Following a report that appeared in these columns on January 13, 2008 about an oil spill from Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd, which contaminated irrigation wells in the Atturkodi area, a team of officials from the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) visited the spot.

During their visit, the air was heavy with the pungent smell of hydrocarbons. However, the inspecting officials appeared not to have smelt it.

Complaints galore

The Nandini river that flows past Soorinje was teeming with fish ten years ago, says Sundar Shetty (60), a farmer. “But, ever since these companies came, the fish catch has become negligible,” he added.

Upendra Hosbet, president of the Parisaraasakta Okkuta, says the fish catch in the Arabian Sea has also come down.

On December 8, 2007, a report appeared in these columns about the presence of highly toxic water in several wells around the BASF factory at Kulai.

Skin allergies

Imtiaz Kana, a resident, also said that several residents had developed skin allergies and bowel disorders. During the visit of a team of experts from the Ministry of Environment and Forests to the villages around Bajpe on February 3, 2008, several farmers complained that their yield was getting affected adversely owing to the effluent discharge from nearby industries. The company, however, denied the allegations.

Despite claims and media reports on the issue, the labs of the National Institute of Technology-Karnataka, Surathkal, and the College of Fisheries, Mangalore, which are authorised to conduct pollution tests, never found anything amiss.

CPCB’s finding

All that, however, changed in December 2009, when the Central Pollution Control Board found that Mangalore is the most polluted industrial city in the State and one of the 32 most polluted industrial cities in the country. In fact, Minister for Environment and Ecology J. Krishna Palemar told The Hindu, “We have lost the faith in the NIT-K, the College of Fisheries, and even our own (KSPCB) officials.”

Conflict of interest

Pointing out the contradictions, Mr. Palemar said that the air and water samples of MRPL were supposed to have been tested by the Department of Chemical Engineering at NIT-K. Test reports had to be sent to the KSPCB directly.

Instead, the samples were tested at MRPL’s own lab and G. Sriniketan of NIT-K merely signed the results before forwarding them to the KSPCB, the Minister said. Surprisingly, said Mr. Palemar, the Technical Advisory Committee of the KSPCB, which this report had to be submitted to for evaluation, was also headed by Mr. Sriniketan. “How can the same person compile the report and evaluate it too,” he asked.

Sandeep Sancheti, Director of NIT-K, said that ever since he took over, he had brought about certain changes in the system. While he did not elaborate on the changes, he confirmed that an internal investigation was on into the affairs of Mr. Sriniketan, who also has other charges of fraud and corruption against him.

H.R.V. Reddy, Head, Department of Aquatic Ecology and Environment at the College of Fisheries, which monitors the sea water off the coast here, said that in the 25 years of his department’s existence, it had never found any hydrocarbons in the sea.

However, a National Institute of Oceanography report confirms the presence of hydrocarbons and contradicts the report of the College of Fisheries. To this, Mr. Reddy said, “The sea water is very dynamic. Test results depend heavily on the time of the day, month and year, at which the test is conducted.”

Mr. Palemar said that a fresh set of tests would be conducted across the region, soon. “This time we will not take any help from local agencies,” he added.