Kerala government has been given one month time to submit a reply to the Supreme Court in a case pertaining to pollution caused by plywood manufacturing units in Vengola panchayat in Ernakulam district. The case was taken up by the apex court two days ago after it received a report submitted by the Central Empowered Committee (CEC).

The report was submitted in September this year after conducting spot inspections and public hearing. The CEC headed by P.V. Jayakrishnan was appointed by the Supreme Court in a special leave petition filed by a resident of Vengola, T.K. Kurien. The commission prepared the report after visiting 20 units in the panchayat and finding out whether they had the licences and permissions from appropriate authorities.

One of the key observations of the committee was that 277 wood-based industries existed in the gram panchayat with an area of 36.05 sq.km. and a population of 36,116. Only one of them had obtained written permission from the Revenue authorities for conversion of agricultural land to set up industrial units, thus violating the provisions of Kerala Land Utilisation Order, 1967.

The report said 180 units did not have permission from Fire & Safety Department; 179 had no valid consent to operate from Kerala Pollution Control Board; 172 had not obtained No-Objection Certificate from the District Medical Officer; 132 were functioning without licence from local panchayat; and 121 had not registered under Indian Boilers Act, 1923, and Factories Act, 1948.

The government will have to explain its stand, especially when so many industrial units were functioning without the mandatory permits. It will be difficult for the government to support the units which had violated norms.

The CEC had recommended stringent action against the polluting units. “The State government should review the status of compliance of the applicable Acts, rules, regulations and orders by the wood-based industries and take necessary follow-up action, including permanent/ temporary closure of the defaulting wood-based units,” the CEC report said.

A note provided to CEC by the Central Pollution Control Board said emissions from the plywood industry impacts the immediate surroundings and becomes ominous when there is cluster of plywood manufacturing units in close proximity to each other. The combined impact of all the units in the vicinity will be responsible for changes in the air quality.

“During the site visit, it was observed that formaldehyde residue/waste generated by many plywood units was being drained through a small outlet into a water channel.” The presence of formaldehyde, even in traces, is highly toxic to human health and its long-term adverse impact could be deleterious, the report said quoting the Central Pollution Control Board.

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