Sunset sector?

No. Possible sunlight industry

Last Updated: Sunday 28 June 2015

Sunset sector?

-- The pulp and paper industry is an environmentalist' nightmare. It can easily eat away a nation's forest. It uses huge amounts of equally precious water to 'cook and clean' its raw material, enough to put every other water-guzzler to shame. To make its product 'fair and lovely' it puts in high amounts of bleach, which then emerges as toxins in the equally huge amounts of wastewater and sludge it discharges. It produces bad smells and its effluent is coloured suspiciously.

For precisely these reasons, any change for the better is good news. The comparison of the 1999 and 2004 ratings shows that this unenvironmental juggernaut is beginning to amend its ways. But even more exciting is the possibility of future, greater news.

But for this, its leaders will have to do much more. They will have to bite the bullet, as the saying goes, to really show how Indian industry can be the true-growth sector, how it can break free of the growth-without-jobs syndrome that plagues industry today. It can make possible the industrial growth model the world is seeking: a model that enjoins the fate of small and poor landholders to the future of large and globally competitive industry. This is a model which uses the labour opportunities in the informal and agricultural sectors to provide true and sustainable development -- putting money and resources in the hands of the poor.

GRP's analysis clearly shows that trees planted for the pulp and paper sector can provide a fascinating model of growth. Roughly 1.1 million ha of land is required to supply the required 5 million tonnes of raw material industry currently requires. This, in turn, could provide employment to over 0.55 million farming families in growing and harvesting wood in a sustainable manner. India could easily become a pulp surplus country if this works. But it requires industry laggards to match the best practices of their competitors.

Then there is the other opportunity, collecting and recycling the millions of tonnes of wastepaper India generates. But for this, industry will have to make the millions of kabbadiwallas -- informal waste collectors -- its sourcing managers. What a grand alliance this could be.

What of the vexing water challenge? Answers exist. Remember, this sector does not take away water from the hydrological cycle. It uses water in its process and discharges almost all the water as effluent. Therefore, the key is to improve the quality of effluent so that it can be reused again to irrigate crops or for other purposes.

For this, industry will have to learn that pollution control does not mean building more effluent treatment plants. It must become water-prudent. Then it needs to carefully segregate the clean water used for processing, from the polluted and coloured effluent. One big technology leapfrog would be to transform from chlorine to non-chlorine bleaching, so that even the polluted water could be reused.

Few realise the chlorine challenge is related to the water challenge. We must promote the reuse of effluent for irrigation because it makes sense. But we cannot allow effluent water soaked in chlorine compounds to be used. Currently the regulations for disposal of effluents on land are pathetic. Therefore, if the effluent of this water intensive industry has to become a reusable resource, much more will need to be done.

The problem is that standards are made for the country as a whole. In other words, regulations are made without a ear to the ground and an eye for detail. They ignore the ground reality in which the industry functions. The water standards are a classic example. They are designed for discharge into water bodies, assuming that the water body has assimilative capacity. But with the uptake of water increasing, there is less water in our rivers. In this situation, when a paper mill discharges its massive effluent, the standards are not worth the paper they are written on. The industry can meet all regulatory standards in the country, but it will still not satisfy its neighbours, who live downstream of its wastewater discharge point.

Which brings to the the challenge of industry's relations to local communities. Industry must realise that they are the true barometers of its performance. It is they who have provided the trigger for change. They have protested against coloured water, foul smell, mounds of lime sludge. Sometimes they have won. Their victory has paved the way for change.

As has, to some extent, the Green Rating Project. When Anil Agarwal designed it, he must have known its potential to work democracy, to bring change. We believe we have done something to be the check and balance to industrialisation that Anil talked about. But we will leave you be the judge.

Story anchored by chandra bhusan , co-ordinator, Green Rating Project. Inputs from Monali Zeya Hazra (assistant co-ordinator), Radhika Krishnan, Nivit Kumar Yadav and Ramya Vishwanath

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