- Industrial waste from factories in Madhya Pradesh is allegedly being dumped into empty borings in fields, claim activists.
- In Manpur town of Indore district, the river water, as well as other water sources, including tube wells, have become polluted, affecting 50 villages.
- Many cattle, aquatic animals, and wild animals have allegedly died after consuming polluted river water following which, the local tribal communities are seeking compensation.
Madhya Pradesh’s Manpur town near Pithampur, a Special Economic Zone with almost 50 industrial units, is facing water contamination. The locals assert that the chemical debris from Pithampur is tossed out in open fields which is poisoning the Ajnar river close to the village and infecting groundwater and wells.
“Black chemical was floating on the surface of the water,” Brijesh Singh, a farmer near the Ajnar river in Manpur, told Mongabay-India while talking about the toxic froth. “My cow died after drinking the water,” he alleged.
According to Singh, chemical waste is still dumped in open fields. “Each time it rains, the chemical waste runs into my field. I lost a crop last year because of chemical water. My land has now become infertile and I have lost my livelihood.” His wheat crop was destroyed due to which he suffered a loss of Rs. 25,000.
“The source of water in my house and the other houses in this area has been polluted. Each day, members of my family walk for one or two kilometres for drinking water. If we do not bring pure water from a distance, we drink polluted groundwater. I am afraid of what will happen in the coming years,” he said.
The town of Manpur is located about 50 kilometres to the southwest of Indore, which is Madhya Pradesh’s commercial capital.
Mahendra Singh Kannoj, an Indore-based activist, notes that the Ajnar river is a tributary of Karam river. “Fifty villages from the district including Khargone, Maheswar, and Dhar are badly affected by the chemical dump done by industrial companies,” he said. According to local activists, this means an estimated 45,000-50,000 people are affected by polluted water.
“Some companies illegally dump chemical waste in pits near Ajnar river. These wastewaters not only mix with the Ajnar river but with well, tube wells and other water bodies. Many cattle and other wild animals living nearby died after consuming polluted water. Also, fishes, crabs and animals in water bodies died,” Kannoj emphasised.
Protest by tribal communities
In July 2021, tribal communities and social activists, including noted civil society leader Medha Patkar, Mahendra Singh Kannoj, and others, organised a protest against the illegal dumping of chemical waste in open fields near the Ajnar river in Manpur. Subsequently, police complaints were filed against nearly 500 people of the tribal community and 22 activists for participating in the protest.
After the protest, Kannoj said that some people were arrested, but companies are still dumping chemical waste near the river.
“Farmers in these areas were dependent on rivers and groundwater for irrigation. After the water has become polluted, their crops, and vegetables have been destroyed and the land became infertile. A large number of tribal people living in this area rely on agriculture for their livelihood. They will lose their livelihood if their lands continue to mix with chemical waste and become infertile,” he added.
Heavy metals found in the river water
Last year, the water of the Ajnar river was tested, and a high amount of heavy metals was found.
Bhavesh Swarnkar, a dermatologist in Indore, said that heavy metals, including arsenic, are very harmful to the human skin. “Heavy metals can give skin rashes, blisters, and allergies to various skin types. In the long run, they can cause skin cancer,” he told Mongabay-India.
Research by Santan Kumar, Research Scholar, Magadh University, Bihar, suggests that there may be over 10,000 abandoned hazardous waste sites in the Manpur block, and the number continues to grow. Groundwater contamination can occur at hazardous waste sites from containers of hazardous materials in case of leaks.
Last year, tourists complained that polluted water is flowing from the Ajnar river in Jogi Bhadak Falls, a tourist destination and trekking spot adjacent to Manpur in the Indore district. Some villagers also complained of infection after bathing in it.
Hiralal Alawa, a member of Madhya Pradesh’s legislative assembly from the Dhar region, neighbouring district of Indore, wrote to the Madhya Pradesh environment department in June 2021, demanding an investigation into the dumping of chemical waste in the Ajnar river. The environment department responded to him and acknowledged that contaminated water was found in many pits which further mixes with Ajnar and Karam rivers.
The pollution board also asked the Manpur police to file cases under sections 277, 284 and 234 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against two accused for providing their lands to dump chemical waste. The local police station was informed by tribal leaders and activists about the dumping of chemical waste, but no action was taken.
During the protests, tribal leaders had called for action against the station in charge. Following this, the police authorities had sent the Manpur station in charge, Hitendra Singh Rathor, to police lines (as a punishment) and filed a complaint against him under sections 267, 264, and 34 of the IPC and section 15 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 Act.
Shashank Tiwari, an advocate at the Jabalpur High Court, said the “recent incident of industries throwing chemical waste in the river shows a complete failure of the Madhya Pradesh State Pollution Control Board (SPCB).”
He stressed that the dumping of waste into the river is a clear violation of India’s waste management rules that prohibits dumping of waste in drains and waterways.
Tiwari said that tribal people residing in the region should be compensated and a heavy fine is imposed on the polluters.
According to a report by Asian Development Research Institute, based in Patna, 70 percent of surface water resources in India are polluted. About 40 million litres of wastewater are released into rivers and other water bodies every day, yet only a tiny fraction is treated adequately.
“Many industrial areas like Pithampur do not have governmental monitoring systems to keep a check against these industries,” Amulya Nidhi, a health expert with Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, told Mongabay-India. “Chemical waste is constantly dumped in open fields by these industries, demonstrating a failure on the part of the pollution control board.”
Founded in 2001, the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA) is a network of civil society organisations and people’s movements working for health rights.
“Indore has become the cleanest city in the country, yet tribal people nearly 25 kilometres away are forced to drink chemically contaminated water. It is high time that the government make pure drinking water available to people in this area. Also, action must be taken against all the industries which are throwing chemical waste in open fields,” Amulya Nidhi demanded.
Banner image: Water being pumped through tube wells is also contaminated in Madhya Pradesh’s Manpur town near Pithampur, a Special Economic Zone with almost 50 industrial units. Photo by Omkar Singh.