Hand-holding must to make India’s jaggery units sustainable

Innovation in low-cost pollution-control technologies is needed for a cleaner and sustainable MSME sector in India

By Shobhit Srivastava
Published: Friday 11 December 2020
Hand-holding must to make jaggery units sustainable. Photo: Shobhit Srivastava / CSE
A three-pan furnace for boiling cane juice to make jaggery. Photo: Shobhit Srivastava / CSE A three-pan furnace for boiling cane juice to make jaggery. Photo: Shobhit Srivastava / CSE

The Industrial Pollution team of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) visited Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh October 12, 2020. During the visit, we sighted a number of kolhus (jaggery-making units or mills) located on the agricultural land along the highway.

We found thick smoke being emitted from the units. This was easily visible even from a distance. We visited one of the units and observed the setup and operating conditions. We found the unit was using plastic and rubber apart from agricultural waste as fuel. 

The CSE team tried to find out whether there was any kolhu in the area that operated with better, less pollution-causing technology. We contacted Digvijay Singh, the owner of a kolhu.

He informed us that every farmer who grew sugarcane, usually set up a kolhu on his farm. The cost for setting up a conventional kolhu is about Rs 4 lakh. A kolhu operates anywhere between 12 and 18 hours in a day, one operator told us.

Rubber and plastic being used in the furnace of a 'kolhu' in Muzaffarnagar. Photo: Shobhit Srivastava / CSERubber and plastic being used in the furnace of a 'kolhu' in Muzaffarnagar. Photo: Shobhit Srivastava / CSE

The operator added that about 15,000 kilograms of sugarcane, alongwith 1,500 kg of fuel were required to manufacture about 2,000 kg of jaggery. 

No pollution-control

There are about 800 kolhus operating across Muzaffarnagar district, providing employment to thousands of seasonal workers. It is, therefore, necessary to monitor and control the emissions either through pollution-control measures or by using better technology options.

 Smoke emanating from a kolhu. Photo: Shobhit Srivastava / CSE

All kolhus usually used the same technology, of threshing cane, extracting the juice and then boiling it in furnaces, we were told. However, there was one advanced technology available in the market wherein the furnace could be operated by electricity instead of fuel.

The major drawback of this technology was cost, which went up high as Rs one crore. The emissions would be low in an electric furnace setup, but the return on investment would be too high for the kolhu operator, considering that jaggery is produced seasonally.

To add to it all, no pollution-control devices are installed in kolhus. The particulate matter emission limit for kolhus is 500 milligrams per cubic metre, according to the guidelines of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). However, in the absence of infrastructure (port holes, proper platforms on chimneys), emission monitoring is not possible in a majority of the units.

CPCB did publish a Comprehensive Industry Document in August 2018, with an overview of jaggery-making units such as kolhus. This included the process of making jaggery, the pollution potential of the units and the guidelines for pollution-control.

The major points mentioned in the guidelines are given below. A comparison has also been drawn between the guidelines and on-field observations of the team during the site visit.

Sr.no CPCB guideline CSE observation on field
1.        Only dried bagasse, wood and the agricultural residues or wastes shall be used as fuel. Under no circumstances rubber, used tyres, plastics, etc shall be fired in the furnace It was observed that the units were using plastic and rubber apart from the agricultural waste
2.        The furnace shall be made of masonry bricks or refractory bricks and not of mud or soil The furnace was designed according to the guideline in a few kolhus
3.        The height of the stack shall be prescribed by the State Pollution Control Board, depending upon the local conditions, but it shall not less than 10 metres in height. Kolhus without stack shall not be permitted. Stacks were present in almost all the kolhus, but the height was not according to the guidelines and mostly up to seven metres in height.
4.        The limit of particulate matter in flue gas shall be prescribed by the State Pollution Control Board depending upon the local conditions, but not more than 500 milligrams per cubic metre No proper monitoring infrastructure was available on the stack and no monitoring was conducted either by the regulator or by any other concerned authority
5.        The bagasse shall be used as fuel in the furnace. Scum collected from the pan and ash shall be utilised as soil container in agricultural land. Baggase used as fuel in the furnace. Scum and ash utilisation in agricultural land has not been confirmed
6.        The washings of the pan shall be disposed through a soak pit A proper soak pit was not available

Way forward

It is not just kolhus but the whole of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) and unorganised sectors that need handholding in order to improve their efficiency and become environmentally sustainable.

If these sectors are not provided with low-cost options to control pollution and improve their efficiency or performance, it would not be possible for them to flourish. Ultimately, the sectors will go into heavy loss.

Therefore, regular, simple, indigenous and non-expensive technology is the need of the hour. It is important to reduce and control the pollution emanating from these jaggery units and all other MSME units. More sustainable and advanced technology options should be explored and environment performance should be improved.

Jaggery units are a source of employment for a significant number of seasonal workers. Their end product also has demand in the market. Therefore, it is utmost important that in the long-run, the industry should flourish more, with lesser impact on the environment.

Shobhit Srivastava is a Programme Officer with the Industrial Pollution of the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi

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