THE environment ministry's worry about hazardous waste is shared by some big industries. According to K P Nyati of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), "The trend is to reduce waste at the beginning of the production process." This, he says, is safer and more economical than doing it later. Says A N Jha, vice-president (environment and risk management) of the Essar group of industries, "The industry has started realising that pollution prevention pays."
Organisations like CII, the National Productivity Council and the Indian Chemical Manufacturers' Association (ICMA) now offer consultancy for safer and cleaner technologies. Some individual private firms like Tata Risk Management also offer similar services.
ICMA, a representative body of 250 chemical manufacturers, offers a scheme to "improve all aspects of performance that relate to health, safety and environment". ICMA has also been appointed by the Brussels-based International Council of Chemical Associations as the Indian trustee of its environmental programme, Responsible Care. One of its goals is to "develop and produce chemicals that can be manufactured, transported, used and disposed of safely". Says an ICMA spokesperson, "The idea is to bring about a system where the industries provide 'cradle-to-grave' care for their products."
However, so far only 35 ICMA members have signed a commitment to Responsible Care. Giants like ICI, Sandoz and Ciba Giegy are yet to sign it. Proponents of the programme attribute the poor response to inertia. Says an ICMA office-bearer, "We don't want to coerce anybody. The response should come from within the industries." Besides, there is virtually no control over the small-scale industries, which "are the big polluters", according to a chemical industry representative.
The ICMA spokesperson, nevertheless, admits that there is a sea change in the attitude of major industries worldwide towards environmental issues. And, the American counterpart of ICMA, the Chemical Manufacturers' Association, has made the endorsement of Responsible Care a prerequisite for membership.