Pollution boards go slow on green tribunal order to close industries operating without consent

Confusion persists whether small industries having little pollution potential should be closed or not

By Sadia Sohail
Published: Monday 23 September 2013

An order passed by the National Green Tribunal, directing all state pollution control boards (SPCBs) to close down factories operating without consent, has created confusion. Officials are not sure whether non-polluting factories should be shut down.

“We surveyed the entire state and identified around 1,000 units operating without 'Consent to Operate'. All the violating units were small-scale and had very little pollution potential,” said Hardik Shah, member secretary of Gujarat SPCB. The survey was carried out following the NGT order of  May 8, this year. But the SPCB is not sure whether or not such industries need consent to operate under the Water and Air Act.

NGT had pulled up SPCBs when it found out that most units in different states are running without 'Consent to Operate'. The tribunal asked all the SPCBs to immediately take steps to close down all such factories operating without the necessary permission. A copy of the order was furnished to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for taking suitable action to control large-scale violation of rules.

The tribunal further directed all the SPCBs, state pollution control committees and CPCB to submit action taken report (ATR) to the tribunal and ensure that all the procedures for sealing the illegal factories are followed. NGT also asked the local police to extend all help to the pollution boards in the sealing process. The May order asked the boards to submit the ATRs within three weeks.

Genesis of order

The NGT order relates to a case from Punjab—Wassan Singh v State of Punjab and others. During the course of the hearing, Punjab SPCB reported that the noise levels in the complainant's factory were exceeding the permissible limits. The board also reported that the inspecting officer visited the factory thrice at different points of time when the factory was in full operation and found that the noise levels were exceeding 55 dB (day time limit) at all the three times. 

It was also observed that the factory was operating without 'consent to operate' for the past thirty years. The counsel for the factory owner while agreeing to apply for the permit told the tribunal that approximately 5,000 such factories in the area do not have the permission. The court came down heavily on the lax approach of SPCBs and directed them to close down all such factories.

Action taken so far

“We have served show cause notices to all the violating industries and submitted our report to NGT,” said Hardik. He added the Board has set up help desks at all the regional offices to assist the industries in submitting applications and forms for consent and authorisation. He said that it is difficult to regulate small-scale industries because of their sheer number; what's more, these units are generally green category industries with very little or no pollution potential. “Such units were not considered for consent earlier, but with the NGT order we will take steps to ensure all the units have necessary permissions in place,” added Hardik.

Karnataka SPCB, has meanwhile, issued a notices to all the regional offices, directing them to dispose of all the applications made by industries on priority and to take up an intensive drive to identify all the units which are discharging effluents or emissions but do not have the consent (not applied) from the board. The regional offices were told to recommend the closure of factories to the regional senior environmental officer who in turn was to issue a show cause notices to the defaulting units. “We are still in the process of identifying the defaulting units. We have a total of 44 regional offices and it is difficult to inspect each and every unit for necessary consents,” an official from KSPCB informed. She added, “we are under the process of serving notices to the units without the consents and are also summoning industries for personal hearing to know the reasons for their non compliance.”

Goa SPCB started inspections before the order was passed by NGT. Sanjay Joglekar, assistant environmental engineer with the SPCB said “the board obtained a database of industries from the Directorate of Industries in Goa and started the inspection exercise a few months before. We found that as many as 2,000 units, including the small-scale and hotel industries were running without consent. We issued a show cause notice to all these units. Out of the 2,000 industries, 600 have already replied and have applied for obtaining consent.”

Are green category units exempt?

R C Trivedi, expert member with NGT and former additional director with CPCB, explained the cause of confusion. “CPCB categorises industries based on their pollution potential in three categories—red, orange and green. Many states had exempted the green category units from seeking consents, owing to the little impact they have on the  environment. However, there is no such provision under the law to waive off any kind of industry from seeking consent.” Trivedi added, “it is difficult for SPCBs to regulate different categories of industries owing to their inadequate capacity in terms of manpower and competence.”

There are many factories operating from one room or small enclosures, but have emissions. They come under the ambit of Water Act and Air Act since they have an outlet for discharging wastewater or air emissions but the quantum of generation is very small. Also, the number of such units runs into millions, making it impossible for regulators to inspect and monitor them. “There is a dearth of clear cut guidelines to say which industries require what kind of approvals from the board; hence the confusion,” said Trivedi.


Order of the National Green Tribunal regarding the factory in question operating without consent to operate and also the inaction of the state pollution control board

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