Roaming packs of stray dogs are an established part of the landscape of Taloja, an industrial district to the north-east of Mumbai. But when a group of them turned blue this month, environmental activists sounded the alarm at this vivid evidence of industrial failure to adhere to proper standards of pollution control.
“There is pollution in every industrial zone, and the government keeps neglecting it,” said Arati Chauhan, an activist who posted photographs of the blue dogs that went viral on social media. “God has used the blue dogs to draw our attention to the problem.”
Investigation of the phenomenon by Mumbai’s pollution control board (MPCB) led it to a more prosaic explanation: the dogs had wandered into the grounds of a factory run by Ducol Organics, a local paint and plastic producer.
The MPCB has now suspended operations at the Ducol factory, after discovering that it was failing to observe anti-pollution standards in handling the chemicals used there, said Anil Mohekar, the body’s regional officer for Navi Mumbai, which includes Taloja.
The outcry over the coloured dogs reflects rising concerns about pollution in India. A study in February by the US-based research group Health Effects Institute found that India was poised to overtake China as the country with the most deaths caused by air pollution.
In March, the Uttarakhand High Court declared the holy Ganges and Yamuna rivers “living entities”, in the hope of boosting efforts to save them from uncontrolled flows of sewage and industrial effluent.
The Ducol factory stood silent on Friday after several days of inactivity, attended only by two security guards — but a pungent chemical smell still wafted past its locked gates.
“We’re not allowing anything wrong in the MIDC area,” Mr Mohekar said, referring to the industrial sector where the Ducol factory lies, adding that the MPCB had closed five plants in the past 15 days. “When we observe any non-compliance, we immediately close down the factory.”
Some environmental campaigners, however, argue that the sudden action against Ducol is characteristic of a lax enforcement system that allows widespread industrial breaches of pollution standards, until public pressure forces intervention.
“Only when media or activists bring these things to their attention, they swing into action,” said Godfrey Pimenta, a lawyer who has made a series of petitions to government bodies seeking action against water pollution.
Lax enforcement of anti-pollution rules is only part of the water pollution problem in Mumbai’s state of Maharashtra, Mr Pimenta said. Adding to this is a lack of investment in infrastructure, meaning that effluent runs untreated into rivers due to lack of capacity at treatment plants. The effects, he said, include dwindling livelihoods for fishing communities, and a heightened risk of disease spread by the mosquitoes that thrive in stagnant water bodies.
Industrial pollution is also contributing to a lethal decline in air quality in major Indian cities. A study this year by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai estimated premature deaths due to air pollution in Mumbai rose 62 per cent to 32,014 between 1995 and 2015, outstripping the 41 per cent population increase in the same period.
In New Delhi — which according to some estimates has the worst air of any major city in the world — the estimated death toll rose 147 per cent, to 48,651.
“For all the key pollutants, there is an air quality standard, but no mechanism that makes sure cities actually meet these standards,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, a director of New Delhi’s Centre for Science and Environment. “The implementation strategies really need to be spruced up.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited . All rights reserved. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.