effluents from a pharmaceutical unit have become a major cause of concern for Nilgiri district of Tamil Nadu.
Sterling Biotech (sb), located in Solayur village, produces gelatin and di-calcium phosphate from animal bones. It is owned by Rallis India Limited, which is a Tata enterprise. To wash the bones, sb takes water from the Sandinalla Dam as per an agreement with the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board.
The agreement states that the unit release the same amount of pure water through its effluent treatment plants as is taken from the dam. But local residents, including the Toda tribals, claim the industry releases untreated effluent, which amounts to about 5,000 litres per day. Nearly 10,000 families from villages near the unit, mainly comprising of the Todas, are the worst affected. Says Podili, a Toda tribal leader of Solayur, "Untreated effluents from the unit are affecting our grasslands, which provide food to our buffaloes. We depend on buffalo rearing for our survival.'
The effluents are also affecting the Pykara lake, a tourist spot. "High amount of hardness is found in the water resources of Pykara and the adjacent villages with huge amounts of calcium, magnesium, phosphate, sulphate, chromium and iron,' says Miroslawa Hirna, in an analysis of the lake water in 2002-03. Hirna, a Canadian, was a volunteer at the Rural Development Organisation in Ooty, Nilgiri.
"The effluents from the industry pass through Pykara, Glenmorgan and Singara lakes, and then into the Moyar and Bhavani rivers. Thus, they affect the whole Nilgiri biosphere,' says B G Krishnan of the Save Nilgiris Campaign, an ngo. The effluent-laced water also passes through the Mudumalai Sanctuary. "The forest department has written to the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board to cancel the contract. The company has no right to pollute the reserve forests and the sanctuaries,' says B Venkataswamy of the forest department.
sb could not be contacted for comment. But the assistant environment officer of Tamil Nadu pollution control board for Nilgiri division, K Kamaraj, says, "If we find the effluents exceeding the segregation limit of 2,100 milligramme per litre/per day, we will definitely take action against them. We also conduct regular monthly inspections in Pykara Dam.'