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
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.

Illustration: Tarique Aziz

State pollution control boards are ill-equipped to justify their regulatory space

The first State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) was set up in 1970 in Maharashtra. Today, all states have SPCBs and Union Territories have committees. The role and responsibilities of SPCBs have grown over the years. In 1974, Parliament mandated these boards to prevent and control water pollution, and in 1981, monitoring and controlling air pollution also came within its ambit.

The responsibilities of SPCBs have kept increasing as more regulations were passed, including rules for hazardous waste, plastic manufacture and sale, municipal solid waste, noise pollution, battery regulation and e-waste management. Apart from industries, officials have to also monitor pollution from hotels, hospitals and housing complexes. SPCBs have to act whenever they are instructed by the ministries or courts. And now with the introduction of CEMS and CEQMS, their responsibilities have increased.

But pollution monitoring and control in the country is in the dumps because SPCBs are incapacitated, redundant and losing the battle. Worse, nobody wants to invest in them as they are considered to be corrupt, ineffective and a liability. Let’s take the issue of personnel. A large proportion of sanctioned jobs in SPCBs have not been filled—in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh alone, about 47-55 per cent of posts are lying vacant. Even technical positions—the nature of jobs in SPCBs is largely technical—have not been filled. In Maharashtra, for instance, about 20-33 per cent of technical jobs are yet to be filled (see ‘Empty at the top’).

Source: CSE, based on data provided by state pollution control boards; Note: data is for six statesÐMaharashtra,
Karnataka, Odisha, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat

These vacancies have led to the inability of the boards to perform their tasks. For instance, a technical staff in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Odisha gets less than one day in a year to inspect one industry for certifying approval. This includes the time spent to prepare, travel, inspect and write an inspection report. In Karnataka, one technical personnel has to inspect about 250 industries in a year. This ratio is bound to worsen as the number of industries that need to be monitored is increasing. In contrast to the increase in the number of industries, the number of technical staff in most SPCBs has remained the same or has decreased. In Karnataka, while the number of industries increased from 71,743 in 2013-14 to 74,936 in 2014-15, the scientific and technical staff remained the same, at 235. So monitoring of industries remains only on paper (see graphs: ‘Posting vacancies’ and ‘Ratio that defies logic’). In most SPCBs, an official inspects the factory only when the renewal of the license, called consent to operate (CTO), is due. As officials cannot monitor, they ask industries to get pollution monitoring done by private laboratories and submit reports. But even this reporting requirement varies from state to state—some SPCBs demand a monthly pollution report, while others ask for quarterly one. There is no uniform protocol.

Source: CSE, estimates based on data
provided by state pollution control boards;
Note: data is for four statesÐMaharashtra,
Karnataka, Odisha and Gujarat

For the ease of doing business, most state governments have initiated a single window clearance mechanism, which includes online submission of forms and adoption of online mechanism for granting licenses. There is nothing wrong with this system, except that most SPCBs have impractically reduced the time limit for giving CTO, even though the statutory regulations permit 120 days for processing. For example, Andhra Pradesh has reduced the clearance timeline to 45 days for red category (most polluting) industries, and 21 and 7 days for orange (moderately polluting) and green (low polluting) categories respectively. Due to this, inspection and cross-checks are not carried properly. Says an official of the Odisha State Pollution Control Board: “A single window clearance scheme not only allows industries to know about the details of inspection well in advance, but also gives them ample time to hide matters before the inspecting team arrives. So the basic purpose of inspection is defeated.”

Ditto for the renewal of CTO. The CTO was earlier renewed every 1-5 years. The period has now been increased to 5-20 years. “The state boards are not able to carry out proper evaluation due to time constraints. They are just processing clearance applications based on their "siting" criteria. Closure notices for non-complying industries too have fallen drastically,” says an official of the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board, who does not wish to be named.

Empty at the top
A large number of senior regulators are going to retire, but there is neither recruitment nor a transition plan

The CENTRAL Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the State Pollution Control Boards are sitting on a peculiar crisis. A majority of senior staff in these boards will retire in the next 3-4 years. According to sources, 40 senior level posts in the CPCB will be vacant in the next two years. This is going to create a void at the top levels.

It is the same story in state pollution control boards. For instance in the Gujarat Pollution Control Board, around 30-35 officers have retired in the last 3-4 years and another dozen will retire in the next two and a half years. In Madhya Pradesh, out of the 50 senior staff, 42 will retire by 2022. In Maharashtra, about 10-15 officers have retired in the last 2-3 years and another dozen will retire in the next two and a half years; the last recruitment was done in 2009.

But there have been no effort to launch recruitment drives, train young colleagues or initiate transition plans.

How the authorities messed up implementing the breakthrough system

CEMS and CEQMS have been in place in most of the developed world, which include the US, the UK, France and Germany, since the 1970s. Countries that followed suit and enforced these systems include China, South Africa and Saudi Arabia. These mechanisms have made their compliance and enforcement systems more transparent, standardised, and have encouraged their industries to adopt a self-monitoring and control regime.

For instance, between 2005 and 2015, the US reduced oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions by 62 per cent and sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 78 per cent, by implementing a pollution trading system based on the data generated through CEMS. The improved quality of monitoring has not only enabled these countries to drastically reduce pollution levels, but have provided regulatory certainty to the businesses as discretionary powers of the regulators have been reduced.

CEMS primarily monitors air pollutants such as particulate matter (PM), SO2, NOx, whereas CEQMS monitors biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), chemical oxygen demand (COD), total suspended solids and total dissolved solids. These pollutants not only cause long-term harm to the populations in the vicinity of the industrial units, but also damage the local ecology irreparably. So putting in place a new regulatory system to continuously monitor and control emissions would have gone a long way to streamline India’s environmental governance. What has gone wrong?

(Top) A wrongly installed
dust monitor at a power
plant in Bhopal (Photo: Sanjeev Kumar Kanchan); (bottom)
an effluent monitor
installed in a dry channel
at a steel plant near
Bengaluru (Photo: Kanika Bahel)

The pilot's taking a nap

It all began in 2003, when pollution regulators along with industry representatives came up with a charter on Corporate Responsibility for Environmental Protection (CREP) and decided to install CEMS. Since this was a voluntary move, regulators never checked the status of implementation.

In 2011, a pilot scheme was initiated for a select group of industries in three states—Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu—in coordination with their respective SPCBs to install PM CEMS and develop a mechanism for emission trading within industries. But the CPCB is still struggling to complete the project as problems related to insufficient and incorrect data, faulty equipment, industry’s deliberate incoordination and untrained regulators have plagued the pilot scheme.

It is surprising then that even without completing and learning from the pilot scheme, the Union government hastily launched a scheme for making CEMS and CEQMS installation mandatory for the 17 category of industries.

Even the draft notification for CEMS released by CPCB in April 2015 was a fiasco. CPCB came up with a draft notification for CEMS and asked for public comments. When the stakeholders pointed out grave and practical errors, it was withdrawn. The notification permitted Indian manufacturers to sell uncertified equipments—all they had to do was to demonstrate the performance of one of their equipments for one month.

The notification also proposed that the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), New Delhi, would be engaged to check the performance of the equipments. But NPL was neither kept in the loop nor taken into confidence about this initiative. So far, no new notification has been issued.

Though 80 per cent of the industries claim to have installed CEMS, there is no way to verify whether they have properly implemented it. The Centre for Science and Environment’s (CSE’s) study—carried out in collaboration with the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) and the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB)—found that most industries had installed CEMS and CEQMS without any proper knowledge. Even state regulators had very limited knowledge on the process of installation and management. This lack of knowledge among the industry and regulators has been exploited by vendors to sell uncertified and unreliable products. Some vendors were misguiding the industry by showing false certificates of their products. In fact, the number of vendors selling certified products was minuscule.

India can learn from the experiences of other countries. In most European countries, governments have authorised laboratories or institutions to test and certify equipments. For instance, in the UK, it is the Monitoring Certification Scheme of the Environment Agency, and in Germany, it is TUV Rheinland. The US Environmental Protection Agency itself tests the equipments during installation on site and certifies them.

While the certification of equipments is mandatory in Germany, manufacturers in the UK and France are voluntarily getting certification to add credibility to their equipments. In fact, these countries have developed a database of suitable and certified technologies. The entire process is streamlined—equipments are tested for quality, accredited laboratories choose the suitable location for installation, they calibrate and test it, and finally, the local regulator or the authorised laboratory approves it.

This makes the process fool-proof and reliable. The responsibilities of the stakeholders are well-defined so much so that any stakeholder, be it the equipment manufacturer, testing laboratory or industry, committing a fraud or a mistake can be penalised.

Beyond the stated
By setting up a specialised centre to analyse CEMS data, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board shows the way

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) is implementing real time pollution monitoring far better than other boards. It proactively took steps to keep a close watch over data quality and have used this data to analyse pollution trends from industries.

Unlike other boards, the TNPCB created a separate unit called the Care Air Centre with a dedicated staff. Most of the polluting industries and common effluent treatment plants are connected to the Care Air Centre for online monitoring, where they are assessed for stack emissions, effluent and ambient air quality monitoring. Whenever data from CEMS and CEQMS of an industry is substandard, the Care Air Centre brings this to the notice of the industry, which is instructed to install the correct equipments and provide quality data. Or when emission levels exceed the norms, an inbuilt alarm system informs the industry concerned and the district environmental engineer and the member secretary through automated messaging, and remedial action is taken.

TNPCB is also using CEMS and CEQMS data for compliance check, trend analysis and specific periods of pollution. "Based on CEMS and CEQMS data, we have highlighted the areas and districts which are facing environmental challenges, mainly for air and water quality. The data will be used to identify key pollutants and polluting sectors and action will be taken against the erring industrial units," says R Dhanasekaran, chief scientific officer, TNPCB.

Systemic breakdown

CSE’s study found that only a few industrial units were able to carry out maintenance of equipments; most of them had left this job to the vendors. When questioned, a majority of the industry representatives failed to answer whether or when the CEMS and CEQMS were calibrated or adjusted the last time. It is important to understand that CEMS and CEQMS are not a “fit and forget system”, and in the absence of regular maintenance and calibration, the system starts giving wrong readings.

During the survey, CSE found that in many units, the monitoring equipments were installed at wrong locations. Worse, nearly 60 per cent of the industries surveyed did not have a dedicated employee to take care of these systems. The amount of time these equipments were found to be providing data was far below 80 per cent; the reasons cited being equipment failure, network issues or not being able to link up to the server at the local SPCB office.

Says Prashant Kokil, Chief Sustainability Officer, Tata Power: “The progress of CEMS is very slow as there are no visible efforts to overcome issues for early implementation. Though all Tata Power plants have installed CEMS, we are still relying on the equipment suppliers for their operation and maintenance. Clarity in regulatory management is missing, and this could further delay the process.”

Not just industry representatives, even regulatory officials do not know how to handle CEMS and CEQMS equipments. SPCB officials have no clue about the requirements of suitable technologies, correct installation, operation and maintenance, data transfer and use for compliance check. In absence of skilled staff, a majority of SPCBs have failed to verify, guide or regulate the implementation of these real time monitoring systems.

Says Rajendra Chaturvedi, a scientist with MPPCB: “Officials are finding it tough to implement these systems due to lack of certification policy, indigenous certification agency and accredited laboratories.”

Worse, CPCB is yet to issue guidelines for CEMS. Developed countries have a detailed manual and protocol to run these systems. It covers all the technical and legal information related to equipment selection, installation, operation and maintenance, data acquisition and compliance checks. These guidelines help the industry, vendors and regulators to implement CEMS successfully.

CPCB could have even held training programmes for regulators and the industry on the new regulatory system, but not a single session has been held so far.

In a comatose

The CEMS system has become just a showcase in last three years. Servers have been installed at CPCB and SPCBs. LED displays have been mounted in the offices of the environment secretary and environment minister to display CEMS data. But so far there is no system to evaluate and use this data.

The industries, meanwhile, have found numerous ways to manipulate data. Since correct installation and calibration were not enforced or checked by pollution control personnel, there is no control on the quality of the reported data. So while faulty installation is producing incorrect data, industries are also manipulating data by various means like capping the upper limit, generating artificial data and switching off the system when pollution levels are high (see ‘Fudging data’,).

In contrast, countries that have implemented CEMS have set pollution limits based on CEMS readings and have established rules to check compliance. In Germany, half an hour and hourly average CEMS data is collected by the local regulator for compliance check.

In the US, half an hour, hourly and 30-day rolling average of CEMS data are used for compliance check. India is yet to put in place any such checks. Globally, countries have also used CEMS as a tool to strengthen the compliance watch system as well as for market-based pollution control through emissions trading. For instance, the US does pollution trading for SO2 and NOx and China does for SO2.

But India's new regulatory programme is in comatose, despite the industry having invested about Rs 1-2 billion in procuring the monitoring equipments. “What could have been a major game changer to improve the compliance of industries with pollution norms is now a defunct system. But all is not lost. We can still improve the functioning of CEMS by improving capacity, devising better guidelines and by setting up appropriate institutional mechanisms,” says CSE’s Deputy Director Chandra Bhushan.

Fudging data
Some of the techniques that industries use to manipulate real time continuous monitoring systems

the REAL time continuous pollution monitoring systems can be tampered if they are not verified and sealed. The equipment supplier sends data from the industrial unit to the regulators with the help of the data service provider.

Industrial units are reportedly manipulating data with the help of the equipment supplier and the data service provider. Some of their techniques include:

Capping the upper measurement limit below the norm in the software so that even if the system detects a high value, it shows that it is below standards;

The equipment's measurement range is increased to a high range so that the monitored value looks insignificant; and,

Software is modified using a mathematical factor so that the monitored value shows very low levels.

Due to the lack of data verification and evaluation system, there is enough room for the industries and data service providers to fudge data. State pollution control board officials neither have time to inspect the site nor is there any mechanism or protocol to seal and tamper-proof the entire system. Sudheesh Narain, CEO of Glens, a data service provider company, says that nearly 30-40 per cent of data supplied to regulators are fudged. He adds that heavy penalties on the erring industry can be a deterrent.

Moreover, 10-30 per cent data is lost because industries switch off their equipments when they anticipate high pollution load from their operations.

Regulatory authorities need to go back to the drawing board

In its haste to score brownie points for launching a new “online monitoring” initiative, the Union government has jeopardised a breakthrough regulatory programme. Ironically, a system that was supposed to digitise pollution monitoring is caught up in a mesh of wires, and has defeated the very purpose of transparency. At the same time, the manual pollution monitoring and compliance, which was earlier in place, has lost all seriousness. It is a travesty that an initiative, which for the first time had the backing all stakeholders—industries, manufacturers, service providers and environmental think-tanks—is failing because of CPCB’s lethargy and inaction. It would have been wise if the government had implemented the programme in a phased manner—starting with the large industries and followed by the smaller ones.

But there is still time for course correction. CPCB must immediately publish the guidelines to implement CEMS. This will help industries rectify the issues related to equipment, operations, calibration and maintenance. SPCBs will then have a rule book to carry out inspection and verification checks for proper implementation.

Additionally, capacity building programmes should be held for industries, manufacturers and regulators to help them learn and understand how the systems work. Once the implementation reaches a satisfactory stage, a protocol for data verification and use can be defined.

Importantly, SPCBs must undertake an evaluation of equipments for quality assurance and verification for proper operation and maintenance of CEMS and CEQMS. It is interesting to note that CPCB officials have stated that the monitored data will not be in the public domain. Unless civil society has access to pollution data, there can be little credibility and transparency in the new system.

The government must also initiate a process for the identification and the empanelment of laboratories. These recognised laboratories will not only test the quality of equipments, but also verify installation, operations and maintenance. Setting up such a system may take time as it will involve multiple agencies, development of procedures and protocols and legal amendments. Therefore, these must be planned with a strategic timeline without postponing any further.

The development of an indigenous quality assurance system for CEMS and CEQMS is urgently required. Domestic manufacturers have a large scope to flourish, but their products need to be tested for quality and certified under an indigenous system. Since this is a complex exercise, a time-bound plan needs to be prepared. Importantly, the government must make sure that these systems are legally binding on industries.

Implementation of CEMS doesn’t mean decimation of SPCBs. In fact, we will need competent pollution control boards to successfully implement CEMS. There is an urgent need to upgrade the capacity of SPCBs.

The government must step up its efforts to undo the mistakes of the past so that industrial pollution monitoring and compliance can be strengthened. “CEMS and CEQMS are the routes through which India’s environmental governance can be catapulted from the 20th to the 21st century. We cannot afford to get it wrong,” adds Bhushan.

With inputs from Rahul Kumar Singh

Down To Earth