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Noyyal River Basin, a pollution cocktail from textile industry, TN, India

Garments industries polluting river basins. A study at University of Madras showed that more than half of the people interviewed reported health problems such as diarrhoea and cholera, while more than 75 per cent said they suffered skin diseases


An environmental conflict in the Tiruppur region is due to the enormous growth of the garment industry and operation of bleaching and dyeing units in the past 60 years. In 1941 there were only two such units; by 1997 there were 866, consuming about 90 million litres a day of water and releasing about 87 million litres a day of effluents into the Noyyal River. It is a seasonal river that passes through Coimbatore, Erode and Karur in Tamil Nadu state during October and December and has return flows from the Lower Bhavani Project. The Orathapalayam Dam project crosses the Noyyal near the Orathapalayam village. In 1995, four years after the dam was completed, downstream farmers objected to the release of water, which had become highly contaminated from the dyeing and bleaching units, and filed a case in the Chennai High Court the following year. In 1997 the fisheries department closed its operations at the reservoir and the High Court ordered dam water not be released for irrigation. [1] Now the Orathapalayam Dam has become a mere storage tank for industrial effluent, which could neither be discharged into the river, nor be stored due to percolation and contamination of groundwater aquifers. Industrial pollution in Tiruppur has significantly affected the Noyyal River, totally contaminated the Orathapalayam Dam, contaminated the Chauvery River, caused great economic loss for farmers and affected residents' health. [5] The High Court mandated polluting units connect to a common effluent treatment plant or install individual effluent treatment plants. More than 160 units were shut down, but observers say treated effluents do not meet standards prescribed by the Pollution Control Board, particularly regarding total dissolved solids and chlorides. According to state Pollution Control Board rules, 'red' and 'orange' category units (highest polluting industries, which include dyeing and bleaching) should be situated 1km from a river/ stream or any other water source. In Tiruppur, as at 2007, about 239 units were located less than 300m from the Noyyal River. About 83 per cent of the individual effluent treatment plants discharge their effluents directly or indirectly into the water bodies. [1] About half of villagers who participated in a University of Madras study said air pollution was common in their areas due to effluent. Every single respondent experienced water pollution, while 90.55 per cent said land pollution was evident. More than half of people reported experiencing health problems such as diarrhoea and cholera, while more than 75 per cent said they suffered skin diseases. [5] 

Basic Data
Name of conflict:Noyyal River Basin, a pollution cocktail from textile industry, TN, India
State or province:Tamil Nadu
Location of conflict:Tiruppur District
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Manufacturing activities
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Water
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The Orathupalayam Dam was constructed on the Noyyal River in 1991 to irrigate 203ha in Erode district and 4000ha in Karur district. But instead of serving its purpose it became a storage tank for wastewater as the textile units started releasing their effluent into the dam’s reservoir. This effluent could neither be discharged into the river nor be stored due to percolation and contamination of groundwater aquifers. The effect of pollution was noticed when there was great economic loss for farmers in the downstream areas of Erode and Karur districts, in addition to contaminating the river Cauvery River.

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Project area:8,200
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:2,500,000
Start of the conflict:01/01/1995
Company names or state enterprises:Noyyal River Restoration Federation
Siruthuli from India
Relevant government actors:Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local government/political parties
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Proposal and development of alternatives:Hundreds of thousands of people rely on the garment industry for their livelihoods. Some farmers have been waiting for compensation from the Loss of Ecology Authority since 2002. In April 2016 it was pronounced dysfunctional by the Chennai High Court and was absorbed into the National Green Tribunal. [6] To address the ongoing problem, researchers N. Jayakumar and A. Rajagopal say an integrated approach is needed to establish a management body that includes all stakeholders - particularly government departments, farmers, industrialists and NGOs. "This could be undertaken by an external agency by organizing dialogues and negotiations through the multi-stakeholders' dialogue approach or the formation of multi-stakeholders' platforms aimed at sustainable development of water resources in the basin." [1]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Industrial waste continues to be released into the waterways of the Noyyal River Basin.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Jayakumar, N. and Rajagopal, A. 'Noyyal River Basin: Water, water everywhere, not a drop to drink', Water conflicts in India: A million revolts in the making, 2007.

[3] Jayanth Sarathi, N., Karthik, R., Logesh, S., Srinivas Rao, K. and Vijayanand, K. ‘Environmental issues and its impacts associated with the textile processing units in Tiruppur, Tamilnadu’, Second International Conference on Environmental Science and Development, 2011.
[click to view]

[5] Akilan, S. T. 'Textile pollution and sociological implications: A case study in the selected villages of Noyyal River belt, Tamil Nadu', EPRA International Journal of Economic and Business Review; Vol 4, Issue 2, February 2016.
[click to view]

[4] Siruthuli - Restore River Noyyal
[click to view]

[6] Wind up Loss of Ecology Authority, says HC - April 2016
[click to view]

Vanita Mohan has reclaimed many water bodies, now she has launched Noyyal River Restoration Federation - July 2016
[click to view]

Noyyal restoration begins - March 2016
[click to view]

Noyyal Orathupalayam Dam project information
[click to view]

Siruthuli submits proposal for restoration of Noyyal basin - July 2012
[click to view]

Other comments:Siruthuli (A Tiny Drop) is a trust formed of businesses from Coimbatore. In 2012 it proposed the 'Restore River Noyyal' project, which commenced in 2016. "River Noyyal in Coimbatore had 34 streams which helped it to flow perennially. Today only four exist," the trust says. "Siruthuli has mapped the entire river and its streams. Once the streams are cleaned and restored, the river shall flow once again." [4] The project is expected to cost more than US$25 million.
Meta information
Contributor:Water Conflict Forum
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2359
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