Achieving Zero Discharge in Textile Processing Units

All the 729 dyeing and bleaching factories in the city of Tirupur in Tamilnadu are lying closed as per the strict order of the Madras High Court in January this year. They will be allowed to reopen only when they are able to In order to reopen zero liquid discharge‚ a nearly impossible task, according to the factory owners. The High Court’s order came in the wake of strong protests by farmers of the region who had been badly impacted by the mindless discharge of the toxic effluent these dye houses have dumped into the local water. The petitioners said dyeing and bleaching units were discharging industrial effluents into the river, making the water unfit for irrigation and other purposes. They were successful in forcing the factory owners in 2009 to install effluent treatment plants to control the pollution (Supreme Court Order 2009). The $260 million investment made in the Common Effluent Treatment Plants proved ineffective and the pollution problem continued. The factory owners’ demand for allowing them about 6 to 9 months for ensuring the zero discharge requirement has been rejected by the High Court and even the government has not taken any urgent steps to resolve the matter in spite of the fact that closure of dyeing units in Tirupur has rendered about 1 lakh workers jobless and caused export revenue loss of Rs 1,100 crore as per its own estimates.
In pursuance of the orders of Madras High Court, water and power supply to 18 CETPs (Common Effluent Treatment Plants) with 754 dyeing and bleaching units were disconnected as they did not fulfill zero liquid discharge conditions for effluent treatment. Tirupur, which contributes USD 11.1 billion worth of garment exports, specially the knitwear, is passing through a very critical crisis. It is a very unfortunate state of affairs currently prevailing in Tirupur for every one – be it farmers, factory owners, workers, residents or even the government agencies. The industry associations claim that it is not possible to comply with the ‘zero-level discharge’ norm as even the ground water and well water contains some salt. However, it is really very strange to hear some factory owners to whisper that the only permanent solution is to discharge the pollution into the sea. Sending pollution to the sea will only delay the effects of the pollution, not end them. China experienced a similar textile pollution problem last year, and the country resolved the situation by permanently closing the most polluting textile dyeing facilities. There are reports of some manufacturers opening new factories in other distant areas and on private lands in the hope of evading regulators. Let’s hope this doesn’t become the long term “solution” for pollution.The central government in consultation with the Tamil Nadu Government has set up a 12-member inter-ministerial committee to address the financial, environmental and textiles related issues of the Tirupur textiles industry. The panel is headed by Textiles Secretary Rita Menon. The Union Textiles Ministry has also constituted a high-level committee – under the chairmanship of renowned agriculture scientist Prof. M.S. Swaminathan – to study the functioning of Arulpuram Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) and to advise the government on technical solutions for ensuring zero liquid discharge in the dyeing process, among other issues. Meanwhile, the Commerce and Industry Minister, Mr. Anand Sharma, has assured to find some interim short-term solution to reopen the closed textile units. But what India needs is a long term ‘one for all’ policy to tackle the menace of water pollution. Even at the global level, efforts have already been initiated by the Greenpeace International which is calling for zero discharge of all hazardous chemicals in the global textile supply chain. India’s exports would suffer immensely if the issue of pollution is resolved on an ad-hoc basis.
Managing Editor