Plant Manufacturing Epigamia Yogurt Pollutes Water used by over 400 Villagers in Palghar
Pune: Jiya Pawar, a member of the gram panchayat from Nichole in Wada taluka of Palghar district, uses bottled water to bathe her 16-month-old baby boy. The 34-years-old said that her baby is allergic to the groundwater that her family uses to bathe. “We have a borewell to pump groundwater which is hard water. We cannot use it to cook food or drink. We buy two 30 litre water cans everyday for cooking, drinking and for bathing our babies,” she added.
Like Jiya, over 400 villagers in Nichole have the same complaint. Since Shri Krishna Farm (SKF), that produces cheese, paneer and yogurt, started its plant at the village two and half years ago, they have been facing the issue. Viju Pawar, Jiya’s husband, accused the plant for contaminating the groundwater. “Shri Krishna Dairy Farm discharges waste water from the plant without treatment in the village. The acidic water has contaminated the groundwater in the six to seven kilometre area around the plant,” he alleged.
SKF, founded by its Director Parag Shah, produces cheese, yogurt and paneer at its plant which is spread over 20,000 square feet. SKF provides yogurt to Epigamia, a venture known for selling greek yogurt, is owned by Drum Foods International Private Limited. The actor Deepika Padukone has invested in this brand, as have Danone Manifesto Ventures and Verlinvest.
Rohidas Pashte, a 45-year-old farmer, cultivates rice in the Kharif season and vegetables in Rabi on his 16 gunta plot (one gunta= 101.17 square metres), complained that the water pumped by his bore well at the farm is waste water which has an odour. “The plant lets out waste water during the monsoon over an area that affects over 12 acres of land, including mine. Half of the crop is bent or does not bear flowers, cutting down my income to half of what it used to be. It is a problem that all farmers in the area are faced with,” he alleged.
The villagers have written to the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), the tehsildar, district collector and also the local police station, on a number of occasions.
The letter, submitted to various departments by the residents of Nichole, said that SKF has dug up big ditches in which it discharges sewage water. The water has percolated and polluted the groundwater around the village, posing health problems like malaria and diarrhoea to the villagers.
After inspecting the plant, the MPCB had issued a show cause notice to the company on June 18, 2019. The notice pointed out that the dairy farm discharged sub-standard affluent outside the factory premises in a pond. It mentioned that a sludge drying bed was not commissioned, there was no permanent pipeline connection to the effluent treatment plant, that the effluent accumulated at the treatment plant was “septic” and causing “smell nuisances” and that wood was being used to heat the water.
The sewerage water discharged has a pH level of 8.10, a number at the higher end of the standard limits which allow for a pH between 6.5 and 8.5. The water has a chloride level of 2,530 mg/litre against a standard level of 250mg/litre while the total hardness is 3,720mg/litre against the allowed 200 mg/litre. The discharged water also contained E-Coli and F-Coli bacteria.
The MPCB also observed that the company does not have permission from the Central Ground Water Authority to use groundwater for commercial purposes. The report remarked that the company violated “consent conditions” and was causing “serious pollution” in the area.
Parag Shah, the owner of the plant, refuted all the allegations saying that the plant had a sewage treatment facility to treat waste water. “I have installed it after the MPCB’s notice. Besides, I employ 30 tribal people from the area and I am thus providing employment,” he added.
Shah said he had offered to install a water purifier at the village but that the villagers refused his offer. “The villagers are unable to see my progress and started creating problems for me,” he said.
Sumit Pashte, a youth from the village said that the villagers opposed the idea of a water purification plant “as the issue is the pollution of groundwater. Once they install the purifier, villagers would remain indebted to the plant. They hire 20 local tribal people for non-skilled labour and claim that they provide livelihood to locals. But this is not the way to empower people,” he said.
“We have been fighting this battle for over a year now, but the owner is managing the police and other departments. After submitting its reports, the MPCB did not take action against the company. In the same way, when I tweeted about the problem, the local police called the villagers and asked them not to raise this issue,” he alleged.
Mahesh Paste, who runs a poultry farm on 3,000 square feet, adjoining the SKF, said he has to use more chemicals to purify the water from his bore well in order to use it. “As soon as it rained due to Cyclone Nisarga, the road leading up to my poultry farm got spoilt due to the discharge from SKF. I have stopped cultivating rice due to the lack of good water. Despite several complaints, no official takes it seriously,” he alleged.
The Pune police and the Food and Drug Administration had raided the retail outlet of SKF in Pune and found that the paneer being sold was of poor quality.
NewsClick tried to get responses from the MPCB, the Superintendent of Police, Palghar, and the District Collector of Palghar, but none of the concerned authorities responded to calls. The story will be updated with their response as soon as it is forthcoming.
Responding to the report, Epigamia CEO Rohan Mirchandani told Newsclick later over phone that:
"Epigamia would stop association with SKF if MPCB reports find that discharged sewerage from SKF is polluting ground water."
He, however, added that “we had done third party test of water which said it is not polluted. Besides, IIT Mumbai scientists had also done another test that also shows water is not polluted. We are also waiting for MPCB report."
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