We plan to involve panchayats in monitoring pollution levels

Sheila Rani Chunkat has recently been appointed chairperson of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB). She spoke to Binayak Das on how she intends to overcome the flaws in pollution control management in the state

Published: Sunday 31 December 2000

How do you plan to overcome the flaws in the current pollution control approach in Tamil Nadu?
Where pollution is concerned, I believe it is not appropriate to use the word 'control'. We have to look at the problem in totality. Here, it is important to ensure public participation in curbing the menace of pollution. tnpcb will try to educate the general public and involve all stakeholders in pollution control programmes. We have very good laws but most of them are not implemented.

What are the special campaigns you intent to initiate?
tnpcb is planning to broadcast a programme on All India Radio, in which children and non-governmental organisations can participate. We have also started an anti-plastic campaign. Manufacture of plastic bags less than 20 microns in thickness will be banned.

tnpcb has also set up an environ-ment committee. Schemes for creating a green belt are also on the anvil. Industries have been asked to plant trees in at least 25 per cent of their complex. Occupational health hazards are also being given due consideration. The board is planning to check the quality of drinking water. Tamil Nadu has got lot of tanneries, which have common effluent treatment plants ( cetp s) installed. But they face the problem of total dissolved solids that makes water more salty making it misfit for agricultural purposes We are surveying various options to treat such effluents and will not let the leather industry off the hook. Regarding biomedical wastes, incinerators within the cities will be abolished and cetp s to treat such waste will be set up outside the cities.

How do you plan to curb vehicular pollution?
The whole issue of vehicular pollution is tricky because everybody puts the blame on each other. Vehicle owners say oil is adulterated, while the latter denies such allegations. We are looking for a viable solution. At present, tnpcb has started a campaign in Chennai to educate schoolchildren about the hazards posed by vehicular pollution. To curb vehicular pollution, clinics to check emissions have been set up in collaboration with the New Delhi-based Society for Automobile Fitness and Environment and Society for Automobile Manufacturers. Besides, we are planning to set up a high-level committee under the Union ministry of environment and forests and the tnpcb . The committee will act as a coordinator between the ministry and the board. The board members as well as the Chennai government will be requested to desist from using diesel vehicles.

For two and three-wheelers, liquefied petroleum gas is considered as a fuel alternative. Use of compressed natural gas in Tamil Nadu is not viable because of lack of pipelines and filling stations.

Are you satisfied with the current fuel quality testing technique?
The board is facing immense problems were fuel quality testing is concerned. Tests prescribed by the Centre have not proved successful. I feel that they do not show the contaminants in the result. But there are two other techniques, which show the contaminants but are not recommended by the government and, therefore, cannot be adopted. So we are trying to see how results from these techniques can also be incorporated.

State PCBs often say that lack of powers comes in the way of effective implementation of pollution control laws. Do you agree?
I don't agree. We have enough powers. The problem is, if we start using all our powers then we will end up becoming quite harsh. We can often put up new proposals, take up cases and seek help from the court. As far as controlling vehicular pollution is concerned, we need the help of the regional transport office and the traffic police. We need the police department's help in everything. Unfortunately, law and order, not pollution, is their primary duty. Proper coordination with the police department is necessary if everyone is to be sensitised about the problems posed vehicular pollution. As far as industries are concerned, pcb s have terrific power. Now we are planning to be more strict with hotels and those involved with domestic sewage disposal, too.

How do you plan to make pollution control programmes more interactive?
We are trying to involve more and more youths and women. We are giving due importance to indoor air pollution, of which women are the main victims. We are also planning to involve panchayats (village councils) in monitoring ambient air and water quality in their respective villages. We want panchayats to become more active in curbing environmental degradation as it is not possible for tnpcb alone to do so.

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