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Friday, December 21, 2012






1.        In the beginning of October 2012, the BCL Distillery at village Machhana/ Sangat Kalan, started production. The Effluent Treatment Plant was not yet commissioned. So the owners started stealthily discharging the toxic effluents of the distillery, in adjoining Lasara Drain, during night hours. These toxic effluents, giving extremely pungent odour, spread in an area of about 3 Kms in and around the drain. A large number of people, especially women & children suffered head-ache, vomiting and other physical problems. The Pollution Control Board and District Administration were informed. But they could not dare to move against the distillery owners, who wield considerable financial & political power.

2.                  On 6th October, the people from village Machhana held protest demonstration and blocked the road leading to the distillery. They also formed an Action Committee to fight against this menace. But the District Administration and the distillery owners did not bother. On 8th October, people blocked Bathinda-Dabwali highway. Sh. Rajinder Mittal – owner of the Distillery came to meet the people. He conceded his mistake in releasing the toxic water in Lasara Drain, but refused to give a written undertaking, not to do in future. Meanwhile a team of Pollution Control Board also visited the site and recorded violations of Section 25 & 26 of the Water Act, 1974. It also found violation of the conditions imposed by the Expert Appraisal Committee, Ministry of Environment & Forests, Govt of India at the time of granting Environmental Clearance.

3.          Next day a large number of people, including women, students and teachers of nearby Clay India International School and Govt Elementary School, shopkeepers and representatives of various Youth Clubs of the area, again blocked Bathinda-Dabwali Road. BKU (Ekta) Ugrahan and Naujwan Bharat Sabha also joined them. Police from Nandgarh & Sangat Police Stations were deployed in good numbers as the flow of traffic on this National Highway was completely disrupted. Feeling the heat, Distt Administration sent Sh. Hukam Chand Deepak Naib Tehsildar and Sh. Malkit Singh DSP (Rural) Bathinda to the blockade site to meet the protesters. A memorandum signed by the protesting people was handed over to them amidst the declaration that the agitation will be further intensified if their demands are not settled within seven days. The officials promised early action and a meeting with the Deputy Commissioner to sort out the issues. On this assurance the blockade was lifted. Under the impact of this struggle, which was widely covered by the print media, the distillery was temporarily closed.

4.            The Association for Democratic Rights, Bathinda on receiving reports about these protests, deliberated upon the issue. Being of the considered view that right to a clean environment is an integral part of the right to life guaranteed under the Indian Constitution, it constituted a Fact Finding Team to study the situation and the peoples’ concerns, role of state machinery – especially environment protection agencies and the distillery owners and make appropriate recommendation to remedy the situation. The Team consisted of the following members:

I.                    Sh. Bagga Singh Principal President AFDR Punjab
II.                 Sh. N.K.Jeet Advocate.
III.               Sh. Ranjit Singh Principal (Retired)
IV.              Sh. Pritpal Singh Retired Bank Manager
V.                 Dr. H.S. Ranu

5.          The Team visited Machhana village and inter-acted with the residents and members of the Action Committee. The Team, accompanied by Action Committee members visited the place from where the toxic effluents from the distillery were discharged in Lasara Drain, tell-tale signs of which were present there. Evidently the persons who were pumping out the toxic water, were served with heavy dose of liquor, as a large number of empty liquor bottles manufactured in this distillery, lying scattered there indicated. A tree was found uprooted on the bank of drain, evidently under the impact of toxic water pumped out with power motors. Thick dry layer of toxic waste was present on the banks of Lasra drain, indicating the path through which the water was pumped out from the distillery. The distillery owners had made out an opening in the wall adjoining the drain; to facilitate laying of pipes for this purpose. This opening was however closed after the visit of Pollution Control Board officials. Discharging of toxic waste in Lasara Drain was in clear violation of the firm commitment made against so doing by the distillery owners.

6.                  The Team also saw the dump where fly ash produced daily by the distillery is being stored in the open in direct violation of the condition imposed by Expert Appraisal Committee stipulating that it should be stored separately as per CPCB guidelines so that it should not adversely affect the air quality, becoming air borne by wind or water regime during rainy season by flowing along with the storm water. Direct exposure of workers to fly ash was to be avoided and it was to be transferred to brick manufacturers in covered trucks. But it was being transported in tractor-trolleys openly and handled by workers without any protective devices.

7.                  To feel the intensity of the pollution being caused by Lasara Drain, the Team traveled along its banks for about 45 minutes. The situation was extremely sickening, suffocating and unbearable.

8.                  Just adjoining the Lasara Drain and the distillery, in the lap of its highly polluted environment, there is a Dalit colony, where about 50-60 families live. There is also an elementary school up to 8th level, where about 400 students are studying. The environment must be having a devastating effect on the health of children. The Education Department has never thought of shifting this school from here to a safer place. The Dalit families are also cursed to live there, in the absence of any alternative accommodation.

9.                  One of the conditions imposed by the Expert Appraisal Committee while granting Environmental Clearance to this Distillery was to have a “Dedicated parking facility for loading and unloading of material …… in factory premises. Unit should develop and implement good traffic management system for their incoming and outgoing vehicles to avoid congestion on the public road.”  But the Fact Finding Team found that there is a 4 Karam (22 feet) wide village circular road (Pahi) connecting the distillery with the village. A truck filled with rice-bran barely passes through it. If it is to cross any other vehicle, it must trespass in the adjoining fields, damaging the standing crops. The heavy vehicular traffic generated by the distillery has damaged small bridges on water-channels, electric poles along the road, causing great inconvenience to the villagers. On 12th October, a truck loaded with raw material for the distillery struck against an electric pole, resulting in disruption of electric supply to the village. Due to this, electric appliances in many houses got damaged. The villagers in protest, gheraoed the truck and held demonstration against the distillery management. They alleged that such accidents are almost daily routine. The distillery owners, on the other hand adopted a belligerent attitude, claiming that it was a public road and he has every right to use it as he wishes, flouting the condition of developing and implementing good traffic management system for the incoming and outgoing vehicles and to avoid congestion on the public road. The villagers told the Fact Finding Team that the way from village Phirni to the distillery gate is not a public road but a path carved out for accessing the agricultural fields and the distillery owner has no right to use it as the land under his occupation is situated in the revenue limits of another village - Sangat Kalan.  But the distillery owner is illegally & forcibly encroaching upon the adjoining lands to facilitate movement of trucks & other heavy machinery to the distillery.

10.              Some members of the Team again inter-acted with the members of Action Committee and Gram Panchayat Machhana, when they came to Bathinda for meeting the Deputy Commissioner. A copy of the memorandum submitted by them to the Deputy Commissioner on that day was obtained.

11.              The Fact Finding Team under the leadership of Sh. Bagga Singh State President AFDR, met with the Asstt Environmental Engineer PPCB Bathinda. She was very cooperative and discussed the matter in a transparent manner, within the constraints of service rules. Some facts emerging from this discussion are:

a.                  The Expert Appraisal Committee MOEF Govt of India, granted Environmental Clearance to both these distilleries, in utter disregard to the open opposition by the residents of the area, demonstrated and put on record in the course of Public hearing.

b.                 That the PPCB did not send any written notice and Environmental Impact Assessment Report, which was to form the basis of discussion in the public hearing, to the Gram Panchayats in and around village Sangat Kalan such as Machhana, Dunnewala, Bhukhianwali, Mallwala, Gehri Buttar, Pucca Kalan, etc.

c.                  The BCL distillery has been temporarily closed due to violation of Environmental Protection laws by its management.

12.              After this the Fact Finding Team, with a view to obtain the version of the management of BCL Industries & Infrastructure Ltd, sent an E-Mail on 21.10.2012, listing the peoples’ concerns about the distillery and requested them to send their comments on these concerns. Up till now the management has not sent any reply. The peoples’ concerns are:-

a.                  During public hearing about this project, it was committed by the promoters that the toxic effluents of the distillery shall not be discharged in the Lasara Drain, which is already highly polluted. But in the 1st week of October 2012, when the distillery became operational, its entire toxic effluents were discharged in the Lasara Drain.

b.                 The Effluent Treatment Plant of the distillery has intentionally been installed just near the bank of Lasara Drain, in violation of the approved site-plan to facilitate discharging of its toxic waste in the drain.

c.                  There is no provision for treating/disposing of the fly ash generated by the plant.

d.                 The management of the distillery has not implemented the conditions imposed by the Punjab Pollution Control Board under various Environmental Protection Laws, with regard to the control of Air, Water and Noise pollution and the conditions imposed by the Expert Appraisal Committee (Industry).

e.                  The management of the distillery has violated the terms of Consent to Operate, granted under S.25, 26 of Water Act, 1974 and under section 21 of Air Act.

f.                   The noise level being generated by the distillery is much beyond the Ambient Air Quality Standards in respect of Noise laid in the Schedule under Rule 3(1) & 4(1) to the Noise Pollution (Regulation & Control) Rules, 2000.

g.                  The distillery does not have the required approach road. The present approach road is the village Pahi (Circular Road), barely 5 Karam i.e. 22 feet wide, and the promoters have encroached upon other peoples’ lands to make it worthy of heavy traffic.

h.                  Bathinda Chemical Industries has a very poor record in the matter of environmental protection. Its plant at Bathinda, which is located in a populated area, has faced stiff opposition and complaints from the people living in the vicinity due to its highly polluting production practices, especially the fuel used by it.

i.                    While getting prepared the E.I.A. Report, the promoters have deliberately not taken into account the already prevalent pollution caused by Lasara Drain at the plant site, thus misleading the PPCB authorities and general public about the true state of affairs.

j.                   BCL Industries had, in the past, faced charges under the Food Adulteration Act, allegedly for mixing animal fats in vanaspati ghee/ edible oils, being manufactured by it.

13.              Extraction of ground water for running this plant will cause depletion of underground water table. Similarly use of extensive canal water for this purpose shall reduce the already meager irrigation water supply to the agriculture in the area. Thus immense harm is likely to be caused by this plant to the farmers in the adjoining areas.

14.              The Fact Finding Team also accessed the record concerning environmental clearances granted to the Distillery and related documents from the internet. The Team also accessed websites of the companies involved in setting up these distilleries to know about their ownership and pattern of share holding, financial performance, production activities etc.


               On the basis of information so gathered the Team has arrived at the following findings/conclusions:

1.                   Village Machhana is facing an environmental catastrophe. It is situated near Lasara Drain – a highly polluted drain, which fits the description of KUMBHI NARAK. This drain was originally conceived as a measure to drain out flood water and save the farmers. Now it is being used by industries to dump toxic waste and untreated effluents. A large number of municipalities have made arrangements for discharging untreated sewerage water into it. Besides polluting the atmosphere with extremely foul smell, it gives out toxic fumes. It is very difficult to work in the adjoining fields. It has given diseases & death to the people living in adjoining areas, but rewarded industrialists with super profits.

2.                   As if the pollution being caused by Lasara Drain was not sufficient, the Punjab Govt has permitted setting up of two distilleries near this village. Major portion of land for these distilleries has been purchased from the people of village Sangat Kalan and a small portion from those of Machhana. But both these distilleries are located within a radius of about 2 Kms and are adjacent to village Machhana.

3.                   One distillery has been established by BCL Industries & Infrastructure Ltd Bathinda, owned by Sh, Rajinder Mittal. As per Project Report this grain based distillery unit will have installed production capacity of 100 Kilo-liters per day of ethanol. The specific product mix will include ethanol, ENA, bottling of country liquor/ IMFL and 5 MW of power co-generation, with a capital investment of Rs. 80 crores. The major raw material and inputs are grains (@ 3.65 MT/Kl of alcohol). The distillery will use grains – rotten rice/broken rice, rotten wheat and de-oiled rice bran etc as basic raw material. The chemical requirements include – enzymes (200 Kg per day), sodium hydro-oxide (100 Kg per day), urea (450 Kg per day), anti-foam agent (50 Kg per day), yeast (200 Kg per day). The fuel requirement for boiler furnace would include 8 MT/hour of rice husk. In case of non-availability of rice husk, coal shall be used. The distillery shall draw 1195 cubic meters fresh water from Sirhind canal.

4.                   As per Environmental Impact Assessment Report, this distillery shall generate heavy amount of effluents in the distillation process, washing, cooling towers blow down, domestic effluents and 250 cubic meters waste water; toxic gases, 30 MT per day fly ash; spent oils (lubricants and transformer oils) and noise pollution.

5.                   The BCL Industries & Infrastructure Ltd Bathinda, was established as a private limited company on February 3, 1976 and was converted into a public limited company on September 3, 1992. It is engaged in the business of extracting, manufacturing and marketing clarified butter & oil. It claims to be, “one of the most moderen and biggest oil complexes in North India,” owner of oil mills, solvent extraction plants, rice-shellers, chemical refinery, physical refinery and vanaspati plant. Since 1990, it claims to have “diversified in to real estate business, created townships, group housings, malls, multiplexes, hotels etc. In Bathinda city it owns townships like Ganpati Enclave, Sheesh Mahal City, Royale Orchards, besides building two residential townships – Sushant City-I & II on more than 250 acres of land in tie-up with Ansal API. It also claims to have constructed residential complexes at Gurgaon, Delhi, Mohali, Zirakpur, Baddi, Sonepat & Ghaziabad and Comfort Inn & Suits Manesar, in collaboration with Choice Hotels International USA. Pioneer Industries Ltd – a sister concern, is manufacturing alcohol (IMFL & country liquor) at Pathankot.

6.                   The second distillery is being set-up at Sangat Kalan by M/S Om Sons Marketing Pvt Ltd, Faridkot, - a private limited company owned & controlled by Mr. Deep Malhotra, Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) MLA from Faridkot, who incidentally is Chairman of M/S Oasis Distilleries Ltd Indore (MP), manufacturing IMFL such as Everyday Gold Prestige Whisky, Old Fox Matured XXX Rum, Premium Old Fox Matured XXX Rum, Limanov Vodka etc. Its annual turnover is more than Rs. 500 Crores. As per the company’s website, its Chairman Mr. Deep Malhotra has been involved in the liquor business, “ever since he was just fifteen”. He has further been described as a “true visionary”, “multi-taking personality”, who has “excelled in every step of his life from being a liquor vendor, a distillery owner, a hotelier and a politician (MLA of state Legislative Assembly).”  His sons- Gaurav Malhotra & Gautam Malhotra are the Directors of this company.

7.                   M/s OM Sons Marketing Pvt. Ltd. has proposed setting up of Grain based distillery (120 KLPD), Malt Spirit (5 KLPD) and Cogeneration Power Plant (10 MW), at a total cost of Rs. 95.00 Crores. It will be operated for 330 days in a year. Total fresh water requirement from ground water source will be 1934 cubic meters/day. As the capacity of the distillery to be set up by M/S Om Sons is more than the one set up by BCL Industries it will generate more effluent, fly ash, waste water, toxic gases, spent oils and noise pollution.

8.                   Public Hearing – a farce: Public hearings were held in the case of both these distilleries. From the proceedings published by the PPCB Authorities and the facts narrated by the villagers, the Team found that:
a.         The promoters & the authorities did not give effective publicity to the schedule of public hearing, to keep the people away from it. PPCB authorities could not show to the Team any proof of the public notice/advertisements/leaflets said to have been issued about these public hearings, having been received by the Gram Panchayats in the area.
b.                 No Gram Panchayat held any meeting or Gram Sabha to discuss this issue.
c.               No prior information was given to the people about the production process, likely pollution, fuel to be used, effluents & their treatment either by the promoters or the PPCB authorities. In fact there was no informed public debate on the issue.
d.               The promoter hijacked these public hearings by bringing in their vocal supporters from distant places to act as their cheer-leaders. For example in the public hearing for M/S Om Sons, there was one person named Sh. Harmit Singh from Mukatsar, who welcomed setting up of the project. Similarly in BCL Distillery’s hearing one Tehal Singh, a transporter from Bathinda took with him a large number of people who applauded the setting up of the distillery.
e.            In the public hearing the environmental engineer of the PPCB who is well aware about the pollution to be caused by the distilleries and the prevailing level of pollution being caused by Lasara Drain did not help the participants in clarifying the total impact on the environment and did not explain the technical terms given in the EIA Report. Thus the hearing was not an informed public debate.
f.            The EIA Report prepared by both the distilleries did not take into consideration the total impact of all the pollutants to be emitted by both the distilleries and Lasara Drain on the health of the people.
g.               The resident of village Sangat Kalan, Mashana and Kothe Sangat Kalan vehemently opposed the setting up of these distilleries. Although their opposition was recorded in the proceedings but the Expert Appraisal Committee did not give any weightage to it while granting Environmental Clearance to both these projects.
h.                  The scrutiny of the proceedings of public hearings reveals that the Environmental Consultants engaged by the promoters gave details of the anticipated environmental impacts and mitigation measures only for the construction period and not when the plants were to become operational.

9.                   Bribery: The people informed the fact finding team that the promoters of BCL Distilleries resorted to bribery to create a wave of public opinion in their favor, before the public hearing and the trial run of the distillery. For example they donated two coolers to a local Gurudwara where they held recitation (Akhand Path) of Holy Shri Guru Granth Sahib to seek divine blessings for running this distillery. Agricultural laborers living in the vicinity of the distillery were promised work in lieu of their consent for it. An NGO of Sangat Mandi was given an Ambulance Van. All these measures were made to create a favorable atmosphere for the promoters of the distillery.

10.              Irresponsible attitude of PPCB and the Expert Appraisal Committee: In order to dilute the implementation of environmental laws it is the standard operating procedure of PPCB and the Expert Appraisal Committee to grant environmental clearance on certain conditions without insisting on prior compliance/implementation of environmental protection measures. In the case of M/S Om Sons Distillery the Expert Appraisal Committee has granted the Environmental clearance with 18 conditions. The promoters are not likely to implement these conditions once the factory starts its operation. In the EIA certain measures for periodic measurement of meteorological data, ambient air quality at project site, stack emission, water quality, noise level, soil quality and health checkup have been mentioned to be under taken as environmental monitoring program but these measures are seldom implemented.  Similarly the promoters have put up an environmental management plan which is also doomed to fail. These measures are bound to fail because of poor supervision by the PPCB and other authorities and an industry friendly policy being pursued by the Govt. at the cost of people’s health. This is evident in the case of Air and Water pollution being caused by the industries at Ludhiana, Mandi Gobindgarh and other places. Although the Environmental Law forbids discharge of toxic industrial effluents in canals and drains but in Punjab industrialists are doing it with impunity by discharging such effluents in Budha Nala, Sarhind Canal and Lasara Drain etc. Now even Municipalities are not lagging behind. To save the cost of constructing a sewerage disposal plant they have started discharging untreated sewerage water in various drains. The PPCB has proved to be a toothless body in protecting the environment.

11.              Water Scarcity:
a.                 The distillery being set-up by M/S Om Sons, according to official estimates requires 1934 cubic meter fresh water per day from under ground water source. It shall operate for 330 days in a year. Thus it shall use 6,38,220 cubic meter under ground water per year or 63,82,20,000 liters per year.

b.                 The BCL distillery shall use 1195 cubic meters of water per day. It will also work for 330 days in a year and as such shall use 3,94,350 cubic meters or 39, 43,50,000 liters of water per year. Thus both the distilleries shall jointly draw 103,25,70,000 liters  of (about 103 Crore 26 lakh liters) water every year.

c.                  Sanction has already been accorded by the Govt. to M/S Om Sons for drawing the water from under ground by installing tube-wells.

d.                 The Team talked to various farmers organizations about availability of canal water in the area. We were told that the area is deficient in irrigation & drinking water. It received canal water for irrigation through various distributaries and minors of Sirhind Canal & Kotla Branch. As the drawls are heavy, water does not reach in the area of villages situated on the tails of the minors. There have wide spread agitations by farmers, demanding irrigation water, notably by 5 villages of Ganga, Gidder, Nathpura, Dhelwan & Nathana on Ganga Minor (Sirhind Canal); Bhucho Kalan & Kahan Singh Wala on Bhucho Kalan Minor; Bajjoana, Giddar & Kalyan on Kalyan Minor; Goniana area on Bhadaur Rajwaha; Shergarh & Bhukhianwali in Sangat; and Talwandi Sabo Block. In some of these villages farmers are struggling for water since 1993, but their demands have been ignored by the Govt.

e.                 The drawl of such a heavy amount of water – either from underground water source or from canal system is definitely going to cause harm to agriculture & eco-system in the region, as it will deplete underground water source & further lower the water table. Lack of water for irrigation shall result in destruction of farmers. 

12.              Diseases: The people of the area told the Fact Finding Team that there is wide spread incidence of cancer and TB in their villages. Evidently it has been caused by the pollutants from Lasara Drain. The findings of a recent survey on the incidence of Cancer fortify the villagers’ complaints. The Cancer Survey Report up to May 2010 have recorded a total of 1002 persons out of which 274 are male and 728 females, suffering from Cancer in Bathinda District. The figures of TB patients revealed by the Health Department also support it. 436 new cases of TB have been recorded in the 9 months period from January to Sept 2012 in the Health Centers at Sangat, Maur, Talwandi & Raman. Now with the pollution to be caused by these new distilleries the situation is likely to become grimmer. With the poor people being taken out of the purview of public health services and the private hospitals charging hefty amounts for the treatment of cancer & TB the situation becomes more difficult for the lower and middle strata of the society. The Govt. has totally ignored the health concerns of the people by granting permission for setting up of these distilleries in an already highly polluted area.



I.                     Under the Industrial Policy framed by Punjab Govt in the year 2003 and subsequently amended in 2009 and 2010, the liquor industry has been given special package of incentives, treating it as Mega Projects. The distilleries are given 75 percent exemption from payment of  Mandi fee, Rural Development fee and Infrastructure cess on purchase of  foodgrains directly from the farmers for a period of 10 years; exemption from basic stamp duty on purchase of land, 100 percent exemption of electricity duty on captive consumption of power generated by the unit; 50 percent exemption on electricity duty on purchase of power from PSPCL for 5 years; and supply of power as per normal rates available to continuous processing industry. Besides these, new distilleries have been exempted from payment of excise duty and sales tax under a Special Package announced by Punjab Govt. Perhaps this is the reason, why industrialists who are close to political dispensation in Punjab, like Ponty Chadha, Deep Malhotra etc are vying with each other to set up new distilleries.

II.                  Such generous tax-incentives to liquor barons are totally unjustified on financial, social and ethical grounds. The liquor industry has a disastrous and ruinous effect on the people of Punjab. By giving such huge tax-incentives to it, the rulers are in effect putting more burden on the people to ensure super profits for the liquor barons. The society as a whole pays a very heavy cost for the vide prevalence of drinking habit in the form of :
a.       Increased discord in the families resulting in their break-up;
b.      Increased incidence of crime;
c.       Curtailing of the efficiency of police force and its brutalization;
d.      Corruption
e.       Ruined careers;
f.        Increased insecurity for the women;
g.       Rash and negligent driving and deaths on the roads, etc.
Moreover these tax-incentives also violate the Directive Principles of State Policy incorporated in the Indian Constitution and strengthen anti-democratic forces and practices in the Society. The political parties in Punjab have always avoided a serious debate on this issue.

III.                The Fact Finding Team is of the view that as there is no fiscal, social or ethical justification for extending tax-incentives to the liquor industry, these should be withdrawn.

B.                  OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS:

1.                  Both these projects should be immediately put on hold.
2.                  Before commencing any work on these, a detailed study should be conducted about the pollution being caused by Lasara Drain and likely to be caused by both these distilleries and an informed public debate should be conducted before according the environmental clearance.
3.                  After taking the above said measures, public hearings should be re-conducted with full participation of the people from the effected villages and their views and concerns should be given full weightage.
4.                  Before diverting the scarce water to the distilleries (which is not a people friendly industry), requirements of agriculturists of water for irrigation and the people for drinking should be ensured. Only thereafter the water should be diverted to the distilleries.
5.                  As held by courts in the case of Coca Cola Plant at Palachaimada (Kerala) the Gram Panchayat has got exclusive jurisdiction on the use of ground water in its area, therefore permission from the Gram Sabha of concerned villages should be obtained before diverting water to these industries.
6.                  The Govt. should ensure that the cost of treatment of the diseases caused by the pollution of Lasara Drain is apportioned to the industries which are polluting it on the principle of “Polluter Pays”.
7.                  It is now well settled that right to a pollution free environment is an essential part of the right to life guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. The industrialists who are threatening the people’s lives by spreading disease just to earn more profits should be severely dealt with.
8.                  No environmental clearance should be given without compliance with environmental protection measures.
9.                  All the environmental monitoring measures should be taken by the PPCB in collaboration with the Gram Panchayat and people of the area in a transparent manner. 
10.              There is an urgent need to shift the Govt Elementary School Machhana from its present premises, as it is situated in a highly polluted zone on the banks of Lasara Drain. It should be shifted to a safe place to protect children’ health.
11.              The Dalit colony of Machhana, situated on the banks of Lasara Drain also requires to be shifted. The people living there should be provided alternative constructed accommodation at an environmentally safe place. 

GRATITUDE: The Fact Finding Team is thankful to the people of Machhana, members of Action Committee and its Gram Panchayat, BKU Ekta Ugrahan and Naujwan Bharat Sabha, who provided valuable in-puts to the Team. The Team is grateful to Ms. Ruby Sidhu, Asstt Environmental Engineer PPCB Bathinda for her assistance and co-operation. Without the contribution of all these people, the Team could not have been able to accomplish its job.        

Monday, December 17, 2012


Drone strikes, factory fires and imperialism in Pakistan

December 15, 2012
by Akram Javed (Source : Tanqeed)

The factory fire in Karachi is no less an outcome of imperialism in its neoliberal capitalist face, than drone strikes are the outcome of imperialism in its armed warfare face.

Let’s talk a little bit about what imperialism looks like. Pakistanis and Muslims in general talk a lot about imperialism—mainly about American imperialism—but we do it in a pretty narrow way. We tend to focus on American military interventions, as in Afghanistan and Pakistan: their invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and their constant military operations in Pakistan, the tip of which are the drone strikes.

For some reason, we don’t tend to point to General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and other Pakistani military brass as “American agents,” even though they have secret meetings, plan out military operations, and agree on drone attacks. They come out every few weeks to condemn the drone attacks, but the Defence Secretary Lieutenant-General (Retd.) Asif Yasin Malik recently pointed out that drone attacks are carried out with the permission of the Pakistan government.

We may note that America goes around the world oppressing Muslims, and once in a while some of us might even make connections with America’s oppression of non-Muslims. But, is the American military and its support for corrupt rulers all there is to imperialism?

We have to understand that imperialism goes beyond geopolitics, and also has an economic aspect. The economic aspects of imperialism are not as visible, and they don’t make for headlines, but their effects are no less vicious. In fact, the September 11, 2012 Baldia Town factory fire in in Karachi is a prime example of how imperialism works on a day-to-day basis, quite apart from military interventions.

We’ve come to know that the factory workers were producing jeans for KiK, a very large German multinational company. By Western standards, KiK sells very cheap clothes throughout the European Union. A pair of basic jeans costs €9.99, or, about Rs. 1240.

To keep costs low, KiK outsources production of its clothes to Third World countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan. Here, KiK doesn’t have to invest in what we call “fixed capital,” like factories or other major equipment. Instead, they hire a local factory owned by Pakistanis, Abdul Aziz Bhaila and his sons Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila, of Ali Enterprises.

All KiK has to pay for is the raw materials and the labor power that the Ali Enterprises use. The price of cotton is settled more or less on the international market, but the price of labor power is supposed to be regulated by laws and things like that. The minimum wage in Pakistan is currently set at Rs. 8,000. News reports say that workers made anywhere between Rs. 5,000 and Rs. 10,000. They were often made to work unpaid overtime as well.

Let us put this into perspective. One pair of basic jeans costs Rs. 1240, four jeans add up to about Rs. 5,000 and eight jeans add up to Rs. 10,000. Needless to say, the average worker probably contributed to the production of a lot more than just four to eight jeans.

So where does the revenue earned from all of that extra work the worker did go?

It goes largely to profits for Ali Enterprises and KiK, rather than to better wages. Why is it that workers aren’t paid better wages?

KiK doesn’t hire production workers in Europe where, due to the struggles of trade unions over the course of the twentieth century, the price of labor power is relatively high. That said, even in Europe KiK tends to pay its workers less than the minimum wage. In Pakistan, KiK doesn’t even do the hiring; rather, it outsources production and hiring to Ali Enterprises.

But in fact, even Ali Enterprises doesn’t likely do the hiring in Pakistan itself. In Pakistan, any enterprise that hires more than ten people is required by law to allow unionization and to issue appointment letters to its workers, which enable them to receive social security. Yet, the vast majority of workers in Pakistan—over 95 percent by some estimates—have no such appointment letters. Indeed, none of the Baldia Town factory fire victims had such letters.

Partly, employers are just able to get away with not issuing appointment letters; but importantly, employers are able to hire labour power indirectly through sub-contractors. Each sub-contractor is responsible for recruiting (and disciplining) a certain number of workers. That sub-contractor is probably a worker himself, but one who gets paid for the extra workers he brings in. So labor laws need not apply, even in large factories.

Yet another part of this non-application of labor laws is the willful suppression of any and all kinds of union organizing. Factory owners and sub-contractors alike are often close to police, or just hire their own-armed guards, who discourage and harass union organizers. They also pay off factory inspectors and the like, and even international inspectors appear to be compromised.

The government has taken to trying union activists in anti-terrorism courts, for instance, recently convicting six power-loom workers in Faisalabad to a combined 490 years in prison over a labor dispute. So in the absence of independent unions bringing together the voices and power of workers and opposing scams, workers’ rights are hardly implemented. No unions means few, if any, workers’ rights.

But what does all of this have to do with imperialism? It’s precisely the fact that labor power is so unregulated, so undervalued, so cheap in countries like Pakistan that attracts companies like KiK to contract out their production here. They reap super-profits off of the backs of Pakistani workers, when compared to what they would have to pay to German or European workers. And if regulations are tightened, these multinationals just go somewhere else.

Industrialists like the owners of Ali Enterprises can be considered, in this case, “foreign agents” as they are more concerned with developing the profits of foreign companies than independently developing the productive forces of Pakistan and paying workers at least somewhat appropriately.

These poor labor conditions and labor laws are the outcomes of local political elites—military and civilian alike—who have crushed union organizing over the past several decades, and the pressure of international financial institutions (like the IMF and World Bank) to relax labor legislation and to open up the Pakistani market to foreign enterprises. This is how local “agents” and imperialists come together to suck the fruits of the work of Pakistani workers.

The relentless drive for the pursuit of profits means lowering labor standards and laws. It means weakening or eliminating unions. It means paying workers so little that they often have to work overtime or multiple jobs to make ends meet. It also means not spending appropriately on inspecting factories and ensuring that they are safe. All such costs are a subtraction from profits.

The factory fire in Karachi is no less an outcome of imperialism in its neoliberal capitalist face, combined with the actions of what we can call “comprador” capitalists in Pakistan, than drone strikes are the outcome of imperialism in its armed warfare face, combined with the actions of our comprador generals and politicians. War is an important method of making the world safer for imperialist capitalism, if not directly then indirectly.
These are but two sides of the same coin, and Pakistanis must resolutely oppose both forms of imperialism, geopolitical and economic. This means breaking the back of the generals and civilian politicians who welcome both the American drones and the multinational corporations to oppress and exploit our people.

Curtsey: SANHATI