City where the promise of good health turns to ash

Faridabad: Lack of coordination between local residents and industrial stakeholders causes key delays in addressing health-related problems

BY | Monday, 22 April, 2024
Representational image (PC: Paul Pastourmatzis/Unsplash)

Author Pinki Chahal is a Research Scholar at the Department of Economics, School of Behavioural and Social Sciences, and Durairaj Kumarasamy is Associate Professor and Head, Department of Economics, School of Behavioural and Social Sciences, Manav Rachna International Institute of Research and Studies, Haryana, India.


Regular stakeholder consultation is needed to address climate change and lessen pollution-related health impacts.

India’s air pollution kills more than 2 million people a year.

The heavily industrialised city of Panipat, around 80km north of Delhi, is a microcosm of a far wider problem.

The city, which is home to more than 20,000 industries and 300,000 workers at sites that include eight Major Accident-Hazardous (MAH) industrial units, has an industrial-sized problem with its citizens’ health.

There has been an unprecedented spike in cases of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure, skin and pulmonary diseases in the area.

About 93 percent of the households have a history of health issues over five years, according to a primary survey (based on previous reports) of households within 5km of major industrial clusters conducted by the authors from 2022-2023.

Respondents reported that about 20 percent of deaths were due to chronic illness, such as heart-related, non-communicable, diabetes, high blood pressure, skin allergies, and asthma.

About 87 per cent of the households reported a significant increase in medical expenditure, including frequent doctor visits. About 84 per cent of households had deteriorating health conditions.

Burning fossil fuels accounts for over 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. Industrialisation increases air pollution-related environmental health risks, causing respiratory disorders, asthma, heart and lung disease, cancer, and reduced cognitive function in children.

Since 2015, low- and middle-income countries have accounted for more than 90 percent of all pollution-related fatalities worldwide. India is third among 100 most air polluted cities globally. Eighty-three of the most polluted cities are in India.

Panipat is in the top 10 percent of 690 air-polluted districts in India and 11th among industrial areas in India due to its highly polluted environment.

The effect the pollution from these operations is having on the population would take your breath away.

In Khukhrana village, for example, one elderly woman with diabetes and high blood pressure lost vision in her left eye in 2023. Her case is just one of thousands.

The source of their suffering: polluted groundwater, air pollution and ash dust due to the proximity of hazardous industrial units.

Between 1983 and 1991, 84 hectares of land in Khukrana village were acquired by the Panipat thermal power station. More than half the families in the village sold their land in the hope of jobs and a decent price for their land.

The fly ash generated by the coal-fueled thermal plant’s power-generating activities is dumped in a landfill next to the village. From there the ash spreads into nearby areas, causing a spurt in non-communicable diseases and breathing-related ailments.

In 2022, a petition was filed against the station operators over hazardous industrial pollution activities, alleging illegal fly ash dumping that led to numerous diseases. It stated that 70 percent of people have asthma, 90 percent have eye illnesses, 70–80 percent have skin illnesses, and 30–40 people have died from cancer.

Research has established the relationship between air pollution and non-communicable diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.

Heavy industrial installations, including chemical and oil refineries, pose potential risks to humans, plants, property, and the environment as indicated by the District Disaster Management Plan.

But little is being done about it.

A survey by the Central Pollution Control Board revealed that 413 industries — approximately 45 percent of 924 gross polluting industries in Panipat — discharge untreated effluents into the Yamuna, the only river flowing through the district’s eastern boundary.

A 2010 survey revealed poor water quality in six Panipat city villages, with 36.12 per cent of households experiencing chronic illness. Pollution from cement and power plants was cited as a major factor. Medical visits by local residents soared, with 43.21 percent of residents in Assan Khurd and 43.33 percent in Khukrana reporting multiple visits to local hospitals for a high incidence of respiratory, eye and skin diseases.

Villagers have been waiting for decades for the promised relocation. Their homes have been damaged and their health has been severely impacted due to bad water, air, and other conditions. Even the community hall and primary health centre in Khukrana village are in disrepair.

Recently, the district administration acquired 40 acres (16 hectares) of land to relocate Khukhrana’s residents. But the families are still not settled or adequately compensated.

Additionally, the families’ assets and resources are losing value as hazardous waste is dumped in agriculture fields by industries. Our research also shows that about 38 percent of farmers reported the dumping of hazardous effluents in agriculture fields and 60 per cent reported a reduction in land property price due to infertility of land in various villages in Panipat city.

Industries often overlook the social and health costs resulting from industrial emissions and pollution from the manufacturing process, which are borne by the public. Lack of institutional monitoring and accountability further contributes to environmental degradation.

Lack of coordination between local residents and industrial stakeholders causes key delays in addressing health-related problems. Industries often fail to release funds for activities to demonstrate corporate social responsibility in local communities, resulting in aggravated health issues.

Promoting community-based approaches can generate capacity building for mitigating pollution-related health problems. Industries can take steps to ensure the wellbeing of residents by organizing health camps to detect diseases resulting from their production activities.

Commercial areas can be separated from residential areas for preventing health-related hazards. Incentives such as tax rebates can encourage industries to create a safe environment in their places of operation. Licences could be provided through bidding processes by encouraging competition among stakeholders, and allowing more firms to enter the market to combat pollution at lower costs.

The Indian government has increased funding for the Control of Pollution scheme, with an allocation exceeding Rs 4 billion in 2019 and Rs 7.5 billion in 2023-24. However, only half of the estimated Rs 4 billion allocated to states was effectively used, with most states barely using 50 percent of the funds.

The World Health Organization estimates that outdoor or ambient air pollution is linked to 4.2 million deaths yearly. Additionally, greenhouse gas emissions negatively affect the climate.

The relationship between rising emissions and human activities has not been widely acknowledged by society. Emitters are therefore typically not held accountable for the costs of pollution resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases. These costs are ‘externalized’ to society and referred to as market failures by economists.

The Polluter Pays Principle can be effectively implemented in developing nations. Pollution reduction techniques should not be based on compensation or penalties. It must be the responsibility of the producer to adopt the latest technologies that prevent the release of hazardous waste into the environment.

(This article is republished under Creative Commons licence by 360info™.)

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