By hook, crook or vision

Profits and a cleaner environment can sometimes complement each other. But Indian companies are still mired in poison. They must now look for a cure. They must act now

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015 | 21:11:47 PM

By hook, crook or vision

-- The 1980s and early 1990s were a time, the world over, of increasingly stereotypical confrontations between industry and environmentalists. Ecological considerations formed no part of industrial productive strategies, argued environmentalists. Industry treated the ecosystem as a vast self-replenishing raw material procurement facility, and as a convenient dumping site. Nonsense, thundered industry captains. They would not be blackmailed by bird-lovers; nothing could compromise profit-margins.

From the early 1990s began a time when this confrontation began to resolve itself. The factors that caused this turn of affairs were wide-ranging -- civil society's increasing experience of the effects of environmental abuse and refusal to countenance corporate denial; new management paradigms and practices that spoke of environmental efficiency as positive; shareholder pressures; and, most crucially, policy directions and regulatory measures by governments that forced industry to look for a clean-up act. In essence, there emerged a realisation that finite resource use had embedded economic benefits.

This confrontation has not ended. But in the West, it has led to strategies -- technological, managerial, process- and product-based -- where economic and environmental considerations are no longer thought to be incompatible. Companies in the West have realised that balance sheets and a cleaner environment do sometimes complement each other.

What about Indian industry? It is mired in poison, and must now look for a cure. By hook, crook or vision.

The simplest way out is the technological fix: import. But sadly, this won't work. Because solutions offered by the developed world apply only to the large-scale sector, while the major challenge in India lies in developing clean technologies or viable pollution control systems that work for the medium and small sectors. Both sectors rely heavily on natural resources, and are heavily entrenched in the rural economy. The small-scale agro-residue based paper and pulp industry, tanneries, or molasses-driven distilleries do not exist in the West. But in India, they are part of a small-scale sector that accounts for 40 per cent of industrial production, 35 per cent of direct exports and -- here is the rub -- 60 per cent of total industrial pollution. Each year, between 100,000 and 150,000 small-scale units open shop, leading to a question: will such entrepreunarial boom lead to ecological bust?

It need not. But where is the awareness that the search for an indigenous cure has to begin at home?

In its 10th five-year plan, the government of India envisages an 8 per cent GDP growth rate, for it wishes to double the country's per capita income in the coming decade. This, says the plan, requires a 10 per cent growth rate in the industrial sector. The plan is a noble one, except that this growth is not going to be a pollution-neutral one. It cannot be so. It cannot be so because government's regulatory mechanisms are either non-existent or completely weak. Industry today guzzles resources and pollutes freely because it can do so; what might happen in the future if such a scenario persists is too frightening to even imagine. On its part, industry's investment in research and development is as miniscule as the government's intent to achieve pollution-neutral growth: on an average, it is a pathetic 0.1 per cent of total turnover. In addition, most Indian industrialists prefer informal solutions to structural problems, solutions such as the readily-corruptible local politician or toxic sludge surreptitiously disgorged into a stream at night.

Perhaps the greatest problem is that environmental managers in Indian companies today are a marginalised lot. They could lead their companies to pollution-neutrality, but currently lack fiat, or clout. This became clear when the Green Rating Project of the Centre for Science and Environment set up an Environment Manager's Award to make visible the efforts made by professionals in imbuing companies with an ecological vision. Such managers exist only in large companies; they are not taken seriously. Environmental commitment, it seems, isn't serious business enough.

The environmental manager will have to be the chief innovator -- by finding solutions to the challenges of this century.

Free flow

-- (Credit: Amit Shanker / CSE)Currently, industry guzzles about 22 per cent of the total freshwater used worldwide. By 2025, this figure is expected to go up to 24 per cent, says the World Bank's World Water Development Report 2001.

In India, of all the categories of water use, industrial water use is rising the fastest. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), water consumption by industry accounts for about 8 per cent of the total national use. By 2050, industry will need almost four times the water it uses now.

But will it get this water? Highly unlikely. Water is already a source of conflict between communities and industry. In December 2002, the Coca-Cola plant in the drought-prone Perumatty village in Kerala's Palakkad district, faced serious opposition from the local community and politicians for depleting and polluting drinking water resources. The growing scarcity of water is also taking its toll on economic development. A recent study (Investment Climate in India, 2003) by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the World Bank has found that scarcity of water in Tamil Nadu is proving to be a major infrastructural bottleneck and a hurdle for investments in the state.

With more clamour for the resource every year, the future presents a grim picture. The challenge for Indian industry is, therefore, to stay a step ahead of the crisis by becoming water-efficient.

Water and the Indian industry
Industry's use of water acts as a double-edged sword: it puts immense pressure on local water resources, and it devastates the environment through wastewater discharge. Essentially used as input, mass and heat transfer media and for other miscellaneous purposes, a very small fraction of the water is actually consumed. About 90 per cent of the water used in major water-consuming industries is ultimately discharged as wastewater. According to the CPCB, in 2001, Indian industry consumed 40 km 3 of water and discharged 30.31 km 3 of wastewater. The issue of water use in industries, therefore, has to be addressed within these two interlinked paradigms.

Industry does not only use up a lot of water, it does so in an extremely inefficient manner. Compared to globally acceptable standards, the water consumption efficiency (water consumed to produce a unit product) of Indian industry is dismal (see table below: Guzzlers Inc). Thermal power plants (TPPs) are the major consumers, accounting for a staggering 88 per cent of the total water consumed by industry (see table below: Water use). In a scenario where the availability of water is dipping alarmingly, this is a recipe for disaster.

Water use
Lion's share: power plants

Sectors Water
(per cent)
Thermal power plants 82,194 87.87
Engineering 4,722 5.05
Pulp and paper 2,118 2.26
Textiles (cotton) 1,940 2.07
Iron and steel 1,208 1.29
Sugar 509 0.54
Fertilisers 456 0.49
Distilleries 172 0.18
Organic chemicals 114 0.12
Others 111 0.12

Note: *Estimates based on wastewater discharge, assuming wastewater volume is 90 per cent of the water used in the industry.
Source: Water Quality in India -- Status and Trends (1990-2001), CPCB & MEF

Pricing: a licence to abuse
One of the main reasons Indian industry wastes water wilfully is because it costs almost nothing to do so. Companies pay a ridiculous 10 paise for 1,000 litres of water; in contrast, people in some cities end up paying between Rs 10-50 for the same quantity.

Recently, the government amended the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977 and introduced a revised water cess for industry. T R Baalu, Union minister of environment and forests, while presenting the bill in parliament, proclaimed that the new cess would augment the resources of Central and state pollution control boards, promote economy in the use of water, and stop its pollution by industries. The new rates, explained the minister, are about three times higher than the existing rates.

Guzzlers Inc
Indian industry: inefficient consumer
Sector Average water consumption Global standard
Thermal power plant About 80 m3/mwh electricity4 Less than 10 m3/mwh electricity1
Textiles 200-250 m3/tonne cotton3 Less than 100 m3/tonne cotton1
Pulp and paper:
Wood-based mills
Waste paper-based mills

150-200 m
75-100 m

50-75 m
10-25 m
Integrated iron and steel plant 20-25 m3/tonne of finished product3 5 m3/tonne of finished product5
Sources: 1. Pollution Prevention and Abatement Handbook, World Bank, 1998; 2. Green Rating Project (GRP), CSE, 1999; 3. Environmental Management in Selected Industrial Sectors - Status and Needs, CPCB and MEF, 2003; 
4. No credible data available. Estimated by GRP from wastewater discharge data from Water Quality in India -- 
Status and Trends (1990-2001), CPCB and MEF and annual electricity generation data from Annual Report (2001-02) on the Working of State Electricity Boards and Electricity Departments, Planning Commission; 
5. Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC): Best Available Techniques, Reference Document on the Production of Iron and Steel, 2001
But a close scrutiny of the new cess exposes the sham underneath. It shows that the amendment to the act will do nothing more than generate resources for pollution control boards. The revised cost of water is still so low that it is imbecilic to expect industry to be pushed by it to improve its water-use efficiency. For instance, the consumption of water in industrial cooling is three times its consumption in processing. But the new bill has pegged the cost of water for industrial cooling, spraying in mine pits or boiler feeds at a mere 10 paise/kilolitre (kl) -- two-three times less than the cost for process water (see table below: Cheap!). At this rate, the cooling water cess of TPPs, for instance, will constitute just 0.20 per cent of their total power generation costs (see table below: For instance: 0.265 per cent). The act's introduction of such low costs for cooling water has swept away hopes of any water conservation efforts for three-fourth of the water consumed by Indian industry.

Industry pays a pittance
Water consumed for Old rate* New rate**
Industrial cooling, spraying in mine pits or feeding boilers 5 paise/kilolitre (kl) 10 paise/kilolitre (kl)
Domestic purposes 2 paise/kl 3 paise/kl
Processing1 10 paise/kl 20 paise/kl
Processing2 15 paise/kl 30 paise/kl
Note: * As per sub section (2) of section 3; 
** As per sub section (2A) of section 3
1. whereby water gets polluted and the pollutants are:
(i) easily biodegradable; or (ii) non-toxic; or 
(iii) both non-toxic and easily biodegradable 
2. whereby water gets polluted and the pollutants are: 
(i) not easily biodegradable; or (ii) toxic; or 
(iii) both toxic and not easily biodegradable 
Source: Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess (Amendment) Act, 2003, ministry of environment and forests
Costs fixed for process water are as illogical. Companies in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu are already paying third parties Rs 10-25/kl for process water; an increase of a mere 20-30 paise will not make any difference.

Integrate to survive
To successfully confront the challenge of water, Indian industry will have to aim at zero freshwater demand and zero effluent discharge. So far, water management in Indian industry has revolved around two basic aspects: raw water treatment to meet end-use requirements and effluent treatment for meeting discharge standards. Isolated, but noteworthy, examples of innovation do exist: the Chennai Petroleum Company Limited, for instance, treats municipal sewage to meet its process water requirements and is on its way to close its water cycle as well.

For instance: 0.265 per cent
Of money spent on power is the cost of water!
Total power produced by thermal power plants (million kwh) 372322.00
Cost of power generation (Rs/kwh) 3.27**
Total cost of generation (Rs crore) 121860.99
Cooling water cess as percentage of power generation cost 0.20
Total water cess as percentage of power generation cost 0.265
Note: **Revised estimate
Source: Annual Report on the Working of State Electricity Boards and Electricity Departments, 2001-2002, Planning Commission
But with the deepening crisis of water availability, an integrated approach involving water treatment, source reduction, reuse of process water, effluent treatment, recycling of treated effluent and waste-minimisation is the need of the hour. The components of such an integrated water management plan could include the following options:

IMPROVEMENTS IN PROCESS TECHNOLOGY: By adding water-efficient technologies

REUSE OF PROCESS WATER: Reusing process water in series in an open system for two or more successive but different processes

RECIRCULATION OF WATER: Indefinite use of non-consumptive water like cooling water and steam condensate for the same purpose after treatment

RAINWATER HARVESTING: Collecting water within the plant's rainwater endowment; for low water-consuming industries, it could meet their entire requirements.

Balancing act

-- Ineptly. One word that describes the way Indian industry produces and gobbles energy. And because it is inept, it gobbles more than what is necessary. The end result: more pollution.

This, in essence, is the problem with the use of energy in India. Total energy consumption in India is climbing at a rate of 5.5 per cent per annum; and industry is the largest consumer. Between 1990-2001, for every additional Rs 1,000 in its national income, India consumed about 0.023 tonnes of oil equivalent (TOE) of energy. Compare this energy intensity to that of some developed nations: 0.002 in Switzerland, 0.0035 in the United Kingdom and 0.0052 in the US.

In terms of the environment, this high energy intensity, that has remained unchanged for the last two decades, means more pollution. Coal, which accounted for 55 per cent of India's total energy consumption of 202 million TOE in 1999-2000, disgorges 100-125 million tonnes of fly ash annually. Nearly 90 per cent of this residue is dumped as slurry in ash ponds -- an operation that uses up and pollutes huge amounts of water and creates wastelands. Emissions from petroleum-based fuels (which account for about 36 per cent of India's total primary energy consumption) as well as coal are taking a huge toll on human lives in our cities.

But India needs all the energy that it can get. According to the Annual Reports of the Union ministry of power (MOP), the country currently has a power deficit of 7.8 per cent -- a major hurdle for its economic growth. The challenge, therefore, lies in meeting the galloping demand for power without devastating the environment.

To square up, the country will have to get over its ineptitude. It will have to focus on cleaner generation, better consumption efficiency, multi-pronged transportation planning and a shift to a non-carbon fuel-based economy.

Clean the coal
In 1999-2000, 52 per cent of the total coal consumed in the country (76.20 million TOE) was used for power generation by thermal power plants (TPPs). The net power generated from this coal -- after accounting for conversion losses in generation (49.98 million TOE) and auxiliary generation in power plants (2.36 million TOE) -- was just 23.86 million TOE: meaning a power generation efficiency of 31.3 per cent. If we take into account transmission and distribution (T&D) losses of about 8 per cent of gross coal input, the total power generation efficiency from coal stood at a bare 23.3 per cent.

This unbelievably inefficient generation is at the core of all the energy challenges facing the nation. And it is powered by obsolete and wasteful combustion technology and poor quality of coal.

So what is the Indian government doing about it? In its Blueprint for Power Sector Development (2001), the MOP states that India will need an additional 100,000 megawatts (MW) of power by 2012. And this demand will be met not by improving technology to clean the coal and enhancing existing generation efficiency, but mainly by constructing additional power plants at an investment of Rs 800,000 crore.

The MOP's blueprint also promises the introduction in India of what it calls super critical technology, which has slightly higher efficiency than the existing TPPs. However, what it conveniently bypasses is that this version is just a modification of the existing technology, spews forth the same amounts of fly ash and is already considered obsolete in the West. With the gargantuan scale of the challenge it faces, India can do without half-baked solutions such as these. What it needs instead are clean coal combustion technologies such as fluidised bed combustion (FBC) and integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) that promise significantly higher efficiency and lower pollution. While FBC is a proven tech nology in India, IGCC is still in its infancy. However, IGCC offers a more efficient way of generating power: it uses high-pressure coal gases exiting a gasifier to power a gas turbine, and the exhaust from the gas turbine to run a conventional steam turbine. This 'combined cycle' turbine arrangement, not feasible in conventional combustion, gives IGCC an efficiency potential of 60 per cent compared to conventional combustion plants' 30 per cent. Investment in research and local adaptation of IGCC is, therefore, the imperative.

The FBC technology, which is currently available till IGCC becomes viable, has its advantages. Retrofitting existing TPPs with FBC can increase the energy efficiency level to 40-45 per cent. The economics of this transition also seems to be sound. According to the estimates of the Green Rating Project, India can upgrade its entire existing TPPs' capacity (about 74,700 MW) to FBC technology within the MOP's budgeted investment of Rs 800,000 crore, and still have Rs 575,900 crore left over for capacity addition and augmentation of T&D infrastructure .

The country's TPPs generation capacity, thus, can get a 45 per cent jump with an investment which is only 30 per cent of the projected Rs 800,000 crore (see box: A case for clean coal combustion technology) -- without any additional consumption of coal or construction of new power plants.

The MOP's policy on the size of its proposed plants is also a bloomer. It envisages setting up large TPPs (more than 600 MW capacity), which entail centralised generation and distribution spread across a vast area. Though large TPPs can lay claim to improved efficiency of scale, the poor status of T&D infrastructure and management in India will eliminate this advantage. Moreover, such a policy will put breakers in the way of a shift to decentralised, renewable energy technologies that seems to be the future.

Reexamine the rules
Industry, the largest consumer of energy in the country, accounts for about 49 per cent of the total commercial use; coal and lignite meet about three-fourth of this demand. As with generation, inefficiency marks the consumption of energy in India.

Within industry, the iron and steel sector leads in consumption with around 10 per cent of the total. Energy costs represent about 30-35 per cent of the total production cost in the sector. Despite this, the average energy consumed for making one tonne of crude steel in India is in the range of 30-40 GJ -- very high compared to global standards (18-20 GJ) (see table below: Abuse of power).

Abuse of power
India: low on energy efficiency
Industry Average energy
consumption in India
Iron and steel 30-40 GJ/mt crude steel1 18-20 GJ/mt crude steel2
Aluminum 90 GJ/mt aluminum3 60-70 GJ/mt aluminum4
Mineral oil and petroleum 7-10% of the total oil produced in refining5 5-6% of the total oil produced in refining5
Paper 35-50 GJ/mt paper6 20-25 GJ/mt paper6
Sources: 1. Energy Consumption in Crude Steel Production in India, Teddy, 2001-02; 2. Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC): Reference Document on Best Available Techniques on the Production of Iron and Steel, European Commission, 2001; 3. Energy Consumption in Indian Aluminum Industry, Teddy, 2001-02; 4. Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC): Reference Document on Best Available Techniques in the Non-Ferrous Metal Industries, European Commission, 2001; 5. IOC: Application for Best Environment Managers Award, CSE, New Delhi, 2002; 6. Green Rating of Indian Pulp and Paper Sector, CSE, New Delhi, 1999
India currently produces 20 million tonnes of steel. Assuming that the average energy consumption for making one tonne of crude steel is reduced from the current 35 GJ/tonne to 25 GJ/tonne through technology upgradation and conservation measures, the energy saved from this sector will be a whopping 200 million GJ (55,000 million KWH electricity) annually. In 2000-01, the power deficit in the country stood at 39,812 million KWH. Which means, enhancing the energy efficiency of the integrated iron and steel sector alone can meet the current power deficit in the country.

Similarly, the aluminium sector, the second largest energy consumer in India, can meet around seven per cent of India's current power deficit. The energy consumed in producing one tonne of aluminium in India is 90 GJ, compared to 70 GJ in Europe. India's average annual aluminium production is about 0.5 million tonnes. Bringing the Indian aluminium industry to European consumption levels can save about 2,750 million KWH of energy.

Efficiency of use is, evidently, the key for Indian industry, which has an immense potential for generating surplus energy. But official myopia -- exercised through illogical regulations -- has been its bane. For instance, factories in India have to pay a tax to state electricity boards (SEBs) to set up their captive power plants. And even when they generate surplus power, industries find it difficult to sell it. Selling power to SEBs is not an option because of their dismal payment record. Except for aluminium, no major energy-consuming sector sells electricity to the grid willingly. This is exemplified by the fact that of the total captive power generated within Indian industry in 2000, only about 6.4 per cent was added to the grid. Along with encouraging better energy management and technologies, the government will have to reexamine its policies for effectively meeting India's challenges of energy consumption.

Renew the potential
With depleting global carbon-based fuel reserves and ever-burgeoning oil bills, India needs to reach for viable options, such as technologies that use renewable natural resources like biomass, water, wind and solar energy. The development and promotion of these technologies -- an immense potental for which exists in the country -- was started more than a decade ago. But even today, their contribution has reached just 3,000 MW-- less than 3 per cent of the total grid capacity. (see table below: Untapped)

India's renewable energy potential


Solar photovoltaic power -- 1.90 MW
Wind power 45,000 MW 1,617 MW
Small hydro power (up to 25 MW) 15,000 MW 1,437.47 MW
Biomass cogeneration power
Biomass gasifier
19,500 MW*

381.3 MW

51.3 MW
Energy recovery from wastes 1,700 MW 21.98 MW
Note: * Including biomass gasifier **
(up to 31.03.2002)
Source: Annual Report 2000-01, MNES
For renewable technologies to penetrate energy use, governments and industry will have to do more than utter pretty words. In many countries, energy regulators have mandated the use of renewables by requiring industries to source a certain proportion of their energy requirements from renewable technologies. Inevitably, India and its industry need to look beyond solar cookers and streetlights. They need to think beyond oil and carbon fuels. They need to rationalise generation and consumption processes and review priorities and policies. Because in the way towards establishing a fine balance between progress and environment, this is what makes sound geopolitical and economic sense.

Black liquor

-- The case of India's agro-based pulp and paper mills is representative of most small and medium enterprises (SMEs) operating in the country: low on resources, low on motivation to turn clean, and therefore, low on efficient, non-polluting technology.

Numbering about 300, these mills together produce about one-third (2.0 million tonnes) of the total paper manufactured in the country. But on an average, these paper mills produce less than 50 tonnes of paper per day (tpd). This insignificant individual capacity restricts these mills' access to technology that can treat the vast quantities of effluent -- called black liquor -- which they generate: there is no economically feasible chemical recovery process available for mills with capacities below 100 tpd.

It is a problem that has a spiralling impact. In the absence of a chemical recovery process, these mills discharge the pulping chemicals laden with lignin as effluents. The pollution generated by them is about 60 per cent of the total load from the Indian pulp and paper sector, and six times more than that generated by a wood-based plant for equivalent production. In fact, the agro-based segment faces the prospect of closure of its mills on account of its enormous contaminating capacity. This would destroy a potential source of employment from natural resources. According to the Indian Agro and Recycled Paper Mills Association, India currently has about 15-20 million tonnes of rice and wheat straw, which can yield about 3-4 million tonnes of paper annually -- enough to curtail India's gargantuan paper import bills drastically. But this conversion cannot be effected without a chemical recovery process that is suited to the small-scale agro-based pulp and paper mills.

Industry has limited options to scramble out of this mess. It can either develop a recovery system that is customised for agro-based mills, increase capacity to install the existing technology, shift to wastepaper as the resource base, or close shop. The first choice, besides being least-cost, also has the advantage of access to cheap raw material and value addition to an otherwise low-value but vital rural resource. But has industry reached out for it? Only haltingly, as the few initiatives in this direction show (see box: Lone rangers).

Flaying the environment

-- India's 2,500 tanneries churn out 1.8 billion square feet of leather every year. They earn the country US $6 billion annually as foreign exchange. They also discharge about 24 million cubic metres of wastewater with high COD, BOD and TDS concentrations, and about 0.4 million tonnes of hazardous solid wastes per annum (Environmental Management in Selected Industrial Sectors, CPCB and MEF, 2003).

This contamination overload is the outcome of the highly polluting chrome tanning manufacturing process, used by about 80 per cent of Indian tanneries. Technologies that curtail pollution in this sector are almost exclusively targetted towards large-scale tanneries. The small- and medium-scale plants, which dominate the industry, have few options. They either pollute blatantly or resort to temporary solutions.

There is also a problem of non-compliance and resistance to change. Though India's pollution control regulations for the industry are tame compared to global standards, most tanneries choose to ignore them. Chrome recovery technologies developed by the Chennai-based Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) have been summarily rejected by the industry as commercially unviable. The CLRI, however, claims the cost of its chrome recovery unit is between Rs 3.5-10.0 lakh (based on size), with a payback period of just two-three years.

Although substantial scope exists for recycling process water in tanneries, the industry gives this vital area of operation the slip. Neither has it taken to biomethanation for treatment of tannery fleshing and sludge, being implemented at a few sites.

Why are Indian tanneries such rigid non-conformists? To all appearances, they do not have a valid ground for not meeting standards or rejecting new technologies. Making pollution control technologies work for medium and small industry is still a distant challenge.

Doyens of pollution

Distilleries: regulatory and R&D interventions needed

Distilleries pollute. In India, they pollute with total impunity. An unholy nexus of politicians, bureaucrats, regulators and industry, this sector is foremost in not complying with pollution norms. The minimum national standards (MINAS) for the sector were set way back in 1981-82, but more than two decades after, not a single distillery unit meets the BOD and COD standards prescribed under MINAS (see box above: Awash!).

Treatment procedures of spent wash, generated as effluent by the industry, have varied over the years, without contributing to any substantial reduction in pollution. The first of these -- the lagooning process, or storage of spent wash in ponds -- led to severe groundwater contamination. Some distilleries have resorted to composting, with the final compost being used as fertiliser in agricultural fields. However, it is now universally known that using distillery compost leads to a significant increase in soil salinity.

The good news is that the distillery industry is well suited for agriculture-dependent economies such as India. By using renewable wastes from agriculture, it adds high value to otherwise low-value products. And the ethanol produced in distilleries, when blended with petrol, acts as a comparatively less polluting automobile fuel. Eight states in India are already using petrol with a 5 per cent ethanol content and there is a potential to increase this to 10 per cent.

But the sector certainly needs to clean up its act. In cooperation with the government, it needs to concentrate on investments in indigenous research and development to find a permanent solution for treating spent wash. Institutions such as the National Sugar Institute, Kanpur and the New Delhi-based Indian Agricultural Research Institute, despite being adequately funded by the government, have not done any significant work for treatment and disposal of this highly acidic and odorous effluent.

The West has the technology for treating spent wash from grain-based distilleries. Unfortunately, this cannot be used in India, as almost all Indian distilleries use molasses (wastes from sugar industry) as their raw material.


-- Modern agriculture: the boon and the bane of India's teeming millions. The boon, because it has ensured that the nation's crop fields remain fecund. The bane, because it has bred a poison that is seeping into our veins through the food we eat and the water we drink. Every day. Every moment.

Pesticides and fertilisers, used indiscriminately to coax the land into producing more, have backfired with lethal environmental impacts: excessive mortality, reduced reproductive potential in organisms, changes in diversity of species and ecosystems, and the development of pesticide resistance in target as well as non-target species. Through our crop fields, the poison has seeped into our food chain and is present everywhere -- in milk products, vegetables, fish, grains, meat, groundwater, even in breast milk.

Studies have shown that less than 0.1 per cent of chemical pesticides in India reach the target pest. The remainder is absorbed by -- and devastates -- humans, livestock and the natural biota ('Role of biopesticides in environmental safety, Science and Culture , May-June, 2000). Assuming 0.1 per cent as the effective usage rate for chemical pesticides, pesticide pollution in India could be in the range of an incredible 45,000-50,000 tonnes per annum.

This, despite our limited use. Per hectare consumption of pesticides in India is only 0.57 kg, which is miniscule compared to that of USA (about 3 kg), Taiwan (17 kg) or Japan (10-12 kg). About three quarters of pesticide use occurs in developed countries. The pesticide market in these countries is dominated by the relatively less toxic herbicides. India, on the contrary, uses cheap (not under patent protection), high-potency organophosphate and organochlorine-based insecticides, which are notorious for their acute toxicity, non-biodegradability and bioaccumulative properties. Worse, about 50 per cent of the pesticides used in India are targetted not at increasing yields of foodgrains but of cotton, which has export potential. It has nothing to do with food security.

This is not all. India also produces, uses and trades in pesticides which are banned or whose use is restricted in some nations because of their deleterious environmental or health impacts: between 1998-2001, the country produced more than 40,000 tonnes of these poisons (see table below: Made in India). According to the ministry of agriculture, of the 180 registered pesticides in India, 32 (about one-sixth of total pesticides used) have been banned in other countries. Monocrotophos, a highly toxic insecticide whose registration was canceled in the US in 1988, is India's top-selling pesticide.

Made in India
Banned and/or restricted in some nations

Pesticide 1999-2000 2000-2001E 2001-2002A
DDT 3,600* 3,500 3,600
Malathion 5,900 6,000 6,600
Monocrotophos 9,500 9,000 9,500
Methyl parathion 1,900 1,800 2,000
Phosphamidon 3,200 NA NA
Dimethoate 1,400 1,200 1,200
Endosulfan 8,300 7,500 8,000
Zinc phosphide 500 500 600
Aluminium phosphide 1,800 2,000 2,100
Phorate 6,100 5,000 5,500

Note: *All figures in million tonnes; E - Estimated; A - Anticipated 
Source: Industrial Data Book, 2002-03

Of course, there is also the usual production knot: bulk of the country's pesticides is produced by the unorganised sector, which has inadequate facilities to treat the toxic and non-biodegradable pollutants generated by the manufacturing process. Incineration, which is being promoted as a panacea by the central pollution control board and ministry of environment and forests, is hardly a solution: it can release poisonous compounds like dioxins, monitoring which is difficult in India.

One of the alternatives before industry is a shift to biopesticides -- pesticides derived from animals, plants, bacteria and certain minerals. Inherently less harmful and polluting than their conventional cousins, biopesticides, when used as a component of an integrated pest management (IPM) programme, can bring down the use of conventional pesticides while keeping crop yields high. In fact, the US promotes the alternative widely as integral to its IPM programmes; in 1998, it had more than 175 registered biopesticide active ingredients and 700 registered biopesticide products.

India's pest management community, however, remains blissfully unaware of the potential of biopesticides. Most state agricultural universities, on whose recommendations pest control methods are promoted, have nothing to say about biopesticides in their counsel. In the absence of active promotion and production incentives by the government, the demand for these products has not developed. As a consequence, dealers do not stock biopesticides and farmers have no access to them.

Industry, obviously, has to take the bit between its teeth; this official impassivity leaves it with no other choice. It has a critical dual-mission: catalyse research and development to find better biopesticides, and initiate the raising of public awareness for the shift towards integrated pest management and increased use of biopesticides. God help us if it fails.

A non-priority?

Based on its environmental performance, Indian industry can be classified into two groups. The first consists of companies where management limits itself to worrying about how to stick to (or use to the full) standards and norms. The second consists of companies that have gone beyond 'regulatory requirements'; these have operational systems driven by the environment's corporate vanguard: environment managers.

An environment manager monitors pollution control systems, environmental audit of their companies, interacts with regulatory bodies, procures certification and tries to integrate eco-friendly activities with the day-to-day operations of their companies. It is their work that brands a company as 'environment-friendly'. But most of them remain relegated to the corporate backrooms all their lives, unappreciated even by their own managements.

It is on these environment managers that the future of industry's relationship with environment depends. On them depends industry's very survival, for an environmentally unsustainable industry is a recipe for disaster. To emphasise on this vital truth and to recognise these managers' contributions, CSE's Green Rating Project has instituted an award for the 'best environment manager' in Indian industry. The survey for this first-of-its-kind initiative in the country was completed in April 2003. Support from industry was immediate: 74 nominations were received from companies such as Ford, Xerox Modicorp, Philips, Ambuja Cement, ITC, HCL, Tisco, Glaxo, BHEL and Ranbaxy.

What CSE found
The diverse profiles of the nominees pointed to the variety that existed in the profession. Vice presidents and general managers, directors and senior managers vied for the top spot. Working experiences ranged from more than 30 years to less than two years; responsibilities, from providing overall guidance and vision to the environmental aspect of the business to mere liaison with state pollution control boards. The survey also generated information on critical trends in the state of environment management in Indian industry, and on the kinds of environment protection initiatives taken.

To begin with, all the 74 nominees came from large-scale companies (the second group in Indian industry). Nominations from small and medium enterprises were conspicuous by their absence.

Majority of the nominees represented well-known companies that had a presence in global markets. Fourteen nominees were from MNCs. This indicates that liberalisation of the Indian economy, its increasing interaction with global markets, and corporate image are contributing to pushing companies towards better environmental management.

Of the 74 nominees, only 19 represented a department that catered exclusively to environment. The rest came from departments which environment shared with other specialities like quality control, health and safety, operations, production or R&D. Though the association of environment with health and safety is now being recognised as valid, the others are symptomatic of the lip service that companies usually pay to environment management.

CSE also found that a majority of the nominees did not have enough decision-making powers. More than 60 per cent of them represented middle management (managers, deputy general managers, etc); only nine managers belonged to the higher management level (vice presidents, directors, etc).

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