Dec­i­mated and re­dun­dant

State pol­lu­tion con­trol boards are ill-equipped to jus­tify their reg­u­la­tory space

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY -

THE FIRST State Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board (spcb) was set up in 1970 in Ma­ha­rash­tra. Today, all states have spcbs and Union Ter­ri­to­ries have com­mit­tees. The role and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of spcbs have grown over the years. In 1974, Par­lia­ment man­dated th­ese boards to pre­vent and con­trol water pol­lu­tion, and in 1981, mon­i­tor­ing and con­trol­ling air pol­lu­tion also came within its am­bit.

The re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of spcbs have kept in­creas­ing as more reg­u­la­tions were passed, in­clud­ing rules for haz­ardous waste, plas­tic man­u­fac­ture and sale, mu­nic­i­pal solid waste, noise pol­lu­tion, bat­tery reg­u­la­tion and e-waste man­age­ment. Apart from in­dus­tries, of­fi­cials have to also mon­i­tor pol­lu­tion from ho­tels, hos­pi­tals and hous­ing com­plexes. spcbs have to act when­ever they are in­structed by the min­istries or courts. And now with the in­tro­duc­tion of cems and ce­qms, their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties have in­creased.

But pol­lu­tion mon­i­tor­ing and con­trol in the coun­try is in the dumps be­cause spcbs are in­ca­pac­i­tated, re­dun­dant and los­ing the bat­tle. Worse, no­body wants to in­vest in them as they are con­sid­ered to be cor­rupt, in­ef­fec­tive and a li­a­bil­ity. Let’s take the is­sue of per­son­nel. A large pro­por­tion of sanc­tioned jobs in spcbs have not been filled—in Kar­nataka and Andhra Pradesh alone, about 4755 per cent of posts are ly­ing va­cant. Even tech­ni­cal po­si­tions—the na­ture of jobs in spcbs is largely tech­ni­cal—have not been filled. In Ma­ha­rash­tra, for in­stance, about 20-33 per cent of tech­ni­cal jobs are yet to be filled (see ‘Empty at the top’).

Th­ese va­can­cies have led to the in­abil­ity of the boards to per­form their tasks. For in­stance, a tech­ni­cal staff in Kar­nataka, Ma­ha­rash­tra, Gu­jarat and Odisha gets less than one day in a year to in­spect one in­dus­try for cer­ti­fy­ing ap­proval. This in­cludes the time spent to pre­pare, travel, in­spect and write an in­spec­tion re­port. In Kar­nataka, one tech­ni­cal per­son­nel has to in­spect about 250 in­dus­tries in a year. This ra­tio is bound to worsen as the num­ber of in­dus­tries that need to be mon­i­tored

is in­creas­ing. In con­trast to the in­crease in the num­ber of in­dus­tries, the num­ber of tech­ni­cal staff in most spcbs has re­mained the same or has de­creased. In Kar­nataka, while the num­ber of in­dus­tries in­creased from 71,743 in 2013-14 to 74,936 in 2014-15, the sci­en­tific and tech­ni­cal staff re­mained the same, at 235. So mon­i­tor­ing of in­dus­tries re­mains only on pa­per (see graphs: ‘Post­ing va­can­cies’ and ‘Ra­tio that de­fies logic’). In most spcbs, an of­fi­cial inspects the fac­tory only when the re­newal of the li­cense, called con­sent to op­er­ate (cto), is due. As of­fi­cials can­not mon­i­tor, they ask in­dus­tries to get pol­lu­tion mon­i­tor­ing done by pri­vate lab­o­ra­to­ries and sub­mit re­ports. But even this re­port­ing re­quire­ment varies from state to state—some spcbs de­mand a monthly pol­lu­tion re­port, while oth­ers ask for quar­terly one. There is no uni­form pro­to­col.

For the ease of do­ing busi­ness, most state gov­ern­ments have ini­ti­ated a sin­gle win­dow clear­ance mech­a­nism, which in­cludes on­line sub­mis­sion of forms and adop­tion of on­line mech­a­nism for grant­ing li­censes. There is noth­ing wrong with this sys­tem, ex­cept that most spcbs have im­prac­ti­cally re­duced the time limit for giv­ing cto, even though the statu­tory reg­u­la­tions per­mit 120 days for pro­cess­ing. For ex­am­ple, Andhra Pradesh has re­duced the clear­ance time­line to 45 days for red cat­e­gory (most pol­lut­ing) in­dus­tries, and 21 and 7 days for or­ange (mod­er­ately pol­lut­ing) and green (low pol­lut­ing) cat­e­gories re­spec­tively. Due to this, in­spec­tion and cross-checks are not car­ried prop­erly. Says an of­fi­cial of the Odisha State Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board: “A sin­gle win­dow clear­ance scheme not only al­lows in­dus­tries to know about the de­tails of in­spec­tion well in ad­vance, but also gives them am­ple time to hide mat­ters be­fore the in­spect­ing team ar­rives. So the ba­sic pur­pose of in­spec­tion is de­feated.”

Ditto for the re­newal of cto. The cto was ear­lier re­newed ev­ery 1-5 years. The pe­riod has now been in­creased to 5-20 years. “The state boards are not able to carry out proper eval­u­a­tion due to time con­straints. They are just pro­cess­ing clear­ance ap­pli­ca­tions based on their "sit­ing" cri­te­ria. Clo­sure no­tices for non-com­ply­ing in­dus­tries too have fallen dras­ti­cally,” says an of­fi­cial of the Andhra Pradesh Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board, who does not wish to be named.

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