Suneet connects me to Rohit Prajapati, a well-known activist in Gujarat. He’s been taking a stand over industrial pollution for many years. He’s determined that his activities stay independent and impartial, hence they have no donors and do not operate as an NGO. Rohit has got every bit as much energy and fire as I expected. On his desk sits a document, a point-by-point rebuttal of a government proposal to relax the environmental regulations for new industries. He’s almost incandescent when we begin to discuss the new plans for “managing the environment” (versus protecting) and “good faith”.
Even in 2014, with free speech, environmental agitators still receive a hard time. Not because they’re wrong either. They’re a pain in the neck for industrialists. When I meet him, a civil defamation case is pending. He had written a condemnatory article about the state of waste treatment in Vapi, and the industry association have retaliated with a lawsuit. If convicted, he could spend up to two years in jail. While the Modi mood has swept India (I’ve barely had a single conversation that hasn’t mentioned the new president with fervour) Rohit remains firmly sceptical. and perhaps more problematically, critical of his book on climate change. Modi was state governor of Gujarat since 2001, so his environmental credentials should be on display. I defer to the excellent analysis here on the LSE blog.
I ask Rohit what should be the priority when developing technologies for remediation. He’s pretty firm that cost should not be number one priority. It should be the carrying capacity of the environment, not the bearing capacity of polluters. He thinks research should focus on “real” remediation, not beginning with an idea to make something cheap. He rails against the language of the modern world: feasible, practical, achievable (words we’re all guilty of using, right?) as they set norms that are ultimately underwhelming.
His next task is to compile a list of dangerous chemicals where they want to advocate a phase-out of production. From the remaining list of chemicals that need to be manufactured, he suggests that companies can only be allowed to commence operations when they show a valid means of dealing with waste. Again, like Reema, he argues for sector specific waste treatment works, clustering similar industries.
We set out in an auto rickshaw to an area of town where they are laying new pipes. Rohit says it won’t take long to spot the chromium from waste dumped by a hemachemicals plant nearby. We peer into the drain, where a man in shorts is standing knee deep, bailing out water from the bottom. Yellow dusty piles of excavated earth sit alongside the mouth of the pit.
A voice cries out, “I wouldn’t touch that! It is dangerous!” then a red-anoraked gentleman introduces himself as Shembhui. He invites us into his home nearby for a glass of lemonade. “This whole area used to be a pond for the chemicals plant. Here you can see the former wall.” He points to the fence line at the perimeter of his house. There’s a court case pending, he says, and maybe after that they’ll get some progress on removing the waste, especially as the water tank for the region sits on the site of the former factory.