Aided by Watered Down Laws, Hyderabad's Pharma City Is Bypassing People's Protests

Locals accuse the government of providing unfair compensation, while the project is also causing concerns about pollution.

Hyderabad: The planned greenfield pharma city, which will come up within 40 kilometres of Hyderabad, is in the news for all the wrong reasons. The project involves acquisition of 19,333 acres of agricultural land. The controversy that dogs it stems from issues around land acquisition, compensation and relief & rehabilitation of people who live in the area.

The government plans to acquire land in Yacharam, Kandukur and Kadtal mandals of Ranga Reddy district (adjacent to Hyderabad). But green activists and locals are opposing the move. The moniker of Hyderabad as the ‘bulk drug capital of India’ is not something that the local people are proud of.

Under the Environment Protection Act, the government is mandated to inform locals of full details of the project, at least one month before the public hearing. These details are supposed to be provided through the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), in the local language. Locals should be informed about the expected pollution and the mitigation measures proposed.

But people of the villages where the land acquisition is being undertaken say that the public consultation process was not fair. They say non-locals were ushered in to ensure that the project gets local consent. The land acquisition notices were published in the lesser circulated newspapers in the area, locals say, adding that the notices were not put up in the village panchayat office, as required by law.

Aided by the state watering down the land acquisition law, the project has gained clearance despite protests and opposition. D. Ramesh, the sarpanch of Tadiparthy, (a village in Yacharam mandal), was elected by the villagers for his anti-pharma hub plank. He says, “The state government’s amendments have made my position redundant. It has stripped the local bodies of all powers.”

Violation of Supreme Court judgment

In the Mekala Pandu case, the Supreme Court held that compensation given to assigned (lands owned by the government but farmers enjoy tilling rights) and patta lands should be the same. But the government has paid only Rs 7.5 lakh per acre to assigned lands, paying Rs 12.5 lakh for patta lands. Locals feel the compensation is not fair, as land rates have now skyrocketed to Rs 30-40 lakh per acre.

Saraswathi Kavula, an environmental activist, says that farmers in Mucherla and Saireddy gudem of Kandukur mandal should a compensation of Rs 22.5 lakh. “They were given Rs 7.5 lakh for assigned lands based on the market values in Yacharam mandal. In Kandukur mandal, the rate is up to Rs 80 lakh per acre,” she said.

A view of Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court’s directive on assigned and patta lands has been violated, locals say. Photo: PTI

B. Raju is an engineering student in Hyderabad, and hails from the Tatiparthy village of Yacharam mandal. His village is just 40 km from the city’s airport and his family sells milk and vegetables to the city. If his family is deprived of these sources of income, Raju says he will have to discontinue his education.

Also Read: In State-Level Changes to Land Laws, a Return to Land Grabbing in Development’s Name

J. Venkatesh, a farmer in Kurmidda village, says the pharma city will not employ all the people whose land has been acquired. “We earn anywhere around Rs 25,000 every month by selling milk. How will we replace this?” he asks. He says the public hearing was a farce. “We want a referendum on the issue in all villages. Either give us land for land,” Venkatesh says.

Even the farmers who surrendered their lands have started tilling it, saying adequate compensation was not paid. In some cases, they say compensation was paid to the wrong persons. Some people have been denied compensation because the ownership of the land is under a legal tussle.

Lack of transparency

Flagging the opaqueness in the acquisition process, Kavula, who has been helping the locals in the struggle against the pharma hub says, “Even the land acquisition notification had to be obtained by filing an RTI application. This resulted in the people not being able to give their objections to the land acquisition within two months, as per the law.”

The lack of information, activists say, led to a delay in challenging the environmental clearances given to the project before the National Green Tribunal (NGT). Challenges must be made within 90 days of the clearance being given.

K. Babu Rao, a retired chief scientist from the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, says a PIL was filed before the Telangana high court, and the process resulted in a delay of more than 90 days. “We have filed a petition for condonation of delay in approaching the NGT. But the petition is yet to be heard. Sans the clearance from the HC, any attempt to approach the NGT would fail, courtesy the delay,” he said.

The pharma hub is set to be designated a National Investment and Manufacturing Zone (NIMZ) and will be managed by a special purpose vehicle (SPV) set up by the state government. The EIA report, activists say, is misleading the public by saying that each individual unit will have to conduct EIA studies. They add once the NIMZ gets environmental clearance, no individual unit will be asked for clearances.

Fears of pollution

The track record of the pharma industry in and around Hyderabad doesn’t elicit confidence among the people. The net value of the products manufactured after the processing would be lower than the cost that would accrue to clean the effluents the procedure would generate. The technology to separate them is not available now. To undercut costs, local generic pharma companies use cheap labour and do not follow environmental norms. Typically, for every kilogram of finished product, hazardous waste of 20 kg or more is generated in liquid, solid or gaseous states.

Also Read: How Hyderabad’s Pharma City is Flouting Environmental Norms

Environmental economist G. Vijay, a professor at the University of Hyderabad, says the industry finds it convenient to flout norms. “Big pharma companies outsource the polluting processes to smaller companies, allowing them to steer clear of legal liability. In case of violations, instead of closing down units, bank guarantees of Rs 25 lakhs are being sought by the Pollution Control Board from companies whose profits run into thousands of crores. These guarantees are broken with impunity and money is encashed by the board. Pharma companies, bureaucrats and politicians form a nexus and the police is used to stub out peoples’ struggles against these projects.”

While the project claims that there will be zero liquid discharge, Babu Rao says this is “a myth”. “Why can’t these companies demonstrate their green technologies in the already polluted Bollaram, Jeedimetla and Patancheruvu industrial clusters in and around Hyderabad?” he asks.

Representative image. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Some areas of Hyderabad have been heavily polluted because of the pharma city. Representative image. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Other concerns

Activists also express concerns about damage to wildlife, threat of ‘superbugs’, while throwing some doubt on the claims that the hub would create lakhs of jobs. They also say that the proposed pharma university will not have the claimed student strength of 24,000, as even a multidisciplinary university like the Osmania has a total strength of only 18,000.

A questionnaire sent to the TSPCB (Telangana State Pollution Control Board) on June 13 has gone unanswered. The story will be updated if and when a response is received.