“The Public Hearing on the Issue of Supply of Toxic Sewage Irrigation Water to the Farmlands at Jajmau and Its Disastrous Impact on Drinking Water, Agriculture, Health and Livelihoods” by EcoFriends
A serious environmental disaster is brewing in the villages of Jajmau at Kanpur on account of the supply of hazardous irrigation water to the farmlands at Jajmau. Despite being under Kanpur city, the twenty odd villages, which receive the irrigation water have no electricity connections, telephone connections and have extremely poor sanitary conditions.
Till 1994, the irrigation water supplied to Jajmau carried Kanpur city sewage diluted by the Ganga waters. With the setting up of the Combined Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP), under the Ganga Action Plan Phase I, the composition of the waters changed completely. The CETP, which was meant to treat the highly toxic tannery effluents of more than 350 odd tanneries, concentrated at Jajmau, along with raw city sewage, failed miserably in doing so. The post treated water, meant for irrigation of the Jajmau farmlands, continues to be laden with highly toxic pollutants such as Arsenic, Cadmium, Mercury, Nickel and Chrome VI. (See Eco Friends – IIT Kanpur Test results in Appendix I & Appendix II).
It needs to be told that earlier the only hazardous pollutant in the sewage irrigation water channel was assumed to be chrome. But with the discovery of Arsenic, Cadmium, Mercury, Nickel and Chrome VI in the same, the threats to environment and public health have multiplied manifold.
Further, due to frequent breaches in the sewage irrigation water channel, the hazardous water meant for disposal on land gets routed to river Ganga. It needs to be mentioned that only a part of the sewage irrigation channel is pucca and the rest is kutcha and extremely vulnerable to frequent breaches. This has led to widespread destruction of aquatic life in Ganga.
The sewage irrigation water being supplied to the fields has led to serious environmental and public health concerns for over seven years now. At Jajmau, a number of interlinked concerns have come to the fore: year after year destruction of standing agricultural crops, ornamental plants and aquatic life in the river, contamination of food chains, including milk, and soil and finally a multiplicity of diseases have hit the villages.
Eco Friends has been raising these issues in various ways in different forums for the past over four years. Recently, Eco Friends commissioned Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur to conduct extensive tests of ground water, tannery effluents, raw city sewage and post treated water from the Combined Effluent Treatment Plant, as well as the sewage irrigation water to independently assess the nature and degree of toxicity.
Further, Eco Friends intensified its village survey programme and contacted almost all households in the 20 odd villages of Jajmau, which have been suffering on account of the toxicity found in the sewage irrigation water. The basic idea was to systematically document all the different types of impacts on people and livelihoods in the Jajmau area.
After the preparatory activities, Eco Friends decided to organize a Public Hearing to bring together a broad mix of experts drawn from different fields, governmental authorities, peoples’ representatives and pollution control agencies in order to comprehensively understand the issues and arrive at a course of action.
With the field survey report of Eco Friends and the Eco Friends – IIT Test results serving as the backdrop, nearly 2000 men, women and children came forward to present their experiences of facing the environmental disaster at Jajmau.
Eco Friends – IIT Tests of Ground Water meant for Drinking Purposes at Jajmau:
Eco Friends commissioned the Facility for Ecological and Analytical Testing, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur to conduct extensive tests of ground water in the villages of Wajidpur and Sheikhpur of Jajmau region. Ground water is the only source of drinking water in these villages. The samples were collected on September 9, 2002 and the test results were received on September 20, 2002.
- Alarming levels of Arsenic, Cadmium, Mercury, Nickel, Chrome VI, pesticides such as Lindane, Endosulphan and Dieldrin have been found in the underground water in the villages of Wajidpur and Sheikhpur at Jajmau.
- Arsenic, Nickel and Chrome VI are well known carcinogens. Cadmium is a potent kidney toxicant and Mercury is a potent neurological toxicant. Other metals too are potent sources of renal, neurological, skin diseases along with blue baby syndrome, which affects infants.
- As is clear from the test results, the population using underground water for drinking purposes in Wajidpur and Sheikhpur are extremely vulnerable to a wide variety of adverse health impacts. The ground water of Wajidpur and Shiekhpur is unfit for human consumption as it contains elevated levels of various toxic elements.
Profile of Participants:
Besides all affected persons including women from the area, the participants included the Deputy Mayor, Kanpur, eminent scientists from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, officials of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Ganga Action Plan support units, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), local Corporators, Farmers’ organizations, government health officials, and agricultural scientists of the Chandra Shekhar Azad Agricultural University and experts from other fields.
The following is a thematic summary of the issues raised during the Jan Sunwai:
Impact on Food Crops, Vegetables, Ornamental Plants and Soil
- There has been a steep decline in agricultural productivity of all crops in the villages at Jajmau, using sewage irrigation water. Standing crops get destroyed whenever the hazardous irrigation water comes in contact with agricultural fields.
- Crops which apparently grow normally do not yield grains/flower in the end and just wither away.
- Only crops that are rain fed survive.
- Tree plantations including that of Mango, Jamun and Eucalyptus have all but disappeared.
- The Jajmau agricultural belt was once famous for rose cultivation with rose being supplied all over India. Earlier the rose plants use to flower for about ten years and were dark in hue. Now, the rose plants hardly flower for about a year and roses have lost their dark colour.
- The soil in the region suffers from excessive salinity, which is harmful for the crops.
Impact on Livestock, Aquatic Life, Fish Breeding Ponds and Ganga
- Livestock too have been impacted due to the consumption of irrigation water. Premature birth and increase in mortality of cattle in the region were highlighted.
- The quality of milk has suffered. Milk has become yellowish in colour and is also thinner than used to be the case earlier.
- The small fish breeding ponds are extremely vulnerable to the overflowing of sewage irrigation water especially during the monsoons. Very few fishes survive in the fish ponds and those that survive are unfit for human consumption.
- Swarms of dead fishes floating in the river Ganga are a common occurrence whenever the hazardous sewage irrigation water meets with the river Ganga. The fishermen in the area have been badly hit on account of frequent fish kills in the river stretch adjoining Jajmau.
- The Ganga waters continue to be impacted by the hazardous irrigation water thus seriously affecting river water quality.
Impact on Ground Water and Public Health:
- The drinking water from the hand pumps has become yellowish in colour and emits a foul smell.
- Water of two handpumps at Wajidpur and Sheikhpur villages which were tested have been found to contain highly elevated levels of hazardous pollutants rendering them unfit for drinking purposes.
- People often complain of losing their appetite on drinking the hand pump water. Infants vomit after consuming the water with some villagers reporting ‘vomiting of worms’.
- On contact with the hazardous sewage irrigation water while working in the fields the nails of both hands get spoiled.
- Skin and water borne diseases of various kinds, rashes, lesions, diarrhoea, arthritis, filaria, malaria have taken a heavy toll on the populace living in the area.
- Worse still, there is a complete absence of government medical facilities in the area thus hitting the villagers doubly hard. There used to be occasional government health check camps in the past years but these too have been stopped completely.
Many of the issues raised during the Public Hearing are also confirmed by the following two government reports:
- The National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow, report submitted to the National River Conservation Directorate, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India urged prohibition of long term irrigation supplies of the water presently being used for the cultivation of agricultural crops, vegetables and ornamental plants. The report highlighted the chromium content in food crops and in milk samples as alarming, found the seepage of chromium into underground water tables and its presence in all the drinking water hand pumps sampled. Mention was also made about the serious disease afflictions amongst the population of the region.
- The report of the Central Pollution Control Board, North Zonal Office, Kanpur, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, urged that until detailed studies by Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) and Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) are conducted to establish the presence of pathogens in wastewater and probable contamination of ground water, soil and overall effect on crops, the entire area along the channel be declared unsafe and unfit for the crops.
In the light of the above, Eco Friends demands the following:
- A thorough investigation needs to be made in the Jajmau area to determine the full nature and extent of the impact of pollution and damage to soil, food crops, underground water and its impact on public health.
- Full compensation ought to be provided to the affected population for widespread damage to crops, soil and people’s health as people’s rights to clean environment and livelihoods have been badly affected.
- Safe drinking water must be ensured in the Jajmau area at the earliest. Extensive health survey must be carried out urgently in the Jajmau area. In the meantime, the governmental agencies should open up sub centres and Primary Health Centres in the villages of Jajmau so that basic health facilities are made available to the people.
- The Central Pollution Control Board and the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board should carry out a comprehensive investigation of all the leather industries in Kanpur. The investigation should include all the chemicals which are being used in the entire production cycle of the leather industries. The tanneries responsible for the discharge of the above toxic pollutants must be held accountable by the concerned governmental agencies.
- Sources of Arsenic, Cadmium, Mercury and Nickel in the tannery waste streams need to be found out on an urgent basis.
- Those industries which are diverting industrial effluents into the domestic sewage should be identified and stopped immediately.
Proceedings (Abstract) of the Jan Sunvai
Around 2000 women, men and children of Motipur, Sheikhpur, Jaana, Khajuria, Sukhnipur, Kishunpur, Madarpur, Trilokpur Hahnia, Mawaiah, Alaulapur and other villages attended the programme.
A number of resource persons were invited to the Jan Sunvai- Dr. R.K. Singh (CPCB), Dr. Ashok Aggrawal (C.S. Azad Agriculture University, Kanpur), Dr. Tapan Routh (NEERI, Kanpur), Dr. A.C. Shukla (Botanist, Christ Church College, Kanpur), Dr. Padma S. Vankar (IIT, Kanpur), Dr. G.N. Mishra (Government Hospital, Jajmau). Officials from Jal Nigam and Jal Sansthan also attended the meeting. A number of peoples’ representatives were also invited. Mrs. Chetna Sharma, Deputy Mayor, Kanpur, and Mr. Ramesh Chandra Dehlvi, Local Corporator, attended the meeting.
The programme was divided into four main sessions- i) Inaugural, ii) Irrigation Water & Impact on Soil, Crops & other Flora & Fauna, iii) Irrigation Water, Drinking Water & Impact on Health and iv) Way Ahead: Strategizing the Future Course of Action.
The first session began by Shree Rakesh K. Jaiswal welcoming the guests and villagers. He briefly outlined the pollution problems in the region, the Governmental efforts to control the pollution, its success and failures, and the work done by Eco Friends to highlight the problems through various forums and media.
Mrs. Chetna Shukla inaugurated the programme. She cautioned the people that the tannery effluent was toxic and damaging the environment of the area. She assured the people of all co-operation.
The field team of Eco Friends presented its report which was based on village to village surveys and interviews of the affected villagers.
The second session began by Dr. A.C. Shukla making a brief outline of the problem. The villagers then made individual presentations.
- Pappu Shukla (Madarpur) spoke of the rapid decrease in crop productivity because of the polluted water. He informed that earlier 10 quintal of wheat was produced from 1 bigha of land, but now only 2 ½ quintal is produced.
- Avdhesh Kumar (Mawaiah) complained that the earlier practice of mixing the post-treated sewage water with the water of the Ganga (in a 50:50 ratio) has been discontinued, and now polluted water from the tanneries is being supplied for irrigation. This water is destroying the crops and soil.
- Nanki Devi (Jaana) argued that irrigation water destroys the wheat and paddy crops and the guava fruits get infested with pests if the trees are irrigated with the water.
- Ram Avtar (Jaana) contends that Mango and Jamun trees have disappeared from this region because of the irrigation water. It has become difficult to get wood even for havan.
- Ram Khilawan (Sheikhpur) informed that this area was known as the rose belt. But since the last 10 years the production of rose has decreased drastically. Now a plant gives flower for only one year and earlier one plant gave flower for 8-10 years. He also said that lands irrigated with groundwater survive longer.
Dr. R.K. Singh assured the people that the Government has been trying to stop the pollution from the tanneries. He informed that a number of tanneries had already installed Chrome Recovery Plants. But a lot still needs to be done. He also informed the people that National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow is setting up a Research Station in the village and would surely come out with some positive results. Dr. Ashok Aggrawal assured the people that he would conduct soil tests in the region and asked for co-operation from the villagers to carry out crop experiments on their lands.
In the third session Dr. Padma S. Vankar talked about the Water & Sludge Test results conducted at her Laboratories (See Appendix I & Appendix II). She also warned about the adverse impacts of the heavy metals and other pollutants on the health of the people and cattle of the region.
The villagers then made their individual presentations:
- Mahadev (Jaana) said that he suffered from various skin ailments. He showed his nails which have lost their shine and have become brown in colour. Many other people in his village suffer from the same problem.
- Parsuram (Motipur) said that he provides medical help to a large number of people in the area and is aware of the problems of the people. He informed that malaria, worms in the stomach, skin diseases are very common here. In some serious cases people vomit worms. He complained that there is no proper medical facility for the people.
- Kundan Tiwari (Mawaiah) complained that the drinking water in the region is no longer fit for consumption. People found it difficult to digest food. It is also difficult to cook food in this water. He also complained that there is no Primary Health Center in the entire region.
- Jurakhan Lal (Kishunpur) informed that buffaloes abort their babies and give less milk. Cattle deaths due to mysterious reasons is on the rise.
Dr. G.N. Mishra (Government Hospital, Jajmau) assured the people that he was aware of the problems and would convey it to the Chief Medical Officer of the District. He also promised that he would extend all possible help to the people, and would very soon organize a free health check up camp in the villages.
In the third session, Mr. Mayank Rai, a senior Lawyer at District Court, Kanpur, gave a brief legal history of cases (related with tanneries) which had been filed as PIL in the Supreme Court and the High Courts. In a number of instances the Court orders are not being properly implemented. I would advise you to file a case in the High Court seeking the Court’s intervention in order to remediate the problems and compensate for the damages.
The villagers then passed a number of resolutions:
- Extensive tests of ground water at different levels in the area.
- Safe drinking water to all the affected villages.
- Safe irrigation water (treated sewage mixed with Ganga water) to all the affected villages. Tannery effluents should not be mixed in the irrigation water.
- Writ Petition should be filed in the Higher Judiciary for remedial action and payment of compensation for damages done to crops, soil, groundwater, health, loss of livelihood.
- Free Health Camps and Epidemiological Study should be conducted.
- Concrete steps for restoration of the environment in the area.
- Organize protests and demonstrations demanding immediate action.
- Taking the people of the region into confidence before any studies, surveys, tests or experiments are carried out, and their results to be made public.
- Close polluting tanneries and glue factories in the area.
- Stop pollution of the Ganga by the tanneries and city sewag
It was also unanimously decided that a meeting at the village level should be organized every month and a monthly meeting of all members of Ganga Vahini should also be held. A request was made to Eco Friends to provide guidance to the villagers in their legal battle.