The fate of the only Indian product to be accorded environmental clearance hangs in the balance
THE first Indian product awarded the Eco Mark (EM) status over 10 months ago has failed to hit the market for reasons shrouded in mystery. Officials of Ms Tidewater Detergents, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Godrej Soaps (Pvt) Ltd, which manufactures the product -- a detergent for soft garments and woollens -- refused to comment on the issue. On the other hand, sources in the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the agency entrusted with the task of formulating technical criteria for the EM, claim that the company has seemingly developed cold feet as the product might cut into the market for the company's other detergents and soaps. The EM, given to the company on March 1, 1994, was actually expected to have given it an edge over its rivals.
The silence adopted by Ms Tidewater Detergents has given grist to the speculation that the company might be changing hands. Sources in Godrej Soaps claimed that the detergent is being withheld due to ongoing deliberations between them and a multinational for the sale of Ms Tidewater Detergents.
The EM was incepted by the Union ministry of environment and forests in May 1991 to encourage environment-friendly production processes and marketed products. The CPCB and the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), were supposed to coordinate the effort in granting the EM to those who applied for it.
Anjan Kar, director (chemicals), BIS, says, "Any manufacturer who applies for a EM has to submit along with the samples an environmental clearance certificate from the CPCB or the state pollution control board. In the case of detergents, tests for skin irritation and sensitivity are conducted at the selected labs such as the Industrial Toxicity Research Centre, Lucknow."
To be eligible for the EM, a product has to have the ISI (Indian Standards Institute) mark. Detergents for woollens are checked whether phosphates, normally used in washing mediums, have been substituted with environment-friendly chemicals. Says Kar, "The standard IS9458 (1980) stipulates that the constituents used in the detergents should be totally biodegradable, as stated in IS11601 (1986)."
Pointing to the dismal performance of both big and small manufacturers of detergents and soaps, Kar says that only 15 of the more than 400 soaps, washing mediums and scouring powders in the market have the ISI mark.
Says S K Ghosh of the CPCB, "Both the EM and the ISI mark schemes are voluntary, not mandatory. Till laws are made more stringent, manufacturers with multiple products in the same range are going to dither about availing of the licences or using them as a part of marketing strategies."