For more than a decade the private sugar mill operated by Gangakhed Sugar and Energy Private Limited (GSEPL) in Parbhani, Maharashtra, has regularly released untreated effluent into a nearby lake and irrigation canals. This has caused a such a significant loss of aquatic life in Mannath lake that the fisherfolk dependent on this lake have lost their livelihoods. The untreated effluent from the sugar mill also polluted irrigation canals with a detrimental impact on the crops and soil on nearby farms. For a decade fisherfolk and farmers have struggled to end this pollution. For a decade the food industry has been undermining food security.
Soon after GSEPL started its operations in 2010, the mill released untreated effluent into Mannath Lake and irrigation canals during the sugarcane crushing season. Fisherfolk filed a case with the National Green Tribunal (Western Zone) Bench, Pune, against the company for “polluting the water in Mazalgaon Right canal and Mannath lake, causing water pollution and thereby causing a threat to human health, fishery yield and ecology.” The case referred to pollution caused by “industrial waste molasses and chemical mixed water”.
Despite this, the mill again released untreated effluent into the lake in the 2013-2014 sugarcane crushing season.
When fisherfolk and farmers made complaints about this pollution, GSEPL management responded with violent attacks, threats and intimidation. The company also took legal action against fisherfolk and farmers, forcing many of them to abandon their livelihoods and migrate.
The extent of this brutality is reflected in the private prison operated by the mill to punish indebted farmers and critics. This was described in 2012 as follows:
A public demonstration against the GSEPL mill management on 18 October 2013 led to the demolition of the private prison. Yet the violent attacks on fisherfolk and farmer leaders continued.
While water pollution was damaging the ecology, destroying livelihoods and undermining food security (in the prevailing fear of private prisons and violence), the conglomerate Shree Renuka Sugar bought sugar from the GSEPL mill. One of the leading customers of Shree Renuka Sugar at that time was Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited (HCCBPL). Even after the case was filed in the Green Tribunal and the media reported on these violent attacks on the community, Shree Renuka Sugar made several more purchases from GSEPL. This environmental pollution, human rights abuse and food insecurity ran from Mannath lake through the supply chain of Coca-Cola in India.
While water pollution was damaging the ecology, destroying livelihoods and undermining food security, GSEPL successfully registered as an emission-reduction project under the Kyoto Protocol’s clean development mechanism. The UNFCCC’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Executive Board assigned Project No.4816 to Gangakhed Sugar & Energy Private Ltd (GSEPL) 30 MW Bagasse Based Co-generation Power Project. Despite several reviews over 10 years, the CDM ignored the large-scale pollution of Mannath lake and surrounding farmlands. Even when the Green Tribunal ruled in July 2014 that GSEPL had extensively polluted Mannath lake and must pay to replace its water, the company continued to be a green project under the Kyoto Protocol.
After a decade the fisherfolk union, Godavari Magasvargiya Matsya Vyavsay Sahakari Sanstha (GMMVSS), continues to struggle for compensation for their lost livelihoods and to end the pollution that has destroyed the ecology of Mannath lake. They seek an end to an unsustainable food industry and to regain their right to food security.