Sugar factories fail to check air, water pollution

Despite repeated circulars and review meetings by sugar commissioner, air and water pollution by the sugar factories continue to remain unchecked in Pune division. In fact, as compared to 2011, the number of factories penalised by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) doubled in 2012.

As per MPCB data, bank guarantee worth Rs 38,50,000 of eight sugar factories in the Pune division had been seized for failing to adhere to the standards laid by the board in terms of discharge of effluents between January and December 2012. The board had seized bank guarantees of Rs 15 lakh of four factories between January and December 2011 in Pune division.

Of the eight sugar factories, one was in Pune district, while five were in Solapur and two were in Satara district. There are 56 factories in Pune division, with a majority being run by various cooperative societies. MPCB officials say other than discharge of untreated effluent directly into water bodies, air pollution is also a major concern with the factories.

Concerned with the level of pollution generated by the sugar factories, the then MPCB member secretary had written a letter to the sugar commissioner in 2011, asking him to look into the matter. In the letter, he had said that the board had been complaining, about the nature of discharge of untreated effluent into Panchganaga, Krishna, Warna and other rivers. The letter had also stated that sugar factories should issue a sou motto report for non- compliance of the any of the environmental guidelines and would cease production in case of such breach. The board had increased inspection of the sugar factories to ensure the discharge are within limits.

According to independent MP and farmers' leader Raju Shetty, the action taken by the board was just the tip of the iceberg. Shetty said a majority of the factories in Pune, Satara and Kolhapur districts, which are run by political bigwigs, are let go scot-free for fear of political reprisal. "Every year in Satara, lakhs of fish die in the Krishna river due to direct discharge of effluents from cooperative sugar factories. As the factories are run by the ruling alliance, the board officials turn a blind eye towards them," he said. Shetty added that the recent outbreak of jaundice in Ichalkaranji was also due to the discharge of untreated effluents into the river from sugar factories. "In most parts of these districts, the ground water is highly polluted and incidents of cancer and other diseases are on rise," he added.

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