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Last Updated: Friday, 29 June 2007, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
India refineries told to clean up
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Guwahati

A fisherman on a river in Assam
People in Assam see their rivers as life givers
Authorities in India's north-eastern state of Assam have threatened local oil refineries with closure unless they stopped polluting local rivers.

Assam's Pollution Control Board has given five refineries a year to stop discharging effluents into rivers.

It says the refineries were dumping effluents at levels much higher than acceptable federal limits.

Two of the five refineries have told the board that they have stopped discharging effluents into rivers.

For the past two years, Assam's pollution control authorities have targeted the refineries at Digboi, Duliajan, Guwahati, Bongaigaon and Numaligarh.

They have been told to stop discharging effluents into the Brahmaputra, Bharalu, Dhansiri, Digboi, Buridihing and Tunia rivers.

'Huge damage'

Pollution control board chief Jawaharlal Dutta said the levels of discharge were 15 to 20 times higher than acceptable federal limits.

"The refineries have done huge damage to the rivers in the past 40 years. A lot of marine life, like fish, tortoises and the river dolphin, has almost disappeared," he said.

Two of the five refineries have informed the authorities that they have cleaned up their act already.

"We have even used the treated affluent to develop a green belt in the refinery area," the Numaligarh refinery told the authorities.


The refinery at Bongaigaon also says it has stopped discharging effluents into the river.

No independent confirmation of these claims is available from the authorities yet.

Experts say the older refineries were the main polluters, as it was difficult to install pollution control equipment in their old equipment.

One of them is the refinery at Guwahati - last year the authorities found that its effluent discharge into the Brahmaputra river had a "high concentration" of suspended solids, oil, grease, phenol compounds and sulphide.

Now the authorities have asked the refinery to measure its hazardous wastes, provide a round-the-clock electronic display board on the air quality in the area, and stop effluent discharge.

Assam is India's third-largest oil-producing state.

Locals see their rivers as life-givers - when a state-owned oil company recently proposed drilling the Brahmaputra river bed for oil and gas, there was a flurry of protest from locals, and the plan was shelved.

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