The small big polluter

Resource crunch and poor regulatory processes have made small-scale industries the pariahs of India's environment

Published: Tuesday 15 October 2002

The small big polluter

Angry factory owners protest a (Credit: Kazimuddin Ahmed / CSE)

FOR many years now, small-scale industries have been making ugly rounds of courts. From Delhi to Kolkata, Agra to Vellore, the story repeats itself. Rather with more ferocity. Acting on public interest litigations and frustrated at the government's lackadaisical attitude, the courts are cracking the whip on the industries. So much so that in 1996, the Supreme Court (SC) gave as many as 12 verdicts in pollution-related cases. In Delhi, exasperated over the delay in implementation of its 1996 decision, the SC cracked down on officials in November 2000. The court had said that no polluting industry must be allowed to operate from Delhi's residential areas. Forced to act, the Delhi government shut down over 2,000 small-scale industries. In the ensuing protests by workers, three people lost their lives and the capital virtually came to a standstill for several days. In a similar verdict, again in 1996, the apex court ordered the state government to relocate the highly polluting tanneries outside Kolkata. And this is not the end. In 2002, the Madras High Court ordered the 325-odd tanneries in Vellore district to pay a compensation of Rs 26.82 crore to restore the ecology of Vellore district and to the affected people. The tanneries were discharging effluents to the tune of more than 10 million litres per day (mld) for over 20 years. Whether it is Delhi, Kolkata or Chennai, the country is paying for its environmentally mindless policy (see table: Pollution flashpoints). "SSIs lack the technical expertise or finance to invest in the pollution control technologies," says Utpal Bajpai, head, Technology Bureau of Small Enterprises (TBSE), Mumbai. According to a status report on SSIs by the Central Pollution Control Board: "The level of pollution caused by the SSI sector in India per unit of output is higher than their counterparts in developed countries." The reasons are many:

Continued usage of outdated and inefficient technologies that generate large amounts of wastes;

Large and unplanned industrial conglomeration;

Lack of resources for enforcement and implementation of pollution control programmes;

Lack of public/market pressure for improving environmental performance; and,

Lack of proper siting thereby posing greater environmental risks.

ineffective regulations
The task of cleaning the SSIs seems next to impossible. In Delhi, the closed SSIs have now started operating with the momentum of relocation getting lost in a bureaucratic maze. Similarly in Kolkata, after six years of the apex court order, officials confirm that tanneries still operate clandestinely in the absence of any infrastructure to relocate. In both these cases, as in any other part of the country, the problem of tackling the SSI comes from lack of the required strong political will and the ineffectiveness of our regulatory bodies like the state pollution control boards.

Sounding pessimistic, a senior official in the Union ministry of environment and forests, admits: "The number of SSIs is too large to be regulated." S Janakarajan, associate professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai says, "Pollution control board officials cannot do much as these industries lie scattered."

Today, there is no appropriate regulatory structure for SSI units. "It is a massive task to regulate this sector. We are looking at a total of more than five million units spread across the country," says P K Gupta, director, National Cleaner Production Centre, New Delhi. A Planning Commission's study has found that the existing system is grossly inadequate to monitor the polluting industries.

"In Andhra Pradesh, one technical person has to monitor hundred units," the report states. "It's almost impossible for state pollution control officials to monitor and regulate the registered SSIs. The unregistered ones escape regulation," says A K Mhaskar, a former Maharashtra pollution control board official. In order to prosecute an unregistered unit for pollution, the official machinery would first have to first recognise its existence and then take steps to regularise it. "Authorities may have some success in regulating the registered SSIs which are located in the designated industrial areas, but the problem comes from more than two million unregistered units operating from residential localities in urban areas," says A S Sood, deputy director, development commissioner for SSIs.

Sood knows it better. He had conducted an all-India survey of small-scale asbestos units and found that more than 90 per cent units did not have any sort of pollution abatement equipment.

The lack of regulation clearly stands out in the findings of a Study of the State Pollution Control Boards undertaken by the Programme Evaluation Organisation at the instance of the Planning Commission. "The number of highly polluting units inventorised by the SPCBs as a per cent of the number estimated from the annual survey of industries is very low in a majority of states. Again, it is found that the levels of inventorisation of hazardous waste generating units is less than complete in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and West Bengal and that when the inventorised units are taken, the percentage of units operating with licenses is not satisfactory in a few states."

Delhi More than 100,000 industries in residential areas. These include heavily polluting industries like electroplating, metal buffing, battery recycling, plastic, dyeing, powder coating and asbestos brake products. Supreme Court’s 1996 judgement ordered the government to relocate these industries. After four years of waiting, the court pulls up the authorities. A sealing drive takes place. Even today infrastructure to relocate the industries has not been developed.
Pali, Jodhpur and Balotra More than 1,500 textile dyeing and printing units releasing more than 50 million litres of wastewater into the Luni river basin Protests date back to early 1980s. Common effluent treatment plants (CETPs) set up in Pali but not functioning satisfactorily. Jodhpur does not have a CETP.
Gujarat More than 7,000 chemical industries manufacturing various industrial chemicals including dyestuff, dyestuff intermediates and pesticides. Long history of pollution and protests. Today Gujarat is the most polluted state in India. Various court cases filed by non-governmental organisations and local residents. Health problems rampant. Still, the Gujarat government is busy setting up new industrial estates for chemical industries.
Pimpri-Chinchwad Industrial area, Pune More than 400 organised and unorganised electroplating units catering to the needs of the automobile industry. Severe water pollution problem. Fish deaths reported in Mula-Mutha river several times. Villagers have protested. Nothing has been done till date.
Tirupur, Tamil Nadu About 800 dyeing and bleaching units at this hosiery capital of India. Till a few years ago, all the untreated effluents released
into the river Noyyal. Reservoir at Orathupalayam dam filled with polluted waters rendering it unfit for any use.
CETPs and individual ETPs have been constructed but only a partial solution. Pollution still going on. Farmers filed a case to clean up the Orathupalayam dam. But industrialists haven’t paid the cost, which is Rs 12.5 crore.
Kolkata About 550 tanneries releasing more than 50 mld of effluents. A 1996 SC decision ordered them to shift. But no infrastructure has been developed to relocate them.
Source: compiled from various sources

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