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Dyeing it green

ENVIRONMENTAL PERSPECTIVES OF CHEMICAL INDUSTRY: SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND TECHNOLOGICAL IMPERATIVES S B Chandalia and R Rajagopal Publisher: Sevak Publications Price: Rs 300

 
By S Sankarapandi
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- or the campaign child of non-governmental organisations. It has come of age as a respectable middle class concern. Perhaps it is ready to graduate into commodity fetishism? Business establishments are certainly alive to this possibility, recasting themselves in an environmentally friendly image. Educational and research institutions, too, have responded by introducing green syllabi and funding tomes on the subject. Environmental Perspectives... is firmly of this trend, analysing the linkages between technology development and environmental protection in the context of the chemical industry.

The book efficiently delineates basic concepts and strategies required to devise pollution control and waste treatment techniques. With regard to implementing such techniques, the authors argue that the ball lies squarely in the government's court. Surely a facile assumption, for do not vested interests influence government's functioning? In many countries, policies are tailored to the needs of such interest groups, or regulations come riddled with perforations. The rhetoric of development and employment often whitewashes environmental damage. This is more palpable in the chemical industry scenario, which -- as the authors say -- meets such basic needs as food, clothing, shelter and healthcare.

The technical aspects of hazardous waste management detailed here could benefit policymakers and regulatory bodies in assessing the economic and environmental dimensions of the chemical industry. The authors, researchers in chemical engineering, have outlined various ways of detoxifying waste materials, recycling them to preserve source materials and modifying chemical processes to reduce toxic chemical usage.

They lament the poor technology transfer from research laboratories to industries in India, with bureaucrats coming in for a fair amount of stick. This may partly hold good for public sector companies, but sounds naive when one thinks of the private sector. Also, scientists petrified among their pipettes must share the blame, research being more of a ritual than an action-oriented programme.

Waste trade and trans-boundary migration of waste material have been dealt with under a separate section. It has been rightly pointed out that industries in the developed countries are blissfully gifting their poison to developing nations. This is not only due to public awareness and an aggressive media -- the political situation in the developing countries also encourages them. The same is true of the movement of industries to developing countries: most of the polluting industries of the us find safe havens in Mexico. Similarly, asbestos, benzidine dihydro-chloride and silica dust, banned elsewhere, continue to be churned out in countries like India.

The book chants about environmental regulations and legislations in each of its 8 chapters, but can only divine a single cause of government impotence: the trip-up is due to mutually conflicting objectives on industrial, economic and energy policies. Fair enough, but other important reasons -- politics and corruption at the government level, for instance -- find no place in the argument. It's evident that the authors wish to temper the vitriol aimed at officialdom. Moreover, a book of this sort should have named the chemical industries and their toxic pollutants known to bedevil the environment and peoples' lives.

The book assumes that things are looking up after the Bhopal disaster, with many industries voluntarily adopting environmentally clean technologies. The sad fact is that toxic waste dumping is very much in vogue. This, along with poor textual organisation and some forbidingly jargonised sections, is surely the unkindest cut of all.

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