Effluents discharged from the units at Calcutta Leather Complex in Bantala. Picture by Sanat Kr Sinha
A tech dream is drowning in a pool of effluents around 14km from Science City.
What was to be an information technology (IT) park adjoining the Calcutta Leather Complex in Bantala has become a dumping ground for pollutants that raise a stink even two kilometres away.
Around 130 acres were carved out of the 1,200-odd acres that comprise the leather complex in 2006 to set up the IT park. Seventeen companies, including Cognizant Technology Services, Tata Consultancy Services, Tech Mahindra and Patni Computers, purchased land for approximately Rs 75 lakh per acre. The facility was to be commissioned by the first quarter of 2010.
Three months into 2009, hardly 25 per cent of the 130 acres has been developed. The rest is a putrid wasteland. The stench of hydrogen sulphide cuts like a knife.
The site, bordered by canals for the outflow of waste from the complex, is an eyesore. The canals overflow with effluents, a toxic mixture of harmful chemicals like sodium sulphide, chrome and fat liquors. A layer of white salt — used to process leather — covers the thick, black water. Sludge swims in slow motion.
Biresh Singh, a senior official of Infinity Infotech, which had acquired four acres, said: “Work cannot start if pollution levels are so high. How can we make people work in these inhuman conditions?”
Three Tech Mahindra officials had taken ill in August last year after working at the site. They refused to return.
According to tannery owners, a leather complex and an IT park cannot exist side by side. “Leather is a polluting industry and IT requires a clean environment. Pollution can be controlled in a leather-processing unit but not eliminated,” said Ramesh Juneja, the president of the Calcutta Leather Complex Tanners’ Association.
So, whose idea was this ill-conceived IT park?
The tannery owners’ association blames the commerce and IT ministries for the flawed project and the private developer of the leather complex, ML Dalmiya & Company Pvt Ltd, for the high level of pollution.
But a company representative claimed all possible pollution-control steps had been taken. “The leather complex has a common effluent treatment facility with a daily capacity of 20 million litres. We are not to be blamed if tanneries don’t follow standard procedures and the pollution control board looks the other way.”
Biswajit Mukherjee, the chief law officer of the pollution control board, said the commerce and industries department had sought and been given “regulatory powers” to monitor pollution at the site. “Many units in the leather complex, however, continue to flout norms. We will immediately look into these cases.”
With the blame game continuing, work at the site has almost come to a halt. Cognizant, whose unit was to be commissioned this month, is in no hurry. A company official at the site, which has three multi-storeyed buildings, said: “Construction is almost complete but no one knows when our unit will become operational. This place is so polluted that the stench hits you long before you reach the site.”