases. Likewise, doctors said that the local people and workers in the industrial estate are more vulnerable to non-communicable diseases. Chairperson of Campaign Om Prakash Sah Kanu observes that the efforts ongoing to reduce industrial pollution are weaker adding that the local administration is not proactive to this end.
The report on monitoring of Sirsiya river laid emphasis on controlling the pollution from those 47 industries adding that pollution control was possible through the official initiatives and implementation of the existing legal provisions. But, no concrete step is taken down the eight years on. The local youth clubs and social organizations have been pressing the industrialists against pollution but their voices are left unheard.
Out of total 3,400 industries, 51 industries that have direct impact on human health have been running the industries without constructing the treatment centre. They have been mixing the industrial wastes directly into the river for their failure to develop the treatment system prior to the industries’ establishment.
The pollutants and fat mixed into the river have contaminated the river. The people even could not take holy dips in the Chhath festival due to pollution though they mark the festival in around two dozens of banks in Sirsiya river. With the strong intervention of the administration and locals’ protests, the industries don’t mix the sewerage and industrial ass into the river during the festival time but the pollution saga repeats again after the end of Chhath festival.
Worse still, the mourners even don’t take bath in the river after performing the final rites. With the rise in pollution, there is not the strong existence of aquatic creatures. The river which is 25 kms long from Simara in Bara to Nepal-India border point in Birgunj is too polluted except the 2-4 kms near its source. Chairman of Birgunj Chamber of Commerce and Industries Om Prakash Sharma is fed up with the stinking pollution. “We would take bath in Sirsiya some 25/30 years ago. But, now it will be skin infection only if the water is touched,” he compares the time.
Birgunj Chamber of Commerce and Industries has said that the industries responsible for pollution should be booked as per the laws. The Birgunj Chamber of Commerce and Industries has repeatedly said in public that the industries making money should establish the water treatment centre. In papers, many industries have shown establishment of the treatment plant, chairperson Sharma said, adding that the industries must establish the treatment centre because they should not disrespect the human lives. Industrialists must establish the treatment centre if they make money out of the industries, Sharma stood firm. The industrialists have missed this part in relation to pollution minimization, industrialist and vice chairperson of Birgunj Chamber of Commerce and Industries Subodh Gupta admitted.
Likewise, environmental journalist Chandra Kishor Jha said that problems were surfaced for lack of system to evaluate the pollution standards. The industrialists are spreading pollution uncontrolled for lack of punishment and poor impact analysis of pollution on air, river and land from their emissions and sewerage release, he added.
Chief Minister of Province No. 2 Lalbabu Raut argues that the industrialists should establish their factories by considering the health vulnerabilities of the locals. The industrialists have also made the commitments with the Government of Nepal to run their factories without affecting the human health. Chief Minister Raut assured that the province government would remain firm to ensure implementation of the government policies and laws by making presence of the polluter industrialists. However, no visible intervention is taken so far from the Office of the Chief Minister.
Efforts to reinvigorate polluted river go in vain
Chairman of Foundation Jaspal Singh accused the government bodies, industrialists and business communities for turning a deaf ear to make Sirsi nbya river pollution free despite their relentless efforts to give a new life to the polluted river. Serious attention of Mayor of Birgunj Metropolitan City Bijaya Sarabagi was drawn in written and verbal but firm commitment and satisfying response was not received from the mayor too, Singh claimed. Likewise, the then chief of Parsa Police, Ramesh Kharel, had warned to file separate cases on public offence against the industrialists if they failed to install the water treatment plants. But, the issue was shadowed after SP Kharel’s transfer from Parsa.
Industrialists trying to escape pointing fingers on government
The industrialists are too cunning to safeguard their interests and pointing fingers on the government for all the flaws. There is pollution where the industries have been established but only blaming the industrialists in not fair, admits Ashok Baidhya, former Chairperson of Birgunj Chamber of Commerce and Industries and proprietor of Shalimar Cement, Kansai Nerolack Paints, Shalimar Metal, Hemanta Industries. The government should separate the industrial estate for pollution control, he said. There were no human settlements on the bank of Sirsiya river when the industries were established in the past and the settlements are new ones. The government itself has directly mixed the drainage and sewerage into Sirsiya river, Baidhya said.
However, another industrialist Subodh Gautam voiced for adopting different measures to contribute in pollution control from their part.
Insufficient laws to book wrongdoers
Laboratory Officer at Occupational Security and Health Project Dipak Lekhak is of the opinion that the industrialists have turned irresponsible as the officials have no right to book the polluters. Their role is just limited to offering recommendations though the industrialists were carrying out their activities against the human health and environment. In a recent study conducted by the Project, a total of five Birgunj-based industries were found of mixing their wastes into the river and canals. Furthermore, Lekhak added that the level of noise pollution and dust particles in the air were reported maximum than the given benchmark.
The factory workers and locals also complained the problems of trachoma and difficulties in breathing during our study, he revealed. “Besides those visible impacts, we found the degrading quality of land’s fertility,” he shared. With the mixture of the industrial effluents, the animals were taken ill while some of them died, according to the locals. The project has submitted the report to the District Labour Office and Ministry of Environment.
No actions against industrialists despite legal provision
According to advocate Mohan Pokharel, the Environment Protection Act, 1997 states that in case any person commits any acts contrary to legal provision, the industries may require to stop such act immediately. And, if the industrialist has done such act, s/he would be slapped up to Rs 50,000 to Rs 100,000 in fine according to the degree of the offence. Even the provision of the factory closure is ensured if the alternative measures were not adopted, he added. “First of all, environmental impact assessment is a must prior to establishing the factory. The same punishment is applicable in case the EIA was not conducted or the factory was operated by violating the rules,” he concluded.