Asia-Pacific, Biodiversity, Environment, Headlines

INDIA: Industrial Pollution Brings Crocodile Tears

DANDELI, India, Dec 7 2011 (IPS) - Industrial pollution from a paper manufacturing factory in one of India’s most precious biodiversity hotspots is wreaking havoc on the local ecology, driving up the population of wild crocodiles in the area while simultaneously destroying the creatures’ habitat and food supply.

The Kalinadi, a river that flows through the thick wet evergreen rainforests in the Western Ghats on India’s West coast, has become a receptacle of untreated effluents from the West Coast Paper Mills, attracting unnaturally high numbers of marsh crocodiles in a five kilometre stretch of river along the source of toxic industrial discharge.

Although the forestry department has failed to conduct a regular census of crocodiles in Dandeli, Sunil Pawar, the deputy conservator of forests in the Dandeli Anshi Tiger Reserve, estimates that at least 40- 60 crocodiles live in a stretch of river where hitherto there had been no more than 15.

“The presence of so many crocodiles in a relatively small stretch of the river is a bio indicator of the river’s pollution,” T.V. Ramachandra, a limnologist, or fresh water scientist at the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the renowned Indian Institute of Science (IIS) in Bangalore, added.

While the scavenger reptiles appear to be thriving for the time being, the untreated industrial pollutants will soon poison the surrounding area, making it virtually uninhabitable for crocodiles and other wildlife.

“Crocodiles need an undisturbed, unpolluted aquatic habitat filled with plenty of prey including insects, fish, frogs, birds, rodents, reptiles and larger animals, most of which will either be killed or driven away by the poison,” Rom Whitaker, India’s premier herpetologist at the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, told IPS.


K.L. Chandak, executive director of West Coast Paper Mills, defended the company’s actions, claiming, “We have adapted our paper manufacturing technology to substantially decrease effluents flowing into the river.”

“This new treatment plant complies with standards stipulated by both the Central (federal) Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB),” he added.

But in sharp contradiction to this declaration, Manoharan, technical officer of the CPCB in Bangalore, told IPS, “The CPCB’s Environmental Surveillance Scheme stipulates random (industrial) testing for every quarter in each state; we have not conducted a study of the Kalinadi pollution in the last three to five years.”

Indeed, investigations undertaken by IPS found pollutants including calcium, magnesium, sodium, chloride, nitrate, sulphate and very high levels of biological oxygen demand (BOD) and chemical oxygen demand (COD) in the river, causing water pollution that endangers the entire food chain.

“Pollution of any water body is as bad for crocodiles as it is for aquatic flora and fauna and is ultimately highly detrimental to their long-term survival,” Whitaker told IPS.

Imbalance of either numbers or habitat can also have deleterious effects on the sex ratio of these endangered reptiles.

Widespread pollution, rampant mismanagement

The West Coast Paper Mills is an example of India’s controversial industrial development model, which has long advocated anthropocentric approaches to development such as slashing forests, endangering wildlife and exhausting natural resources in the name of ‘employment opportunities’ for humans.

Deciduous and wet evergreen rainforests such as those in Dandeli were lacerated in the 1950s and 1960s to create Bamboo plantations for pulpwood, the raw material used for paper manufacturing. Now, although industries like the West Coast Paper Mills have shifted their reliance from bamboo to eucalyptus, they continue to occupy and pollute huge swathes of nature in order to remain close to freshwater supplies.

Meanwhile, not a single state official has come forward to clamp down on the ecocide unfolding across one of India’s few remaining biodiversity hotspots.

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, IPS obtained official documents claiming, “KSPCB’s biannual 2011 report states that effluent discharge has decreased; the BOD and COD indicators are showing a decrease thanks to improved methods of production and waste treatment.”

The KSPCB has also approved the industry’s proposal to manufacture precipitated calcium chloride (PCC), which involves satellite tracking of pollution. This new system effectively renders field inspections by the pollution control board obsolete, allowing the state to abdicate all regulatory responsibilities.

Ramachandra dismissed the report, stressing, “The values expressed by the KSPCB neither reflect the conditions on the ground nor do they compare to our own standards. This is a report worthy of rejection.”

The Kalinadi also winds its way through a recently declared tiger reserve, meriting the highest level of administrative protection but despite powerful laws like the 1986 Environmental Protection Act and the 1980 Forest Conservation Act, authorities have not relocated this toxic industry.

The rainforest is home to a huge array of wildlife including black panthers – endemic to the region – tigers, leopards, wild dogs, bear, pangolins, bats, Langur monkeys, the giant Malabar squirrel, jackals, gaur (Indian bison), a variety of deer, over 200 varieties of endemic birds, butterflies, scores of insects species, reptiles such as the king cobra, python, pit viper and monitor lizard, freshwater terrapins in the river, and further downstream, estuarine dolphins and fresh water otters as well as a vibrant and diverse community of fish – all of which are now under threat.

The paper industry has also put human communities at risk: people in Dandeli rely on the river for their most basic sanitary and nutritious needs and will be hard pressed to find alternative sources of fresh water if the river becomes too polluted for their daily use.

Meanwhile, the growing population of wild crocodiles has added another layer of danger to the locals’ already hazardous lives.

“Misguided youngsters seeking thrills have fallen to the depths of the river where hungry crocodiles hunt them,” Kanak Bhat, a senior reporter who has covered the Dandeli for over four decades, told IPS.

If this threat continues, villagers with no alternative will end up massacring the endangered creatures.

Furthermore, when cattle fall into the river and are devoured by crocodiles, farmers get no compensation from the forest department.

On top of all of this, air pollution has kept ecotourists at bay, stripping scores of people who rely on the tourism industry for employment of a steady income.

By breeding in the pollution, crocodiles have effectively exposed not only the toxic pollutants in the environment but also the deadly cocktail of corrupt politics, ineffective state bureaucracy and industrialism, for which India’s wildlife is paying the price.

(END)

 
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