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Polluter pays principle? Gujarat’s CETPs heavily supported by public money

By Rohit Prajapati*
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in his book ‘Convenient Action: Gujarat’s Response to Challenges of Climate Change’ (2011, pages 132-133), has printed a photograph of Vapi’s Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) which even today does not operate as per the prescribed norms of Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB). When the CETP of Vapi industrial area is not able to meet the prescribed GPCB norms, what message does the CM want to convey to the country and the world by printing a two page photograph of this treatment plant? On this issue we have posed several questions to him in our review of his book but he has been unable to answer a single question.
The constant advocacy by the pollution affected people, people’s organisations and NGOs regarding the increasing pollution levels in the industrial areas of India forced the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) in 1989 to initiate the process of indexing the critically polluted areas. At that time 24 industrial areas including Vapi, Ankleshwar, Ludhiana etc. were declared ‘critically polluted’.
Thereafter, in several meetings of CPCB and SPCBs serious debates on the pollution status of these areas were undertaken. Even after formulation of ‘action plans’ for the said industrial area no substantial or qualitative change was observed in these industrial areas. For this reason, in 2009 the CPCB and IIT-Delhi, in consistence with the demands of the people’s organisation’s working on environmental issues decided to use a new method of ‘indexing the pollution levels’ of these areas, which is now known as the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI).
The CEPI captures air, water, land pollution and health risks to the people living in the area. It is a rational number to characterize the environmental quality at a given location following the algorithm of source, pathway and receptor have been developed (click HERE).
However, the pollution affected people, people’s organisations and NGOs’ demand has been to include the health of the workers, productivity of land and quality of food / agriculture produce in the index since the presence of high levels of chemicals and heavy metals in food produce has severe health implications. This is affecting not only people living around the industrial area but anyone consuming it – hence not restricting the impact to the particular industrial area.
As per the agreed upon measures, industrial areas with a CEPI of 70 and above are considered ‘critically polluted’ areas while those with a CEPI between 60 and 70 are considered ‘severely polluted’ areas. In our opinion, those industrial areas with CEPI between 40 and 60 ought to be labelled as ‘polluted areas’.
In December 2009 the CEPI of 88 polluted industrial estates was measured; it was then that the CPCB and the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) of Government of India were forced to declare 43 of those as ‘critically polluted areas’ and another 32 industrial areas as ‘severely polluted’ areas. Following this study the MoEF on 13 January 2010 was also forced to issue a moratorium (prohibition on opening new industries and/or increasing the production capacity of the existing industries) on the 43 critically polluted areas.
At that time, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) and other environment protection groups had asked for a moratorium on all the 75 (43+32) polluting areas, but it was not done under pressure from the powerful industrial lobby and state governments. The mucky politics and economics of ‘GDP growth’ prevailed over the cause of ‘life and livelihood’ of ordinary people and ‘environment & conservation.
As such the process of declaring moratorium was started from Ankleshwar in Gujarat in 2007. The industries located in Ankleshwar, Panoli and Jhagadia GIDC estates treat their effluent in their Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) and then, after giving further treatment ‘at the Final Effluent Treatment Plant (FETP) at Ankleshwar discharge the effluent into the sea. The FETP, from its inception, did not work as per the prescribed norms set by the GPCB.
Even today it is not able to meet the prescribed norm. For this reason, on July 7, 2007, GPCB, on the directions of the CPCB, imposed a moratorium on the industrial areas of Ankleshwar, Panoli and Jhagadia. The moratorium is in force even today, since there has been no substantial improvement in the pollution levels even after the implementation of the so-called ‘action plans’ prepared by these estates.
The same plant’s disposal pipeline’s project was inaugurated by Narendra Modi on January 25, 2007. By inaugurating this plant, he was sending out the message to the investors to not to worry much about the compliance/s of environment laws in the state. Despite this moratorium being in force officially, the active connivance of the industrial lobby with the collusion of politicians along with the official machinery in Gujarat has surreptitiously lifted the moratorium from some area at different times.
Despite the “polluter pays” principle, common effluent treatment plants (CETPs) were highly supported by public money; 25 per cent of the cost was state subsidy, 25 per cent central subsidy, 30 per cent loans from financial institute, and only 20 per cent was directly paid by industries. In essence, half of the ’supposed’ solution to the pollution generated for private profit, was funded by the general public. As if this subsidy was not enough, the subsidy for the CETP has been increased from 25 per cent to 50 per cent by the Central government.
The pipeline project of the FETP of Ankleshwar was built with the sweat of tax payers. Out of a total project cost of Rs. 131.43 crores, the industries paid only Rs. 21.75 crores (about 17 per cent); the rest of the tab (Rs. 109 crores) was borne by the Central government, the Gujarat government, and the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) – all of which ultimately draw from public money. It is a familiar story: the profits are distributed privately, but the institutional costs and environmental burden are borne by general public. Can we find a better example of the privatisation of profits and the socialisation of the costs, burdens and hazards?
With no improvement in the levels of pollution being shown by the CEPI of the CPCB, the MoEF again, through its order of September 17, 2013 re-imposed a moratorium for some industrial areas (click HERE). However, surprisingly the same order also lifted the moratorium from some polluted areas in the name of ‘promises, presumption and assumption’ of improvement (click HERE). However, in our opinion the moratorium ought not to be lifted until these units bring down their CEPI to below 60.
In Gujarat, the GPCB has served repeated closure notices to several industries, which have been openly flouting environmental norms. However, the CPCB report of April 2013 has revealed no significant change in these industrial areas. Strict action needs to be taken against such industries and their ‘treatment facilities’. The CPCB report of 2009 covered 88 industrial estates, but the reports of 2011 and 2013 covered only 43 ‘critically-polluted areas’. In our opinion, the CEPI of all 88 areas should be conducted by the MoEF, CPCB and SPCBs. Other areas should also be included if the residents so wish.
The mega-star Amitabh Bachhan – the brand ambassador for tourism of Gujarat – with his welcome speech, “Come and spends some days in these areas of Gujarat’’, is never heard welcoming anyone in these polluted areas. Modi is neither uttering single word on these issues nor is he ready for any kind of dialogue or debate on this issue (photograph source: “Top Ten Most Polluted Cities in the World” in All About Travelling).
(For more on the subject HERE)

* Member of Radical Socialist

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