FOUR MONTHS after the Maharashtra environment regulator issued two notices to a distillery company, in which state Minister Pankaja Munde’s husband and mother are directors, for polluting soil and water in a village in Aurangabad, it gave the firm consent to operate in January following a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) project undertaken by it to clean up a portion of contaminated soil.
The distillery, Radico NV Distilleries Maharashtra Limited, has Pankaja’s husband Charudutta Prabhakar Palwe listed as a whole time director (appointed May 2008) and mother Pradnya Gopinath Munde as director (appointed in December 2016). Until just before the 2014 Assembly elections, Pankaja, the state rural development and women and child development minister, was also listed as a company director.
Radico NV distillery is joint venture between N V Group and Radico Khaitan. Its website says it produces whiskey, rum, vodka and gin. The Aurangabad unit has a production capacity of 1,20,000 litres per day of extra neutral alcohol. It is located in Shendra MICD, about an hour away from Pathri village in Phulambri taluka.
In January 2018, farmer Sanjay Navgire (52) first saw tankers dumping a blackish liquid waste near his 7.5 acre millet and corn farm in Pathri. In June, after first monsoon showers, Navgire noticed the colour of borewell water, he used for crops, turn black.
It also directed the distillery to submit a detailed report on how it was treating spent wash generated in distillery on a daily basis. Spent wash is a residual waste liquid generated during alcohol production. A February 2018 study published by Department of Environmental Microbiology had indicated that for a litre alcohol production, 10 to 15 litres of spent wash is generated. It affects vegetation by changing soil alkalinity, increases livestock mortality and in humans, causes eye irritation, vomiting, skin irritation and stomach pain.
While villagers claimed that at least 12 wells have been affected in the 250-acre area, Aurangabad MPCB officials maintained it was only three.
Pathri villagers have now approached MPCB’s Mumbai headquarters. Over 150 villagers have also approached Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission. On February 4, MPCB member secretary E Ravindran called for a hearing and directed drilling in ground to measure contamination level.
Pankaja refused to comment on the case following calls and an email.