Has industry become environmentally responsible?
In 2003, the Union ministry of environment and forests instituted a charter called crep, or Corporate Responsibility for Environmental Protection. It was proposed as a novel way to regulate the 17 most polluting industrial sectors in India. crep introduced -- after consultations with industry representatives -- tougher pollution standards, compliance to which were kept voluntary. Units which did not comply with existing regulations would have to submit bank guarantees to state pollution control boards (spcbs).
Subsequently, the Central Pollution Control Board (cpcb) set up task forces to monitor industries' compliance, and these, on March 3, 2005, submitted their 'report cards' to the steering committee in charge of crep's implementation.
Some sectors have complied with crep norms: refineries, for instance. But others, like the dye and dye intermediate sector, and thermal power plants, have slipped badly. spcb s have been extremely poor in collecting bank guarantees is also extremely poor; only the West Bengal spcb has forced polluters to pay up for not complying.
Some norms are unscientific, designed in such a way that they are not indicative of the true polluting potential of the industries. A good example of this is the Adsorbable Organic Halides limit for the pulp and paper industry. The norms were set up after consultations between industry representatives and cpcb. Is this why they are so weak?
The greatest weakness is that compliance to norms are voluntary, not legally binding. Most of the norms are, in any case, way below global best practices. And since they were mutually agreed upon, there is no excuse for industry to not meet them. As the task forces have reported, if many industries are not complying even with the current weak norms, then is not the charter incapable of attaining its goal, namely, steering industry to become responsible and improve its environmental performance?
Another weak area is the monitoring mechanism. Since the norms are not legally binding, it is extremely difficult for task forces to collect information and verify its credibility. They remain dependent on the industries for this, and so face an impossible task. For instance, the response from the dye and dye intermediate sector was very poor. Ultimately, the Gujarat Pollution Control Board had to issue public notices in newspapers to force units to disclose information. Till date, the task force for this sector has not been able to collect information on all units.
When crep was set up, it was presented as an alternate model to the traditional command and control regulatory mechanism. Two years down the line, it looks toothless.
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