In the face of public pressure, Indian industry appears -- albeit dimly -- to be ready to clean up its act
INDIAN industry has changed tack. Productivity and profiteering have acquired a new companion -- green intent. The 11th Indian Engineering Trade Fair-'95 (IETF), held in Delhi this February, marked the coming on stream of an industrial culture where conservation concerns become intrinsic, and cleaner operations a commitment the industry cannot sidestep.
Even as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the largest body of industries in the country, appealed to the government on February 18 to extend the scope of environmental reforms, the message that industrial activity has to incorporate solutions to the problems it is responsible for creating was loud and clear.
But industry's veering towards eco-friendly technologies is by no means a voluntary act. A blitz of public protests against ventures like Sterlite Copper in Ratnagiri and Thapar DuPont Nylon 6,6 in Kovim, Goa, along with the entry of foreign competitors equipped with superior and cleaner technologies, left Indian industry with no other choice but to join the tide.
Forced to accord priority to environment imperatives, industry used the IETF as a platform to lob the ball into the government's court. As CII president Subodh Bhargava says, "It is up to the government to improve the infrastructure and investment climate and enforce environment laws effectively."
While Union minister of state for environment and forests Kamal Nath exhorted industry to bring about equitable and sustainable development, industry itself opted to link this responsibility to economic factors. Says K P Niyati, head of the CII's Environment Management Division, "The exhibition has proved that consciousness about cleaner technologies is increasing. But for it to become an intrinsic part of operations, incomes have to go up as there is a distinct synergy between earnings and environmental consciousness."
But the prevailing situation, where megabuck Indian companies remain the major violators of environmental norms, belies Niyati's statement. In the chemical belts like Ankaleshwar-Wapi and Thane-Belapur, the pollution quantum of the big units is as noxious as that of small and medium scale units.
However, Hemant Ghorpade, an activist with Mhalgi Prabodhini, a Bombay-based NGO, says, "The very fact that companies like Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL), Godrej and others are here not merely advertising their products but their green record proves that the industry is under pressure to change."
The HLL, which is the largest manufacturer of soaps and other toiletries in the country, was among the companies that claimed at the IETF that by AD 2000 they would achieve zero pollution levels. Says N Sreenivas Rao, manager, engineering, HLL, "The company is committed to combine environment consciousness with cost saving. Each and every chemical used during production is tested by the Ecotoxicological lab of Unilever (in the US). Flyash at the 3 major plants is given away for generation of bricks. At most HLL plants, CFCs have either been omitted altogether or substituted."
The HLL's display in the IETF's Environment '95 section was an interesting case study. While glossy booklets claimed a large R&D unit and access to the best technologies in the market, just a few days before the IETF, which began on February 12, the Supreme Court had ordered the closure of 2 HLL plants in Calcutta for flouting environmental norms. The Garden Reach plant and the Shamnagar factory of the HLL were ordered closed as boiler stacks revealed high particulate matter concentration due to the use of low quality coal.
While comparatively trivial measures like the use of recycled paper for outer cartons were highlighted, the company's representatives were unclear as to why none of its products has ever been subjected to quality tests under the Ecomark label. Although they claimed a minimal use of plastics, what was left unanswered was whether the reprocessing ancillary that created the packaging for the company's products had environment clearance. However, says Niyati, "The HLL is not here to market (its products) but it is proving the point that a beginning has been made and the rest can follow suit."
But the country is not bereft of clean industrial options. For instance, the boilers manufactured by Thermax-Babcock and Wilcox adhere to international norms. The company has also developed the latest air pollution controlling devices -- selective catalytic reducers for the removal of sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen. Says Deepak Khajouri, a senior marketing executive of the company, "Awareness about clean operations is yet to be fully ingested by Indian industry. That it is dismal is evident from the accepted levels of emissions in India, which are very high compared to the advanced countries. This is also the reason why the best environment technology in the market is not coming into the country."
Niyati agrees, "What is available here in terms of environment friendly technology is not the best in the world. If the companies do that, then they loose the cutting edge. But this is a beginning as Indian industry is looking for both end-of-the-pipe and in-process solutions. If a technology helps in producing higher output levels, then it amounts to conservation and thus lesser pressure on natural resources."
The US Energy Department has been attempting to make inroads into the Indian technological sector. Says Nicki Malenfaut, director, National Renewable Energy laboratory, "The US has a vast bank of proven knowhow on conservation technology along with end-of-the-pipe solutions like the use of flyash for soil reclamation and cement. The clean-coal technology offered by us is directed towards satisfying the energy and environment needs of advanced electric power generation. India has large deposits of coal and its use is extensive. Clean coal can thus go a long way in resolving the crises on the environment front."
However, environmentally friendly technologies do not come cheap, nor is it easy to choose from the many available in the market. Says O P Aggarwal, owner of a dyeing unit in Panipat, "The market is suddenly flooded with foreign technology. These include technology for high-output levels and pollution control devices. But their cost and their suitability to Indian conditions is a major deterrent for the small and medium entrepreneurs."
Arthur Merrifield of Clearinghouse, an energy and environment consultancy, says, "The needs of environmental technologies vary from country to country and industry to industry. Distinct conditions lead to differing emphasis on regulating environmental impacts. However, in all cases, solutions compatible with a sustainable use of the environment are needed for development. The design and adoption of environmental incentives and regulatory measures is a basic need."
What emerged clearly at the IETF was that the flood of technology is not reaching a large section of smallscale industries, which, according to Bhargava, account for 35 per cent of Indian exports. This is obvious from the fact that several relatively smallscale Indian products like textile and garments have been banned in countries like Germany and the US on purely environmental grounds.
Says Pradeep Bindra, a steel re-rolling millowner in Ludhiana, "Small and medium scale units, despite realising the importance of clean technology, are finding it difficult to make the switch. The problem is the choice of appropriate technology and the costs involved. The capital costs are high in the country, the borrowing rates perhaps the highest in the world and the maintenance poor."
Bhargava agrees: "Indian industry desperately seeks reduction in inflation and the rate of borrowing. The key to these problems is in the hands of the government. It is also important to de-licence sectors. The smallscale sector can respond much faster to these changes."
Most of the visitors to the IETF were clear that the conditions in the Indian market were not favourable to the introduction of environmentally friendly technologies. Adds Bindra, "With the given tax and tariff structure, multinationals and big business houses have a distinct edge over the small and medium units. This is disconcerting as the number of small industries outstrip their large counterparts. If environmentally sound technology does not become a part of their operations, the problems may keep getting worse."
Despite these hindrances, the smallscale sector is coming up with solutions without much assistance. Sumer Chauhan, an export house owner in Faridabad, switched to vegetable dyes when Germany banned garments using organic dyes. "We used the traditional Indian knowledge which existed 50 years ago to make these dyes. The result is that our goods are now welcome abroad, there is no pollution and now, keeping in mind the future demands, we are going in for the manufacture of vegetable dyes." Chauhan's trip to the IETF was mainly to consult experts for the manufacture of these dyes.
Despite rising environmental concern and efforts to control industrial pollution, a lot remains to be done. Says Simon O'Connor of O'Connor Envirotech, US, "The orientation of technology transfers towards environmentally sound technologies requires the developing countries to be in a position to enforce an adequate framework of environment rules."
As regards the Indian rules, Niyati feels that the rules are adequate but their enforcement abysmally poor. Bhargava believes that the rules need to be revamped. Connor, however, says that a political will is essential to make adjustments to incorporate different levels of technological and socioeconomic development.
Most industrialists feel that little attention is being paid to these facts. N R Kulkarni of Thermax-B&W feels that in the existing scenario, technologies which were wanting on environmental grounds were adopted even when preferable alternatives existed.
Says Bhargava, "There has been an effort by the industry to create models. During an exercise last year, 15 industries stuck to the task of reducing pollution in accordance with the rules. Out of these, 9 have already attained ISO 9000. Now the experience gained by these can be shared by the rest."
This brings to fore the issue of the inaccessibility of the sound technologies. There are cases where the owners of technologies are unwilling to share them, or have set high prices on the knowhow. Further, many superior technologies are wary of coming to developing countries like India for a felt lack of market opportunity.
Says Bhagwan Singh Sikka, a dye industry unit owner in Panipat, "There is lack of information, awareness and training as far as environmentally sound technologies are concerned."
Bhargava, however, adds, "The task is onerous. There is pressure in the country and exporters are facing bans due to demands for green products. There is need for making the atmosphere congenial for better technology to come in. It is now up to industry to get together and decide what they can do with government's cooperation. Ingenuity is a must and solutions must not be avoided."
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