Monday, February 21, 2011

Court order to shut down polluting textile units in South Indian city

Hundreds of textile bleaching and dyeing mills in the South Indian city of Tirupur have been ordered to shut down by the Madras High Court in response to public petitions. Tirupur is one of the largest textile manufacturing hubs in Asia where most multinational retailers have suppliers.

Farmers groups have alleged that textile units dumped untreated effluent in the Noyyal river which farmers rely on for irrigation.

The court order also includes closing down Common Effluent Treatment Plants and Integrated Effluent Treatment Plants in the area. These plants were set up by the government agencies mostly to treat wastewater from textile mills. In a previous order in 2006, the court had directed these plants to achieve "zero liquid discharge" level. In the latest court filing, it is alleged that these units failed to comply with the court order and continued to operate and pollute the area.

Textile industry associations have banded together to put pressure on the government to allow effluent discharge until an acceptable solution is found. Farmers lobby is opposed to any leniency toward polluting textile industry.

Observers say that the industry has not taken its responsibility for wastewater treatment seriously in spite of repeated campaigns by farmers in the past. The industry is accused of destroying large tracts of farmland by contaminating water and land by dumping untreated toxic wastewater.

There have been reports in the past alleging that though textile units install wastewater treatment plants to meet retailers' code of conduct requirement, they seldom operate these plants because running treatment plants costs money! Government inspectors don't mind looking the other way as long as their palms are greased.

Tirupur is a key sourcing destination for knitted garments for a number of large and small multinational retailers. None of them has reacted publicly so far to the developments in Tirupur.

The city's textile industry also provides thousands of jobs. These jobs are now at risk as hundreds of units are now closed due to the court order. Trade unions have given a call to shut down the entire city tomorrow to put pressure on the government to find a solution so that units can be opened and jobs can be saved.

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