POLLUTION THREAT TO WATER SUPPLIES OF MADRAS AND ITS ENVIRONS DUE TO IMPROPER SITING OF A MODERN SLAUGHTER HOUSE
Professor of Environmental Engineering, Andhra University, Waltair(AP)
In response to the news reports based on the paper “Threat to Water supply and Environment of Madras due to improper location of a modern slaughter house” presented at a seminar in the city on 21-7-1984, by me, the Chief Secretary to the Government of Tamil Nadu held a press conference on 27-1-1984 and stated that there is no pollution threat from the slaughter house. He is reported to have said that there is absolutely no possibility of any wash water entering any of the water sources even in the worst of rainy seasons. It has been claimed that the topography of the site itself ruled out the possibility of the effluent or wash water entering the water supply channels to cholavaram and Redhills lakes. Pollution to the water supply installations of the neighbouring Military Engineering Services were ruled out as the effluent plant had been shifted 600 meters farther than its original proposed location.
In order to verify if there is any scientific reasoning in support of the claims made by the Chief Secretary, I have made an extensive personal examination of the whole area and found that the effluents from the proposed slaughter house even after the use of the best available pollution control technology will definitely pose a serious threat to the drinking water sources of Madras. Even after shifting the site for the effluent treatment towards South West of the proposed site, the effluents will join the tank opposite Vanianchatram and then they spill into the upper supply channel through the swamp drains on the East and the Boosikal drains on the west of Poochiathipedu, 10km. to the west of Redhills lake on the road of Tiruvellore. A casual physical observation of the topography of the land and water-courses around Koduvalli site even by a layman reveals that the effluents inevitably pollute cholavaram lake since the ground level of about 30 meters at the site falls down to about 20 meters towards Cholavaram lake within about 3 km distance on the East and to about 25 meters towards the swamp drains and Boosikal drains that empty into the upper supply channel within 2km on the west. (See map enclosed).
Thus, the treated effluent from the proposed slaughter house invariably pollutes not only the Cholavaram lake but also many drinking water wells and important tanks like the ones opposite Vanianchatram and Alamadhi villages during heavy rains. Moreover, damage will be caused to hundreds of acres of good paddy fields, the duck-rearing industry and, the health and welfare of the thousands of animal and human populations in many villages in between Boosikar drain and Cholavaram lake. These facts clearly show that the authorities have never made not only any indepth studies on these basic issues but also did not even care to consult their own irrigation engineers and other eminent environmental and ecological experts who could have easily pointed out these obvious and fundamental defects made in selecting the site for such an offensive trade. The other comments on the false claims made by the authorities on this crucial problem are also presented here.
*Paper presented at the Seminar organized by Public Relations Society of India, Tamil Nadu Chapter and Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board on “The Environment in 2001AD” held on 21-7-84 at Cholai Hotel Madras in its working session_III Rural Environmental Development under the chairmanship of Mr.M.Ahmed, IAS, commissioner and Secretary, Department of Environmental Control, Government of Tamil Nadu.(Chairman:APState Committee on Ecological Survey of Kolleru Lake, Vice-President:AP Natural History Society, Visakhapatnam and Honorary Environmental Adviser:Municipal Corporation, Visakhapatnam.
I. INTRODUCTION: The citizens of Madras are likely to be confused over the crucial matter of pollution threat to the water supply systems of Madras and its environs due to location of a modern slaughter house close to Cholavaram lake in watershed of Redhills reservoir. It is not the industry per se but its improper location within close proximity to drinking water sources, cattle farm and human habitations within fragile eco-systems that is causing serious concern. While the ecologists visualize serious health hazards due to inevitable contamination of the local environment at Koduvalli in the vicinity of the plant, the officials reiterate their promise to take all measures to minimise pollution without comprehending the long range implications of their promises on the environment. As the Government of Tamil Nadu have a keen sense of responsibility for public welfare, it is necessary, at this juncture, to keep the public and the Government informed about the scientific aspects of this crucial problem that is viewed by the officials with the proverbial blindness approach to the elephant.
II.CONFLICTING CLAIMS OF OFFICIALS: When the committee on industries under the chairmanship of the Secretary to the Government met to discuss about the environmental impact of the slaughter house, some members are reported to have warned that the effluents would by over-flow or drainage pollute the Cholavaram lake, some other members stressed the need to prevent surface and ground water pollution, besides control of stinking odours, insects, mosquitoes, birds, rodents etc. which will cause public nuisance, in the light of factors such as the laterite soils and high water table in some areas.
It is surprising that while the chairman is reported to have agreed with the condition, perhaps laid down by Pollution Control Board, that there should not be over-flow of effluent that would gain access into the nearby drinking water sources like Cholavaram lake, he could not spell out what concrete steps are proposed to be taken to achieve that objective on the basis of proven technology under Indian conditions. It has also been suggested that the Corporation authorities shall agree to provide for alternative effluent disposal methods, if the measures adopted proved to be defective or deficient at a later date. It means that the officials are not sure that their proposed measures are really safe and reliable. In our daily life, we find that even a layman seeks professional advice from a lawyer on legal affairs and a doctor on medical matters and not vice-versa. As such, the procurement of a no objection certificate from the committee on industries that never seems to have consulted all the concerned environmental experts does not give a guarantee that there will not be any public health hazards due to the siting of the slaughter house at Koduvalli.
III. WATER SUPPLY PROVISIONS IGNORED: While the promotion of the sanitation of water sheds is one of the prime objectives of any water supply agency for maintaining the quality of the raw and treated water, it is surprising that the Madras Metropolitan Water supply and Sewerage Board chose to wink at the impending pollution threat to their lake waters against the spirit of sections 5,6,54 and 59 of their water supply and sewerage act, 1978 even during the third year of the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation decade. It is all the more shocking that the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board which should prevent pollution of water courses have approved the site even though it is close to the major drinking water supply lake.
IV. CONTAMNATION OF MILITARY WATER WORKS: The Military Engineering Water Purification Plant is adjacent to the slaughter house under construction. Even though the effluent treatment plant is shifted by 400 meters into an area across the south of the road, it will not ensure the safety of the water supplies. Although the Corporation proposes to cover the filter beds to protect them from bird droppings, the water quality is bound to be impaired since the large uncovered settling tanks on either side of the filter house will be heavily contaminated with infectious material transported by migratory birds, insects and dust from the premises of the stock yards, the slaughter house and the local environment polluted due to the impact of the new plant. Sometimes even the accidental fall of infected birds, insects etc.; in the open settling tanks will pose serious threat to the safety of the water. Filter beds and chlorination plants can not always ensure safe water supplies when disease producing viruses and microbial populations contaminate the water during its purification. Moreover, the raw water for purification is drawn from the site, and hence it is likely to be contaminated in a similar way.
Under these circumstances it is difficult to understand how the authorities could ascertain and confirm that there would be no pollution to the Military Engineering Water Supply Systems even though both the raw water and partly treated waters are liable to be contaminated. The concerned Military officers should have consulted the environmental experts before the reported dropping of their genuine objections against the improper siting of the slaughter house in the neighbourhood of their sensitive water works.
V. THREAT TO CENTRAL CATTLE BREEDING FARM: The Central Cattle Breeding Farm intended to supply the most coveted Murra bred buffaloes will become the most vulnerable target due to its location within 1-2km from the slaughter house. Many new diseases that surface in this area will affect both animal and human populations.
For instance, the foot and mouth disease, pox, blue tongue and Rinderpest viral diseases will cause damage to the cattle population as pathogens are not only wind-borne but are also transmitted by the insects, flies, birds etc. Kerato-conjuctivities, Anaplasmosis, Salmonellosis etc are transmitted by other dust, flies, insects or rodents. Tuberculosis, Pasteurellosis, Actinomycosis, Hydatidosis, Cysticercosis and Trichinosis occur among cattle, sheep and pigs.
Many sheep and cattle imported from other districts may be in the incubative or carrier state of a contagious disease or heavy loads of infectious material that may be transported by dust-laden air, insects, midges, ticks, flies and rodents into the cattle-breeding farm andother villages, leading to a constant interchange of disease producing organisms among the birds, insects, domestic animals, and human populations and the environment in the locality. This aspect must be considered seriously as the slaughter house complex is provided with cattle and sheep lairages markets etc. Healthy or inapparent carriers of infection among the healthy sheep and cattle most often defy the detection by known methods including serological and microbiological procedures. Under the existing conditions of anti-mortem and post-mortem examinations in our states, it may not always be possible to check infection among the animals. Under the circumstances it is now known why and how the Direction of Central Cattle Breeding Farm is reported to have quietly dropped his genuine objections against the location of the slaughter house in close proximity to his cattle breeding farm.
VI. INDECISION ON LOCATION OF AUXILIARY UNITS: It is not yet known whether a decision has been taken by the authorities on the location of the site for the rendering plant and garbage disposal and its impact on the local environment. Similarly the measures proposed to ensure absence of atmospheric pollution in the environment are still unknown. This state of affairs indicate that the relevant environmental experts and the people who will be affected by the industry are not at all taken into confidence unlike in the developed democratic countries of the West.
VII. UNRELIABILITY OF MEASURES FOR POLLUTION CONTROL: It is surprising that while the chairman is reported to have agreed with the condition, perhaps laid down by Pollution Control Board, that there should not be over-flow of effluent that would gain access into the nearby drinking water sources like Cholavaram lake, he could not spell out what concrete steps are proposed to be taken to achieve that objective on the basis of proven technology under Indian conditions. It has also been suggested that the Corporation authorities shall agree to provide for alternative effluent disposal methods, if the measures adopted proved to be defective or deficient at a later date. It means that the officials are not sure that their proposed measures are really safe and reliable. In our daily life,we find that even a layman seeks professional advice from a lawyer on legal affairs and a doctor on medical matters and not vice-versa. Such a sorry state of affairs indicates that the project authorities must have presented the project as a faith accompli and the officrs had perhaps no option except to lend their unwilling consent. As such, the procurement of a no objection certificate from the committee on industries that never seems to have consulted all the concerned environmental experts does not give a guarantee that there will not be any public health hazards due to the siting of the slaughter house at Koduvalli.
VIII. HAZARDS INSPITE OF TREATMENT: As 1.5 million litres of wash water a day is proposed to be treated and used for irrigation on clayey soils, there is a danger of water-logging, leading to abundant breeding of mosquitoes that inevitably cause frequent epidemic outbreaks of Malaria, Brain-fever and Filaria in the locality. The effluents treated by anaerobic and aerobic plants are bound to contain considerable amounts of organic and inorganic matter including grease particularly under the existing conditions of the operation of such plants in India. Consequently the soil layers become sick after prolonged irrigation resulting the stagnation of effluents with the concomitant gradual over-flows inevitably joining the Redhills lake not only during the storms but also at other times.
Mere spending of lakhs of rupees on effluent treatment will not be in tune with the basic environmental protection philosophy since pollution abatement basically envisages preventive action as against curative measures which impose not only an avoidable burden upon the poor tax payer but also prove costly, ineffective and counter productive in the long run. In support of the frequent failure of the sophisticated pollution control technology in India, mention may be made of major chemical, distillery, fertilizer and paper plants that have installed pollution control equipments worth crores of rupees but failed to produce effluents that confirm to standards prescribed by Pollution Control Boards for ensuring safety of surface water courses.
IX. INVEITABLE POLLUTION INSPITE OF CONSULTANTS: Since a liquid flows from a higher level to a lower level, the treated but yet harmful effluents let on the clayey soil for irrigation mostly flow over the land and ultimately reach the nearby water-courses, which in this case happen to be the Cholavaram and Red Hills lakes.
The claim of the officials to have engaged renowned consultants of Bombay does not help to improve the watershed sanitation of the Cholavaram lake as international experts proved that in over land flow systems on clayey soil upto 80% of the effluent applied for irrigation will return as run-off. Such a return contains coliforms and other pathogens, even after treatment.
X. SITING AS A TOOL FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION: Since there are thousands of people and cattle in the villages around Koduvalli, the concerned state officials should have properly assessed the public health hazards arising from the location of this slaughter house and advised the Meat Corporation officials properly in selecting a suitable site on the sea-coast near Madras.
If the inland water courses, the pathogens and coliforms contained in the effluents will proliferate on a large scale and damage the natural water sources. But when such effluents are discharged into sea, the saltish environment thwarts the growth of such pathogens and coliforms but utilizes the organics and plant nutrients for increasing the population of prawns and fishes, resulting in the generation of more protein wealth from harmful organic wastes.
Having taken into consideration the inherent handicaps in pollution control from slaughter house all over the world and all the relevant factors that govern the selectionof site for such offensive trades, the international agencies like FAO and WHO laid down the criteria that slaughter houses should be located close to the sea or a large river but far away from human habitation not only to ensure hygienic conditions in the plant and out side but also the generate wealth from the wastes.
XI. SHIFTING SLAUGHTER HOUE TO ALTERNATE SITE: The Madras Corporation as early as 1957 published a report on the Madras city Water Supply Systems and their catchments wherein they have shown the plans of the areas that directly drain into the Cholavaram, Red Hills lakes. A mere glance even by an uninitiated individual into the environmental issues clearly shows that the proposed slaughter house glaringly stands within this catchment area. This by itself speaks volumes for the need to have a scientific and a serious second look into the matter as the drinking water of the city population and the army personnel, the health of the nearby villagers and their live-stock and the murra buffaloes of the Central Cattle Breeding Farm become vulnerable targets.
The selection of site at Koduvali is evidently based on considerations other than ecological conservation and public health protection, as envisaged in the Articles 47 to 51-A of the Constitution. The coast-line to the North of Ennore, and sites on rivers like Goovum intended for transport of noxious effluent discharge into the sea should have been thoroughly explored for location of this modern slaughter house that gets expanded in course of time. The present site does not provide even ground water nor is it good for proper treatment and disposal of effluents. Hence, there is a good case even today to shift the slaughter house from koduvalli and modify the structures under construction to locate a non-polluting electronics or electrical industry not only to protect the drinking water sources but also the cattle breeding farm and the environment of the local villagers.
XII. APPEAL FOR PUBLIC ENQUIRY: In view of the above scientific reasons and also the inherent handicap of the project authorities to appreciate the fundamentals of environmental planning aimed at Development without destruction, a slogan of the UNI appeal to the experts and officials not to mislead the Chief Minister who takes public health and welfare to his hart. On the other hand, I appeal to them to help the Chief Minister to refer this crucial issue to a committee of Environmental experts, including the experts of the Union Ministry of Defence, Agriculture and Environment Director of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute and Chairman of the Central Water Pollution Control Board so that they can hold a public enquiry and advise the state Government in the matter.
The enlightened citizens of Madras cannot be used as the Guinea-pigs by the officials and experts in their experiments to find whether even accidental pollution from a major offensive trade will cause any public health hazards and ecological disruptions in the region. By their inaction, they should not create an impression to others that they are willing partners in this naked rape of their natural eco-systems. The legal luminaries of Madras may have possibility for the conduct of a non-judicial enquiry into the matter. Since the health and welfare of even the future generations will be at stake, I appeal to the enlightened citizens of Madras to study the problems in depth and represent to the Government on the need to protect their health and environment as envisaged by the relevant provisions of our constitutions.
(Subsequently circulated by Prof.T.Shivjai Rao at the Press Conference organized by the Environmental Society at the office of the Environmental Society, Besant Gardens, Besant Avenue, Madras-600 000 on 7-9-1984 under the Chairmanship of Mrs.Radha Burnier, President of Theosophical Society, Adayar,Madras.)