In the future

...only stringent and serious measures can control further rise in pollution

Published: Sunday 31 January 1999

In the future

Whether it is an accidental leak or the emission of a poisonous gas, people are getting increasingly restive. In the face of sheer corporate indifference to environmental and health hazards, they are taking recourse to the judiciary. According to cpcb , the number of court cases filed under the Water and Air Act had grown from 2,000 in 1987 to 5,900 in 1993. However, neither the courts nor the government has come up with an effective system to make the polluter accountable. The awareness, too, is limited to those on whom the effects have become apparent or a few concerned citizens. There is a need for public awareness campaigns led by the government. Non-governmental organisations too have a major role to play. Studies such as the one conducted by cse should be encouraged to mobilise people to ensure that pollution remains a primary concern.

The driving manual
While stringent measures are needed to control industrial pollution, vehicular pollution cannot be controlled unless diesel consumption is brought down and the quality of diesel improved considerably. In Delhi, for instance, where the level of air pollution is the highest among Indian cities, the quality of diesel being imported can be improved.

Diesel in India is the cheapest in the world. It is no surprise, therefore, that the country is also the biggest consumer. Also, eco-friendly vehicular technology, though available, is very expensive. This factor inhibits manufacturers from introducing new technology. Thus there is an urgent need to spend money to promote research to develop new, cheaper effluent-cleaning technologies, instead of generating pollution and then spending much more in cleaning it up.

In cities like Delhi, efforts are on to introduce compressed natural gas ( cng ) for buses by 2000. At present, there are only seven cng outlets. This is expected to rise to about 100 by 2000. One good move the government made was to phase out lead in the capital. But while enough was being said about unleaded petrol being lead-free, mum was the word on the carcinogenic benzene content in the "green" fuel. The Delhi government could not be misleading its public more effectively.

Filtering industrial fumes
Industrialisation is one of the key components of modern development. But there is a need to find the right way, to blend technology, environment and progress, and people's needs. In India, many of the problems are noticed only when it is too late to undo the damage. Technological developments have provided human beings with enormous conveniences in the West. But what we have to be clear about is that prior to the 1950s, the environment in the West was highly polluted from the heavy use of metals and chemicals. It became difficult to breathe in London and Los Angeles. However, over the years, the West has been able to reduce some of its pollution only because of enormous investments and social discipline. For instance, in California, usa , permits are issued to industries depending on how much they pollute. Unannounced inspections are carried out and defaulters are fined heavily (see interview: Small steps... ). If India tries to copy the Western model without supporting investments on pollution control measures and social discipline, it will cost millions in terms of heath and environment damage. There are, therefore, two challenges ahead of us: to improve the "ecological efficiency" of our industries, that is, we produce more while using less resources. But the tougher challenge would be to build a sufficiency revolution: learning to make do with minimal resources. Better late than never, everyone should realise that prevention is, indeed, better than cure.

We are grateful to Ranjan Bose of Tata Energy Research Institute, and Carter Brandon of the World Bank for providing technical help for the cse study.
The study was conducted by Priti Kumar of
cse and Sujata Bhattacharya of the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Edited byMridula Chettri, with inputs by Yogesh Sharma (Ahmedabad), Nayyar Azad Khan (Bokaro), Kazimuddin Ahmed, Manish Tiwari and Anumita Roy Choudhury

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