Government must set discharge norms accordingly
The Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index reports of 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2018 prepared by the Central Pollution Control Board have raised fundamental questions about the reliability of environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports and environmental clearances (ECs).
The assessments are done by accredited consultants and the clearances are granted by government authorities.
They are based on the norms prescribed by the authorities for air and water pollution, industrial effluents discharged and the carrying capacity of the area.
But when the government sets the discharge norms, does it set them on the basis of the carrying capacity of the area?
It is important to note that since land and water-related ecosystems are dynamic and interconnected, their carrying capacity also varies with the other interventions we implicate on them.
Untreated or poorly treated sewage and effluents could cause irreversible damage to land, groundwater and waterbodies.
The characterisation and quantification of pollution load through chemical oxygen demand, biological oxygen demand, ammonia-nitrogen and heavy metals in kg/day in the industrial effluents and sewage getting dumped will help prepare plans for the restoration and rejuvenation of the natural resources.
The treatability of any wastewater depends on its constituents and the way the treatment system is operated. Depending upon the constituents, the wastewater may be termed biodegradable (having simple, biodegradable compounds), difficult-to-biodegrade (having complex organic compounds), or non-biodegradable (having toxic chemicals, heavy metals).
It appears that the major method of treatment being used is to convert one form of pollution into another—for instance, from liquid to gas or solid—to achieve the prescribed norm for the wastewater.
At times, to reduce pollution in the river, the liquid effluent is converted into powder form and dumped at a hazardous waste dumping site. This method only diverts surface pollution to groundwater pollution.
The author is an environmental activist based in Gujarat
This was first published in the 1-15 June, 2023 print edition of Down To Earth
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