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(Lanka-e-News-19.Oct.2013, 8.30PM) A grave disaster is in the creation in Kobiyagane Gurugodawatte area in Kurunegala much worse than that befell Rathupaswala by the diversion of the toxic waste water from the Norwegian –Sri Lanka Jiffy factory into the Deduru Oya . The officials of this factory are intimidating and threatening the employees who wrote letters in this regard , and following the injunction order obtained based on the several media reports . The huge devastation this Jiffy factory is precipitating had been revealed in detail in the letters . It is hoped that at least after reading this news report the eyes of the authorities will open. It is reported that several environmental issues have cropped up consequent to the operation of a coir treatment factory located in Kobeiyagane, Kurunegala. This BOI approved factory, situated adjacent to the Deduru Oya, releases all it’s waste water into the Deduru Oya thus leading to several problems. Consequent to the activities of Jiffy Products Sri Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, many environmental and health issues have arisen. With BOI approval in 2008, this factory established in a 35 acre extent, treats coir and thereafter exports the product to Norway. Its products include grow bags, coco blocks and coco dip which are plant propagation substrates used in greenhouses in Western countries. Although many companies in Sri Lanka export coir products, several problems have arisen since this factory refines the coir and thereafter exports it. Being a BOI approved factory, by exporting its products as raw material, results also in a loss of the benefits which should accrue to the country. Moreover, the intense effluvia from the coir treatment
process, which remains in the country, and the dumping of such waste by the factory and it’s resultant harm to the environment as well as human life is indeed quite a serious matter. Coconut husks and coir are exported from Sri Lanka for plant proportion in green houses in the USA, Japan and European countries, devoid of being subjected to any treatment process. Prior to utilizing these products as a cultivation medium, it’s saturation of potassium, sodium iron concentrates are examined and thereafter Calcium Nitrate is added to being the concentrate to an optimum level. The water that is disposed during this process is removed so that water does not seep into the ground and this waste water is added to the pure water and diluted and later allowed to flow through organic filters and purified properly and subsequently used for the cultivation of land. This is the authentic process adopted in these countries to refine coir. However, what is done by the Jiffy Factory is diametrically opposed to this process and is a harmful one. The Coir brought into these factories, is stored in large tanks, mixed with water and the Calcium Nitrate is spread. Thereafter the coir is washed and the waste water is removed, and the coir is spread out in open areas of the factory premises and thereafter sun dried. The collected waste water is stored in tanks and disposed of in three ways. One method is directly releasing such water into the Deduru Oya. This is done at nightfall and on rainy days. A portion of the remaining water is sprinkled onto the village roads which in fact are the access routes to the factory, twice a day, on the pretext of keeping down the raising of dust levels. The rest of the remaining waste water is utilized for the use of the model cultivation plots run by the factory. As a consequence of such extremely hazardous disposal of the waste water, a high concentration of Nitrate is spread out in the area. This in turn connects with the subterranean water sources and seeps into well water. Such water, has been utilized by the people living in the area, for almost 05 years, for drinking purposes. As a result of diverting water with such high nitrate concentration into the Deduru Oya, the community utilizing the river is compelled to undergo a grave situation. In the downstream area of the river, people living in the villages such as Gurugoda, Mawathagama, Makeliyawa, Embeleyagama, Bulana, Hathalawa, Pattiyadaluwaan and Wilagamanare are compelled to utilize this waste water for their daily routine, with a high Nitrate Concentration, which has been disgorged into the river by this factory without any direct treatment. As per the WHO and European Union prevailing standards for the use of potable water, one liter of water should contain less than 50 milligrams of Nitrate. According to the US and Chinese standards for potable water, one liter of water should contain no more than 10 milligrams of Nitrate. In such a context, the consequence of the Jiffy factory releasing waste water with such high concentration in to the subterranean water level as well as into the Deduru Oya, has sadly become a formidable challenge to the rights of the people of the areas and to become beneficiaries of their right to potable water and good health. Whilst Calcium Nitrate is utilized for the removal of the high concentration of potassium and
Sodium from the coir, and the Potassium Nitrate, Sodium Nitrate like the Calcium Nitrate thus formed from the admixture, is easily soluble in water without the need for any precipitant. As a consequence, the actions of the factory leads to the ground water as well as the Deduru Oya river becoming intensely polluted. One of the chief reasons for the USA’s Lake Eerie becoming a dead lake was the collection of Nitrate Iron concentrates. Life is destroyed as a consequence. With the increasing accumulation of the Nitrate content in the ground water as well as the Deduru Oya, the impact is the destruction of earth and water organisms. A further result of consuming water with a high Nitrate Concentration is that the populace living in the surrounding areas could fall prey to kidney related and digestive tract related long- term illnesses. The harm from this factory does not end here. The harm from the small coir particles emanating from this factory into the surrounding area, 24 hours a day, remains at a very high level. In a large area of the factory premises, coir is spread out and then sun - dried and in order to speed up the process, rear rakes affixed onto tractors and motor cycles are constantly spread and re spread. This results in coir dust and particles spread like a smoke in the surrounding area. This spreads throughout the surrounding area. Depending on the direction of the wind, the villages surrounding the factory, at various times of the day, are subject to being smothered by coir dust particles. As a result of the inhalation of such dust particles, children, infants and adults have been gravely affected by respiratory tract related illnesses. Quite a few of the residents stated that since the opening of this factory, there was a steady increase in respiratory tract related diseases in the area. In addition, wells in the area have become contaminated with the smoke of coir particles. To limit such damage, all the wells adjacent to the factory have been covered with netting. The people in the area also have problems in drying their clothes because of coir dust smoke particles soul lying them. If clothes are left out in an an open space for drying purposes, coir dust smoke particles are lodges in them and thus sully such items. The harassment of the people by this factory does not end here. The whole area resounds with the intense noise emanating from the machinery operating in the factory, throughout the day. Especially at night, this is at a very high level. In addition to the noise, the populace have also to put up with the high degree of the vibration of the pressing machines utilized for manufacturing coir blocks further affecting the quality of life of the community. The plight of the workers of the factory to is indeed awful. No person has been issued with hand gloves, face masks and other protective gear. As a result, when engaged in using Calcium Nitrate as well the coir drying process, workers are required to be exposed to dust. Thus, no youth are generally recruited to work in the factory, instead employment is given to the older men and women. The majority of them are affected by respiratory - tract related illnesses. The Coir product which is ready for exporting thereafter stored in container tanks and in order
to control the bacterial action, Methyl Bromide, which is considered harmful to the ozone layer is added in the factory premises itself, which is alarmingly dangerous. During recent times, the people affected by the harmful effects of this factory frequently resorted to various courses of action. The factory too has adopted various tactics to suppress such action. Employing the elders living around the factory,granting financial assistance to the Hengamuwa Maha Vidyalaya, giving funds for various activities of the Kobeigane Pradeshiya Sabha are some of the steps taken to thwart the public outcry against the factory from the people of the area. Thus, the people who have thus been victimized have fallen as victims to such pressure and remain innocent unable to raise their voices. They have become despondent by sacrificing their right to live freely in their own homeland to the factory. Currently, attempts are being made, to make a large lake in approximately a 05 acre stretch in the factory premise, adjacent to the Deduru Oya Reserve. The depth of the lake is 20 ft, and the soil which has been removed, has been piled up adjacent to the Deduru Oya Reserve. It is believed that this artificial lake has been dug up to store the waste water from the factory. According to the BOI 1978 Act No. 3, as amended by Act No. 3 of 2012, a BOI approved factory, can be granted a Environmental Authority protection permit only by that particular institution. For this purpose, the recommendation of the Central Environmental Authority is required. Since this factory is situated in the North Western Province, as per the North Western Province, Environment Charter No.3 of 1990, it must be recommended by the North Western Province Environmental Authority. Based on those recommendations, the Environmental protection license should be issued by the Board of investment. However, the North-Western Provincial Council Environmental Authority has issued a valid permit for this factory, No.2566/2012 effective 24.12.2012 to 23.06.2013. Following its expiry, once more, an Environmental Protection permit No. 2566/2013 RI effective from 24.06.2013 up to 23.12.2013 has been issued for a 06 month period. While it is indeed controversial that such a permit is being issued once every six months, so is the issuing of an Environmental Protection Permit for a BOI approved factory by the North-Western Provincial Council Environmental Authority. It is also questionable as to how an Environmental Protection Permit could be issued to such a factory causing so much harm the environment. In what manner could an a Environmental Protection permit be issued to a factory which dispels waste water devoid of any kind of treatment, spreads intense noise pollution to the surrounding areas, fanning harmful coir dust particles into the vicinity, utilizing harmful chemicals without adherence to any accepted norm or standard, that disregards the health of its own workers, which contaminates the ground water, soil and the Deduru Oya river, completely destroying the lives of those living around? During the last 05 years, the Environmental Protection Permit has been renewed on a yearly basis. This means that government institutions, in the presence of the money power of the factory owners’ have pawned both the environment as well as the free well being of the people.
According to the Section 98 (a) of the Criminal Procedure Code Of 1978, No.15, if any factory is being operated in any manner which is adversely impacting on the public’s health, it is possible following a presentation of facts before a Magistrate, to obtain a writ for the removal of the said factory, in order to alleviate such undue pressure on the public. According to sections 261 and 270 of the Criminal Procedure Code, any person who pollutes or contaminates a common public water source by effluvia is a wrong doer and the Police are empowered to take requisite action against such a person. Yet, when this factory has caused distress and illness to the public an rendering them helpless, the Police have proved incapable of responding. According to the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, the state should ensure the protection of the environment for the benefit of the people. Yet, up to this time not a single government institution has not come forward to take action against this factory which has acted in a manner which has destroyed the environment, thereby totally negating the public good. Instead, illegally permits have been issued to perpetuate such harmful acts. In order to operate a coconut product based factory, approval from the Coconut Development Board is a pre- requisite. The inability of this factory to obtain even this approval, means that it is a factory which destroys the country’s resources and thereafter exports harming the environment We ask the relevant authorities to conduct a thorough investigation regarding this situation and take the necessary action to either remove such a dangerous factory or ensure it adheres to the requisite standards. If not, in a few years, this factory will ensure that the entire surrounding area is so polluted it will not be possible for any living organism to exist.By Sajeeva Chamikara - Environment Protection Trust.