26 May 2024  |   05:50am IST

Curse of Cuncolim

Ever since it was commissioned on November 6, 1992, Cuncolim Industrial Estate has been a bane for locals. Over the years, factories here have polluted the air, water and now even the surrounding land as authorities failed to implement ‘polluter pays’ principle. Although Cuncolim Municipal Council is now trying to establish checks and balances in what is actually governed by the Goa State Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC), its attempts are getting hampered due to red tape. JULIO D’SILVA finds out how the pollution emanating from this Industrial Estate has affected the people on ground
Curse of Cuncolim

Cuncolim Industrial Estate was set up on 9,72,335sqmts of land, with 6,11,557 sqmts allotted for industries. Interestingly, 20,800 sqmts is earmarked for landfill while 26,270 sqmts is allotted for utilities to the Public Works Department (PWD) for roads, gutters, overhead tank, etc.

Four major types of pollution prevail here. The rolling mills that were the USP of this Industrial Estate, brought coal and dust pollution and subsequently their waste called slag. The fish meal and fish processing plants brought another set of pollution with obnoxious odour being the most unbearable one.

The latest is dumping of waste outside the industrial estate boundaries along with illegal constructions including residential quarters resulting in open defecation in grazing land making them uncultivable.

Different movements tackled each form of pollution, but no permanent watchdog organisation emerged to monitor the industrial estate. And though specific pollution was dealt with, its effects remain like a ghastly scar signifying a debilitating wound.

In November last year, following growing protests against pollution, Goa State Pollution Control Board Chairman Mahesh Patil announced setting up an expert agency to study the matter.

“However, that was only an announcement as no agency has been appointed as yet,” said Abhay Keni, President of Cuncolim Industries Association.

When contacted, the GSPCB Chairman said, “We have asked National Environmental Engineering Research (NEERI) Nagpur to submit a report on the groundwater of the surrounding area with regard to the waste left behind Sunrise Zinc which is totally covered now.”

“Following a total assessment of the operating units at the Industrial Estate, 10 have been closed because they were not complying with the required safety norms, while others have been given time to make the necessary adjustments that include changing some machinery,” Patil said.

Municipal Council’s feeble efforts

Landry Mascarenhas, who took over as Chairman of Cuncolim Municipal Council only last year, laments that he inherited this problem as previous incumbents did not act in the last decade.

“Even though we have no jurisdiction over it, we have initiated action that unfortunately is delayed due to stays and other bureaucratic wrangles,” he said.

The municipality, in January, commenced a survey of illegal residential constructions outside the Estate walls and so far identified 1,000 rooms constructed by locals to house labourers and notices are served on around 60 of them.

“However, more than 1,000 workers live within the factory premises, which is against the rules,” he said, demanding that IDC should act on it.

As for illegal structures by industries, he pointed out that a well was demolished on February 28 as soon as the stay on its demolition was lifted. Landry admits there are illegalities in the grazing land outside and assured the council will act on it in time.

“Some of those shouting about pollution today were silent for the last decade when the BJP ruled the council,” he quipped.

With regards to ShradhaIspaat, Landry pointed out that the previous council gave them permission and they were even paying regular tax to the council.“We have now kept it on hold and will take a final decision when their application comes up for renewal,” he said.

‘No new plants added recently’

Speaking about the actions taken by the Goa Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) to deal with this issue, GIDC Chairman Alexio Reginaldo Lourenco assured that no new industry has been added to the existing list of polluting plants in Cuncolim Industrial Estate under his watch.

“To deal with the pollution issue, we have written to the GSPCB for strict checking on the polluting units. The Chief Minister had said in the Assembly that an effluent treatment plant (ETP) would be set up in the Estate. In the next Board meeting, we are planning to take up this matter to see that it becomes a reality,” Laurenco said.

“The onus to ensure pollution-free water would be on the vendor who is going to put up the ETP. This treated water would be then supplied to the steel industry as they require 1 lakh litre water every day. This will also help in saving water consumption in the Cuncolim Industrial Estate,” he said.

Offensive odour assails neighbourhood

As soon as the monsoons receded in October 2023, residents of Sanvorcotto, barely a kilometre away from the Industrial Estate, were assailed with an offensive odour that made breathing difficult. Three youngsters, Shukla Keni, KhabirMoraes and ShantanuDessai decided to investigate this pong.

They were shocked to discover that it was because the five fish processing units and lone fish meal plant were dumping their waste without treating it.

Fish innards and other waste was even found in the gutters around the industrial estate besides which some of these plants had illegally dug bore wells to dump untreated waste. Four fish processing plants were fined Rs 1 crore each for this. However, the fine was drastically reduced without ascribing any reason.

“People would shut their doors and windows in an attempt to keep the pong out,” recalled KhabirMoraes. The trio launched an awareness campaign that slowly grew into a movement.

“It began on October 16 last year as a people’s movement with no leaders and no politicians involved,” said Shukla Keni.

Their first public activity was a meeting at the IDC gate on October 22 followed by another on October 27 just to explain what was happening.

As more people joined, they launched a signature campaign and visited households to collect over 1,000 signatures demanding action.

Copies of the memorandum were submitted to the Governor, Chief Minister and concerned departments on November 13, 2023. However, as there was no response, a candle light march was held on December 16 that had local MLA Yuri Alemao along with his party MLA AltoneD’Costa participating.

“Surprisingly, after the said march, the offensive odour suddenly stopped and honestly we do not know why or how this happened,” says Shukla Keni while disclosing that the odour can be felt occasionally nowadays.

While the fish processing plants were blamed for this pollution, some believe that the four alcohol manufacturing units were also responsible as they were disposing of untreated molasses. But this charge was never established.


Iddhar Udhar