Environment is a people's programme

A major overhaul of polluting industries in West Bengal is being chalked out by Manabendra Mukherji , the state's minister for youth services, environment and tourism. He recently spoke to Pradeep Dutt in Calcutta about his plans to create environmental awareness in the industrial sector

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

On his experience in dealing with polluting industries in West Bengal:

It is easy for us to instruct the public sector units ( psu s). But it is not always so easy with the private sector. Their only concern is profit. But if they are convinced that pollution control activities will safeguard their interests in the long run, they will act very promptly and effectively. But for the psu s, the case is somewhat different. Generally, the management of psu s is not so acutely concerned about the immediate financial effects. So they act according to our instructions. But they act mechanically. We are demanding that industrial planners should consider environment as a basic criterion for every decision.

On the positive impact of the anti-pollution drive in the industrial sector:

The basic intention of declaring an all out war against pollution is to have a better world. Secondly, it will initiate a better management of resources, both natural and human. Thirdly, it will open up a new horizon for technologies. To be more specific, the pollution control device industry will come up in a big way. We have already introduced environment as a subject in schools. Universities and engineering colleges have already introduced environmental science and environmental engineering in the undergraduate courses. We have also proposed the Central government to set up an All India Institute of Environmental Science and Technology in Calcutta.

Another aspect is also important. Pollution control means you are trying to convert your liabilities into assets. Suspended ash is an associated problem of thermal power stations; the ash can act as a cheap input for brick fields. There are thousands of such examples. Eco-friendly production system means maximum utilisation of inputs, so in the long run, it is economical. If we can convince our people that maintenance of environment would guarantee them better livelihood, only then real success will come. Environment should be a people-driven programme.

On the prospect of environmental considerations deterring potential investors from coming to the state:

Are you sure the existing Asian Tigers have guaranteed clean air and water for their cubs (investors)? There may be a dramatic collapse of few of these tigers due to environmental reasons. In our state, there is a drive to attract more industrial investment and we are receiving some positive response. But we are also preparing ourselves to face the environmental consequences. A large section of our industries are concentrated in greater Calcutta.

One of our very ambitious projects, Calcutta environmental management and strategic action plan has just been completed. It has proposed a Rs 700 crore multi-dimensional action plan. We have selected other eight major townships of our state to start similar kind of projects. Not only that, we are preparing the environmental status report for West Bengal. It will give us valuable information to guide our future course of action. To strengthen our future planning, we are going to set up a separate research institute under the department of environment (doe).

On the status of shifting of industries as per the order of the Supreme Court from the Tangra and Topsia areas in east Calcutta:

We are carrying out the (shifting) exercise on a war footing. But the time frame mentioned by the apex court is very short. Still, we are trying our best to implement the order. But there are many other hazardous industries besides tanneries. We have started a multi-departmental exercise for the shifting of the hazardous industries. But it will take some time, because it will involve a large number of smallscale industries and all the necessary information about them is not always readily available.

On whether the state government will provide necessary data for the Green Rating Project which aims to assess corporate environmental performance:

Definitely, we will assist you. We will give all the necessary data for the project (which is being carried out by the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi). We can give you grassroot level data. We are thinking of a unique project in our state. We want to involve local people in the field of environment. This government has been ruling this state for the last 20 years because we have succeeded to involve local people both at the time of planning and implementation of various projects. Now we want to extend our experience in the field of environment.

We are thinking of forming environmental protection groups ( epg s) in all village councils and municipal wards. They will look after local environmental issues, help the administration enforce environmental standards and suggest what the administration should do. In another sense, they will act like ngo s but they will also enjoy some statutory power. These epg s will consist of members from village councils, municipalities, educational institutes, environment and science clubs and interested individuals. In 1997, we will try to form epg s, at least on a pilot basis.

On whether people will have access to information:

Yes, certainly. The structure of the doe and the pcb is very much centralised. We are planning to set up six regional laboratories and offices of the pcb and the doe in every district. If you really want to change, you have to unleash people's power. You cannot expect a few angels from a city to go to the villages and slums and develop the consciousness of those 'ignorant' poor people. You have to depend on the (local) people.

On vehicular pollution and fuel quality:

I don't think any state government can impose any standard on the manufacturers of vehicles. We have just declared a massive drive to check vehicular pollution. We are also very much concerned about the poor quality of fuel available in the market. I don't think we can improve air quality of urban areas just by checking emissions from vehicles. It is better that pollution is stopped at the source. Our refineries should produce better quality of fuel. But on the other hand, we cannot allow the Union government to increase the price of petroleum products in the name of improving fuel quality. It is the poor people who suffer the most due to pollution, and if they have to pay for it, then it will be totally unacceptable.

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