New Delhi: On May 17, the pollution in Punjab’s Beas river water crossed the mark of crisis when countless fish and other aquatic life of various species died due to reduction in oxygen levels. This widespread ecological disaster happened due to the leakage of over 10,000 litres of molasses (a byproduct in sugarcane processing) from a sugar mill situated on its shore at Kiri Afghana village in Gurdaspur district. The incident also severely affected the river’s ecosystem, which according to Punjab Chief Wildlife Warden, Kuldip Kumar, will take years to recover.
Here are the 10 developments on this massive environmental disaster:
- Concerned about the pollution of Beas water and resultant death of marine life, Punjab’s Chief Minister Amarinder Singh warned against any laxity or leniency while probing the molasses leakage incident.
- The Chief Minister even constituted a high-powered committee under the chairmanship of Environment Minister O P Soni to suggest measures for cleaning of the Beas River, along with other rivers that flow through the state. The committee has been asked to submit its report within 10 days.
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- According to the investigation report prepared by the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), the mill had not only violated the provisions of the Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, but also the East Punjab Molasses (Control) Act, 1948 and the Factories Act, 1948. “The storage arrangements for the molasses were neither approved by the Excise Commissioner nor were these made as per the requirements of the Molasses Act,” the report further stated.
- According to the representatives of mill, they had made a temporary arrangement for the storage of molasses because of an increase in its production.
- The sugar mill which was shut down on May 17, a day after the spillage, will remain closed until all the pollution control measures are taken, said a PPCB order. The PPCB Chairman K S Pannu found the management of the mill was “negligent”. Holding the mill’s management responsible for the spillage, Mr Pannu ordered prosecution against the mill and filing of criminal complaint against the persons responsible for the offence.
- The Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) has also imposed a fine of Rs 5 crore on the sugar mill. Notably, this is the first time that the PPCB has fined any industry this large an amount for causing pollution.
- The money will be utilised for conservation and restoration of ecology of Beas River, including rejuvenation of aquatic life, said Kahan Singh Pannu, Chairman, Punjab Pollution Control Board.
- Seeking a strict action against the sugar mill owner for the leakage, the state’s Wildlife Department filed a petition in the Batala Court under the relevant provisions of the Wildlife Act. The Wildlife Department is also monitoring the long term effect on the behaviour of Indus dolphins, which were sighted in the river on May 19, two days after the molasses leakage incident.
- To achieve sustainable results of ecological rejuvenation, a 5-year action plan will be prepared by Department of Forest, Department of Wildlife, Department of Water Resources, the PPCB, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana and Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Ludhiana.
- Following the molasses leakage into the river, the deputy commissioners of the affected districts issued an advisory asking the residents not to eat or sell the dead fish and serve the river water to cattle for drinking, and stop bathing in the river. “The government is working to ensure the proper supply of potable drinking water to people living in Faridkot, Muktsar and Fazilka districts where the water supply was canal based,” said one the officials.
With inputs from PTI