New systems, old habits

Launched in 2014, the new-age regulatory mechanism for highly polluting industries remains a non-starter due to poor planning, hasty execution and lack of enforcement

By Sanjeev Kumar Kanchan
Last Updated: Monday 12 June 2017

New systems, old habits

India's pollution monitoring and enforcement systems are in a shambles. As the number of industries is growing by the day, the regulatory system is failing to keep pace. At present, the existing pollution monitoring for most industries is done manually and irregularly. Industries flout norms with impunity, as they know that the regulators have poor capacity to check and enforce the norms. Even if they are caught, the system of penalising them through the courts is so cumbersome that regulators have stopped filing cases.

When India embraced a new-age pollution monitoring regime in February 2014, it was hailed as a move to widen and strengthen the environmental governance in the country. The new system was supposed to be a major game changer to re-calibrate and transform the country’s tardy pollution compliance and enforcement system.

The significance of implementing the Continuous Emission Monitoring Systems (CEMS) and Continuous Effluent Quality Monitoring Systems (CEQMS)—real time pollution monitoring and reporting for 17 highly polluting industries—cannot be understated. These technological systems not only produce credible and accurate data, but also transfer the information continuously, in real time, to the regulator so that remedial action can be taken immediately.

More than three years have gone, but the CEMS and the CEQMS are headed nowhere because of official inaction to seriously implement them. A recent study conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a non-profit in New Delhi, has revealed that most equipment installations were faulty, incomplete or non-operational. For instance, a textile plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, was producing incorrect data as the monitoring equipment was installed at a wrong place. In another case, the analyser of a biomedical waste incineration plant in Bengaluru was showing zero emissions of hydrochloric acid (HCl), a toxic pollutant commonly emitted by waste incineration plants.

In the new system, when data for a particular pollutant shows high levels at an industrial plant, the servers of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in New Delhi, and the respective State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs), send messages to the erring industry and to the machine vendor. This mechanism was supposed to strengthen the hands of the regulator. But in most cases, these messages remain unread by the industry and no follow-up action is taken by the authorities.

The objective of CEMS and CEQMS today stands defeated because of poor preparatory planning, lack of knowledge about the choice of equipment, maintenance, installation of non-certified equipments, incorrect installation, fudging of data, lack of inspection, and poor enforcement. Due to the environment ministry's apathy, the CPCB’s lethargy and the inaction of SPCBs', the new regulatory system is failing pathetically.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :
Related Stories

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.

  • Good article, I really hope that government will take notice of the shortcomings and rectify the same. The government should also consider disclosing the emission level as it will put pressure on the industries; also the financial markets will start taking notice of such industries and will do their bit in putting pressure on them.

    Posted by: Shivananda Shetty | 3 years ago | Reply
    • You shared a very important point of disclosing the emission data to public. Lets hope, corrective measure will be taken soon.
      Thank you.

      Posted by: Sanjeev K Kanchan | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Nothing is left in bombarding on failure of PCBs but some positive thought is necessary for the causes and amelioration of the situation. NGT order dated 8.6.2017, if implemented in letter and spirit, may, perhaps, help.

    Posted by: Dilip B Broalkar | 3 years ago | Reply
  • The article is beautifully written and presented to highlight the issues involved in to CEMS implementation and lacunas thereof. We are independent since last 70 years but monkeying has not left us in every way: be it food habit, be it dresses, be it fashion or be it environmental legislative requirements. Some time I feel pained that being a human are we doing justice to next generation? But answer remains same in these years, we are doing our business, do not know about what others doing. Had we been in to a integrated system of environment & social requirement safe guard policy in place for the country like a in place which should have been working as an umbrella of requirement having a provision to ascertain the future requirement need and action plan, which would lead to amendment. Still we have time, probably all stake holders should come together under one umbrella to discuss the need, respect each other's opinion and devise a policy for the country to save it from monkeying.

    Posted by: Bijan Mishra | 3 years ago | Reply
    • Thank you for sharing your views on article. We hope the government will take note of it and corrective measures. The opportunity to improve environmental governance must not be missed.

      Posted by: Sanjeev K Kanchan | 3 years ago | Reply
  • The article highlights the practical gap between policy and its implementation. Ultimate goal of CEMS is to reduce the pollution but without measuring correctly you cannot control .

    Hope the govt. will take some clue from this article and undertake steps to control the damage otherwise billions of Dollar will go into drain

    Posted by: Sanjeev Rai | 3 years ago | Reply
    • Rightly said. The gaps must be bridged. The new era of pollution monitoring and reporting has immense potential to strengthen the compliance and enforcement system in India.

      Posted by: Sanjeev K Kanchan | 3 years ago | Reply
  • A good article appraising the present issues and lacunae in implementing this effective systems in developing our nation.A little focus, training and intention to do corrective action can benefit on a longer run. Moreover I also expect a similar article in terms of water pollution monitoring and management in the country. The online monitring can also help in many cases the present senario and also predict for preventive action in the future. Online monitoring should be mandated in the country under precautionary principle for betterment of our enviroinment which is not ours and a demanding right for the future generations.

    Posted by: R.Dhanasekaran | 3 years ago | Reply
    • Many thanks for encouraging words. I completely agree with your views on the way forward. As far as water pollution monitoring and management is concern, it is very crucial for India. I take note of your suggestion.

      Posted by: Sanjeev K Kanchan | 3 years ago | Reply