"There is no transparency in the Indian paper industry"

N J Rao, professor, Institute of Paper Technology, University of Roorkee, Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, is one of the three technical consultants of the Green Rating Project (GRP), undertaken by the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi. He spoke to Lian Chawii and Kazimuddin Ahmed on the state of the pulp and paper industry in India

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

On the state of the pulp and paper industry:
The pulp and paper sector is viewed as a polluting and non-sustainable industry. It has, therefore, come under criticism from environmentalists and conservationists. It is possible to change this image, but it needs a complete metamorphosis. The industries need to re-orient themselves. The key issue is that of sustainability.

On the GRP:
The GRP is trying to look at the environmental impacts, in terms of raw material inputs, fibre sourcing, discharges and uses. It then seeks to develop a criteria and see how they are related to one another in terms of their overall environmental performances.

The concept of green rating is new and many Indian mills are not yet exposed to it. GRP rates the mills on a comparative scheme, based on their overall performance - in terms of environmental parameters and not just the waste management. These models depend a lot on the available data, and if the data is good there is a reason to believe that the ratings are very good and vice-versa. The ratings are based on published information on the performance of the mills, besides their annual reports and the voluntary disclosure made by the managements on their performance.

This is coupled with visits to the mills by surveyors, and reports from pollution control boards, local communities, the media and non-governmental organisations. The data collection process is followed by a rigorous analysis by a committee comprising competent technical people. Thereafter a draft report is compiled. The first reader of this report is the mill itself and it gets a chance to make its own comments. These comments are then captured in the final profile.

On how mills can achieve sustainability:
To move towards sustainability, renewable or recyclable raw materials should be used. Raw materials, such as water, should be recycled. Such efforts are being made worldwide, and India cannot be left behind. Unlike any other industry, the pulp and paper industry uses raw materials that are renewable, and also manufactures products that can be recycled.

On the alternatives to forest products:
Most of small-scale mills in India rely on agrowaste and wastepaper, and this practice should be encouraged. This can help reduce the pressure on forests. For example, sugarcane waste bagasse is increasingly being used to make paper. This shift is visible, but it has its own problems. Agrowastes are not available throughout the year, and there are problems with storage and size. Moreover, they contain a lot of silica and the fibres are short. Hence, what is required is more funding for research into new and better varieties.

For small industries, the size of the unit itself is an inherent weakness. Due to the economies of scale, cleaner but more expensive technologies are impossible to adopt. There is a need for developing technologies which are cost-effective and affordable.

On the problems faced by the pulp and paper industry:
The paper industry is an intensive industry - one that requires large amounts of energy, water and raw material. There is a need to upgrade the technology to minimise wastes and increase efficiency of resources used.

There is also no transparency in the Indian paper industry. In the 1970s, a lot of second-hand equipments from the West was imported to India. At that time, forest and agro-based industries were considered state-of-the-art industries. But they were small and had less infrastructure and more dependent on humanpower. Over the years, there has been no attempt to upgrade the technology.

On what needs to be done:
What is needed is less capital-intensive technology, better recycling and waste disposal practices. Upgradation of technology is important, but this requires a lot of capital and not many Indian mills can afford to do so. But there are some positive signs. Some mills are beginning to look at options that they had considered earlier. For example, mills that used to dump their lime sludge are now beginning to reprocess it. At the same time, many mills are still using chlorine, though elsewhere in the world it has either been banned or its use is being restricted.

On government policies:
The government must provide fiscal incentives like excise duty cuts. The government should also devise a basic policy regarding raw material comsumption and sourcing.

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