By Supratim Dey
All tea factories in Assam which are situated within ‘No Development Zones’ (NDZ) as well as in the range of 500 metres from the coordinates of NDZs will soon have to go green or else will face closures. The Pollution Control Board of Assam (PCBA) has asked these factories to use natural gas as fuel instead of burning fossil fuels. Consequently, the PCBA has directed the Assam Gas Company Limited (AGCL) to arrange supply of natural gas to these tea factories on priority basis within November 6.
This directive of PCBA is in compliance with the judgement of National Green Tribunal, dated September 7, 2012, which asked the former to ensure that no tea processing unit burn fossil fuel to run factories within NDZ and take immediate steps to stop their operations. The judgment was aimed at protecting the ecology in Kaziranga National Park and in its vicinity, which is highly eco-sensitive.
There are at least 22 tea processing units, in addition to 64 other factories, which have been affected by the judgment of the National Green Tribunal. To switch to natural gas as fuel, the tea factories will be required to make investment of Rs. 15 to 30 lakh, depending of the size and capacity of the factory.
“We are very much worried because it encompasses 22 tea factories manufacturing 22 million kgs of tea annually involving the fate of more than 40,000 workers and more than 3,000 small tea growers are dependent on these tea factories by way of supplying green leaf”, said Bidyananda Barkakoty, chairman of North Eastern Tea Association (NETA).
“The tea factories use coal normally in their boilers. The sulphur content of such coal is very high and the air pollution therefrom could pose a great threat to environment,” observed the Tribunal.
The focal point of the judgement a notification dated way back in 1996 of the Union ministry of environment and forests declaring an area of 15 km around Numaligarh Refinery as a “No Development Zone”. This notification has been in disuse since inception and instead a number of industrial undertakings, infrastructural facilities, townships etc. have all along come up in the area with the express approval of the concerned authorities of both the central and state governments.
However, the tea industry as welcomed the directive of PCBA and urged AGCL to take immediate steps to supply natural gas to these factories.
“We earnestly request the AGCL and the state government to take immediate steps so that the concerned tea factories are supplied with natural gas within the stipulated time”, said Rajib Barooah, chairman of Assam Tea Planters’ Association (ATPA).