The pollution commons

Published: Wednesday 15 January 2003

The pollution commons

-- (Credit: Pradip Saha / CSE)#1 Who is the polluter? What is their waste-typology?

This is the first critical and often make-or-break step. Get the property rights regime wrong and it is clear that nothing will work, is the advice of common property managers in rural areas. It is the same for a cetp.

Delhi is the best example of this. "There were lot of problems with the initial survey of industries carried out by neeri," says the dsidc official. This survey was the basis of estimating pollution levels, designing cetps and apportionment of cost between the individual units in the industrial areas.

"Industries did not provide adequate data at the time of survey," says an official from cpcb. He gives the example of Wazirpur industrial area. "Almost all industries in Wazirpur have installed tubewells and use the groundwater but they have not mentioned this in the survey forms just to avoid paying for pollution control," informs the official. Industrialists are alleged to have given wrong details about the size of operation, number of workers and many other things.

Industrialists on their part blame neeri and the government departments for the problems in the initial survey. "In the Okhla industrial area, neeri identified about 2,200 units out of which 235 turned out to be fake," informs Kuldip Khanna, an industrialist and treasurer of Okhla Industrial Area cetp Society. Why would the genuine industries pay the extra money on account of neeri's erroneous survey, he asks? Factory owners say that despite being informed about the discrepancies in the list of industries and the resultant cost apportionment, government departments have constantly refused to correct these anomalies. Sahi Dalip Singh, secretary of the Mayapuri Industrial Area cetp Society gives a bizarre example. "While filling up the form, one particular industry filled up the column asking for area of the industry as 332 square metres (400 sq yards). Amazingly in apportionment this industry was charged for 332,400 sq yards which is an exorbitant amount," says Singh. "And now the authorities want all industries to share the cost of someone else's blunder," rues Singh.

But once the survey has been done, the costs fixed on that basis, reopening the issue is like opening up a can of worms as it would require a new survey, new cost apportionments and altogether new collection of money for the payment of the capital costs of the cetp. But without this, industry refuses to pay. Also, without regular and accurate surveys, new industries are not added to the list of polluters and charged for treatment of effluents. It is a stalemate.

But others, more fortunate without government interference, have found pragmatic solutions. In the case of the Naroda cetp in Gujarat , members of the estate were required to book the amount of effluent they would send to the plant each day. Industries were broadly classified on their waste typology and charges fixed. So, the most polluting dye and dye intermediates paid almost 75 per cent of the total capital cost. But also, to reward the early comers, differential rates were declared for future bookings. Therefore, while the before-construction rate was Rs 5 per litre, the going rate for booking waste treatment is Rs 35 per litre.

#2 Who will pay?

The Pali cetp in the textile and dying town of Rajasthan used the most imaginative methods for cost recovery. Instead of a complicated formula based on water usage or pollution load, they charged Rs 50 for every 100 kg bale of white/grey cloth entering the town for printing or dyeing. For example, if an industrialist buys 2,000 kg of cloth, he or she would pay Rs 1,000 as the factory's effluent treatment charges. Also, the collection method was simple: the Pali municipal council collected it at the octroi checkpoints and handed it over to the cetp management. The state government issued a gazzette notification -- the Pradusan Janya Vayvsaya Kar (pollution cess) under the municipal act (see box: Pollution unabated).

Other private and association-run cetps have taken the route to fix membership fees -- in differential rates for polluting and non-polluting units. Individual cost is apportioned on different basis:

Volume of input water used and effluent characteristic of the industry;

Volume and type of effluent -- as well as the date of joining the cetp membership. In Tirupur, for example, flow metres have been installed in each unit to record the quantity of effluent flowing out of that factory. Monthly charges are collected on this basis.

Some cetp managements are also evolving incentives to reduce pollution loads. For instance, in the Vapi cetp, the company gives rebates on treatment costs ranging from 50-95 per cent to units which reduce pollution and move towards cleaner technology (see box: Well monitored). It also changes its tariff structures based on its costs -- and interestingly, if there are savings because of reduced energy consumption, it passes it to the industry.

But there are many complaints as well. In Maharashtra, for instance, most of the industrial associations find a joint venture partner to construct the cetp. The association collects about 10-15 per cent of the investment from the member units and the joint venture partner invests the rest, to be recovered from running operations.

Today most joint venture consultants in Maharashtra are a disillusioned lot. They say that on many occasions the industry fails to cough up their share of the construction costs. Or they refuse to pay the ongoing operation and treatment costs. T Ravishankar, a partner with M/s Suyog Matcon, an environment consultant company, complains that most cetps are in dire straits. His company is constructing a cetp and is already facing problems in collecting the dues from industry as well as trying to raise the fund from financial institutions. S B Patil, executive engineer (environment), Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (midc) accepts that cetps at Ranjangaon (with a capacity to treat 14 mld) and Ambernath (7.5 mld) industrial areas have been completed but are not operating". He says that the effluents generated in these industries are below the minimum quantity of effluents required to run these cetps.

Other explanations provide clarity. "Constructing a cetp is a waste of money," rues Ravishankar. "The owners do not pay up the treatment costs even after we have constructed a cetp. They just liase with the mpcb official to get a zero discharge certificate and show it to the cetp operator or association to avoid paying running costs," he adds. M L Gautam, member secretary, mpcb admits that corruption is rampant in the field level mpcb officials who come in direct contact with the industries. "The same units (which flaunt zero discharge certificate) then dump their effluents at night into the nearest water body or sewage system," explains Ravishankar. He adds that the situation is similar all over the state, where cetps have been constructed but are never actually used. " cetps fail because industries never actually send the effluents to the cetp for treatment and dump it somewhere else," says another private operator of a cetp.

midc is now penalising industries, which are not members of an operational cetp society: water charges are doubled. Where there is no operational cetp society they get six months to find a joint-venture partner and 18 months to commission the plant. Otherwise, water charges are doubled again. But will this pressure tactic work if industries don't pay for treatment subsequently?

#3 Will industries pre-treat the waste before they send it to the CETP? Is the technology adequate to treat effluents?

In Tirupur, the hosiery capital of India, the management of the cetp is not the problem. It is the inability of the cetp to bring down the very high levels of total dissolved solids (tds) in the effluents from the dyeing and bleaching units. This is also the case in the plants for tannery waste in the Tamil Nadu.

Tirupur has eight cetps, which treat about 40 mld of effluents from 233 dyeing and 55 bleaching units. " cetps here work well except for the problem of tds," says K Elankumaran, district environmental engineer, Tamil Nadu state pollution control board (tnpcb). But this high tds level in the 'treated' effluents has severely polluted the river Noyyal. The tnpcb standard for tds is 2,100 mg/l, but the cetps discharge anywhere between 8,000 to 10,000 mg/l tds. "Technologies are available to treat the tds but they are not financially viable," says Paul Appasamy, director, Madras School of Economics, Chennai.

The same is true for the cetps set up for tannery clusters. There are 12 functioning cetps set up for the tannery clusters all over the state but none of them have been able to meet the tds norms. " cetps are able to treat the tannery wastewater and almost all the effluent parameters are met but they are not able to bring the tds levels down to the prescribed standards," says Sheela Rani Chunkath, chairperson, tnpcb. Average tds load for effluent coming out of production of a completely processed hide is about 10,000 parts per million (ppm). "We are pressing the tanneries to bring down this limit to 7,500 ppm through in-plant and process modifications, which is possible. But to get it down from 7,500 ppm to 2100 ppm, they'll have to invest in technologies like reverse osmosis, which may not be financially viable for most units," says S Balakrishnan, joint chief environmental engineer, tnpcb. Notices in this regard have already been issued to the cetps in the state.

Barely a year ago, newspapers reported how villagers living at Chinnapallapatti continued to suffer because of the tannery cetp in Dindigul district. Villagers had voluntarily given up their common tank to allow the cetp to store treated water. But neither promises nor the prescribed emission norms were ever met. Polluted water was discharged, say the villagers. Their land and water has turned to poison. Their repeated complaints to officials met with no response. The Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum, working on tannery pollution in the state, have the same complaint. They say that they inspected the cetps in Vaniyambadi and Ranipet on December 2002 and found that the effluents discharged after the so-called treatment was clearly not meeting the prescribed standards. The surrounding villagers were very badly affected by the discharge and sludge.

In most other cases, it is the waste-typology which is the problem. cetps are designed in most cases to receive pre-treated waste. Individual industries have to treat their waste to meet certain specified norms before they send to the cetp. This is critical and provides the basis of the design of the plant.

But more often than not, individual factories do not undertake any treatment. They default. The waste received by the cetp is much more than it can handle and the system starts falling apart. This is the most common problem in plants. It is not about individuals, but about managing waste of a collective of unwilling individuals.

#4 What will happen to the technology if the waste profile of the user changes?

Pali is a classic case of where technology of a cetp failed to keep pace with the changes in the production processes of the industrial estates. In this case over Rs 10 crore was spent, and three cetps built to treat roughly 30 million litres of waste per day. But today the situation is as bad as ever. The plants are "white elephants", rue the inhabitants of this pollution haven. The problem began in the early 1990s. When the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (neeri), Nagpur, surveyed the industries it characterised the effluents as alkaline (almost all the industries processed pure cotton cloth). At that time the industries were using as much as 5-10 tonnes of sulphuric acid to neutralise the effluents. neeri had then suggested that if 20 per cent of the units would shift to processing synthetic cloth, which involves use of sulphuric acid in the process, the combined effluent would become neutral and the problem of buying acid could be solved.

Then in 1996 when surveys were conducted, the new cetps were again designed to handle alkaline effluents. Provision to handle acidic effluent was not considered. But economics of the market determines pollution, not the equipments technologies. As demand for pure cotton reduced, millers switched to synthetics. The effluents turned to acidic from being alkaline. The treatment plants collapsed. Local industry and government say neeri blundered. The blame game continued (see box: Pollution unabated).

But clearly this is an important issue. The design of the plant has to estimate the type and volume of current waste, as well as future waste generation. Even if it cannot always provide for changes in production processes and technology, there must be some check on the future entrants in the cetp class. Their waste profile has to be compatible with the technology of the plant. This cannot be done without methods of classification and segregating industrial estates on the basis of their waste.

But heavy metals and organochlorines are not even in the ambit of most cetp plants. In most cases, cetps are not designed to treat heavy metals in the effluents. In tannery waste, chromium is a huge cause for concern. The option is to set up separate chrome recovery units or change the process technology. Little is often done.

Also, there is little provision to ensure that the sludge from the cetp is disposed off in secured landfill sites. There will be additional costs to do this. As yet, only a few cetp managements are charging their members for the disposal of the sludge. At all the other places it is just dumped at the nearest available place. As a result, concentrated dumps are probably leaching into the ground. An unmitigated disaster.

#5 Who is responsible for cleaning up? Who will manage the CETP?

Has the cetp then become a convenient way to circumvent the law? The polluting industrialists can claim that they have met the provisions of the pollution laws by paying for the cetp management to take in their waste and to treat it. But if the cetp does not effectively treat the waste, who can be held liable for action: the management of the cetp or the individual industry? And how does the pollution control board enforce the law?

Environmental activists in Patancheru raised this issue. They claimed that under the water act and the environment protection act (ep), "no person carrying on any industry, operation or process shall discharge any environmental pollutants in excess of prescribed standards". And even though the water act provides that the processors of waste are equally responsible, the multiplicity of agencies diffuses the onus of responsibility. In this case, the group of industries -- 128 members -- located in this heavily polluted pharmaceutical and chemical estate near Hyderabad, with active support from the state government owned infrastructure corporation, promoted a public limited company called the Patancheru Enviro-Tech Limited (petl) in 1989. By doing this, industrialists entrusted the management to the state-owned company to escape the penal provisions of the ep act, says activists.

The three most popular management arrangements are:

A cooperative or registered association of the industries in the estate. It could be registered under the companies act or the societies act. For instance, the Common Effluent Treatment Plant (Thane-Belapur) Association is a registered company and its members include a nominee of the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation. But in Pali, the cetp is managed by a registered trust -- the Pali Water Pollution Control, Treatment and Research Foundation Trust. The district collector of Pali is the chairperson of the trust, making it defacto government ownership.

A private or public limited company set up with the aim to manage the common effluent plant. For instance, the Vapi Industries Association has promoted the Vapi Waste and Effluent Management Company limited (vwemcl). Similarly, in Naroda, the industry association has set up the Naroda Enviro Projects Ltd (nepl) as a separate company.

A public sector enterprise like the state industrial development association operates the plants. For instance, in Delhi the cetps have been built by dsidc. The cost of the plant is partly charged to the industries by this government agency. In addition, a plant level committee has been constituted by the Delhi government, under the chairmanship of the concerned deputy commissioner or the joint director industries of the area.

But in all these arrangements, what is the legal provision for holding the management liable for the pollution caused by the cetp? In addition, how does the management of the cetp hold the individual companies responsible for pollution? What powers do these cetp associations have to penalise their members? There seems to be little clarity on this matter as yet.

Only Delhi has passed a specific act for the management of the cetps -- the Delhi Common Effluent Treatment Plants Act 2000 -- under which the cetp management has to be entrusted to a society of the users in the industrial estate. But then to complicate things, the act also provides for the creation of an 'appropriate authority', which it says will be responsible for deciding the cost apportionment and also recover the unpaid dues from the occupiers. This authority is also in charge of imposing a penalty on the defaulters.

Clearly a case made for hell. The confusion between the role of the society and the appropriate authority has meant that nobody takes responsibility for the efficient working of the plant. Local industrialists complain that when they identify the defaulters and send it to the authority -- the dsidc or the plant level committee -- they get no response. The government complains that the industries only want to be let off the hook and not take responsibility. Buck-passing continues.

The rest of the arrangements are informal and ad hoc. In the Thane-Belapur cetp, the members sign a tripartite agreement with the state industrial development corporation and the association on the issue of liability and responsibility. Similarly in Vapi and Naroda, rules and regulations laid down by the company include provisions for penalising the defaulters. The company monitors samples from individual units, those defaulting on the emission norms are charged fines. In Naroda, the fines are collected by the company and used for the charitable hospital being set up by the association in the area.

The powers in most cases are based on contractual arrangements or under the companies act. The Vapi company management says it takes the assistance of the state pollution control board to disconnect the water and electricity supply or to permanently close down the factory of a chronic defaulter. According to its managing director, Manoj Oza, as many as 34 units have been closed down till date.

Is this institutional and legal framework then adequate for running the complicated machinery of cetp?

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