VIJAYAWADA: Villagers of Akkireddygudem in Musunuru mandal, Eluru district, are up in arms demanding the closure of Porus Laboratories’ factory, after a blast in its reactor on Wednesday killed six and injured 12 others. The villagers said the pharmaceutical company had been violating norms, resulting in environmental pollution.
When TNIE visited the village on Sunday, the irate villagers said they were living in fear and would go to any extent to ensure the shutdown of the plant. “Fear has become a constant factor here. Despite repeatedly complaining to the management to stop their operations as the water released from the unit is leading to soil and water pollution, there is no response from them. Now, six people were killed and 12 are seriously injured in the blast,” Nageswaramma, a villager, told TNIE.
Recalling Wednesday’s tragic incident, she said, “We left the village leaving everything behind for our safety when we heard the blast sound from the unit. No one understood what had happened until morning. If they (management) fail to ensure the safety of our lives, they should leave the village and set up their plant in an industrial zone,” she said.
Akkireddygudem village, located 78 km from Vijayawada, has around 1,500 families. More than 70 per cent of them are dependent on agriculture and allied activities. The villagers alleged that the Porus Laboratories handles hazardous chemicals and gases, polluting the air and water in the surrounding areas.
“The unit does not have an effluent treatment plant. Instead of treating the waste as per Pollution Control Board (PCB) norms, they are releasing it directly to the nearby agricultural fields. The wastewater is released at two places near the unit, thus leading to groundwater contamination,” Panthangi Nagaraju, a tenant farmer, said. Nagaraju said he stopped cultivating in his four of the seven acres of land he has as he incurred losses due to water contamination.
People complained that many villagers have been suffering from renal and lung-related ailments, gastric problem, calcium deficiency and other diseases after consuming contaminated water and breathing the polluted air. “Several youngsters are suffering from gastric and stomach-related ailments. The average lifespan of the villagers has dropped below 60 years and many are leaving the village,” a villager alleged.
Porus Laboratories took over the plant, which was a sugar factory earlier, some 20 years ago and started manufacturing paracetamol tablets. Now, it has 18 products.The unit manufactures Bisphenol Acetophenone, P Phenolphthalein Bisphenol, tetramethyl Bisphenol acetone, 4-Nitro-N-Methyl pthalimide, celecoxib, metformin hydrochloride, 4-HBN, Sertraline hydrochloride and other pharmaceutical intermediates and many chemicals that are used in the preparation of drugs.
Another villager Burma Rupesh, who had lodged complaints with the PCB against the factory twice in the past, said the management did not mend their ways though the PCB officials issued notices, asking them to follow safety protocols during their operations and instructing them to rectify the lapses in treating the effluents by segregating them into High Total Dissolved Solids (HTDS) and Low Total Dissolved Solids (LTDS).
“When my mother took ill in 2016, I collected water samples from the village and got them tested. I found high pH and presence of chemicals in the water. Instead of separating the effluents and disposing it as per norms, the management is releasing it into the nearby fields. The company had also failed to use the corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds for the village,” he said.
Rangamma, mother of B Kiran Kumar who was killed in the blast, urged the state government and officials concerned to shut down the company immediately. However, PCB officials refuted the allegations. PCB Eluru range environmental engineer KV Rao said the plant has an effluent treatment plant on its premises with zero discharge technology.