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Indian industrial pollution norms have blinkered view of studies researches

By Rohit Prajapati*
We are living in a world where a number of experts will readily state their opinions that particular chemicals “within prescribed norms” will have no adverse impact at all. One will find only very few experts ready to state that chemicals in excess definitely leads to particular health problem. Even research related to health problem vis-a-vis chemicals and particular industrial clusters is difficult to find and to my knowledge, there are no resources available for such research in India. The governments at the centre and state levels, and the government medical colleges and institutes lack the political will to take up such research.
With practically no substantial resources for activists and whistle-blowers who try to pin-point the issues of health and environment with reference to industry based on Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), activists are blamed by stating that these are ‘non-serious allegations’ against the industry and the state. People are victims of the degradation of natural resources, often irreversible. Many experts and researchers, acting under the pretext of “neutral approach” or “balanced approach”, in practice favour the rich and the influential.
While the Government of India is on the run to invite more and more investment in the country by national and international corporate house, it is not as enthusiastic about facilitating research and data bank about health impact of various chemicals on workers and communities residing in industrial neighbourhoods. A similar policy was adopted by Narendra Modi when he was Chief Minster of Gujarat in the name of “Gujarat model of development”.

Politics around prescribed norms and threshold limit value (TLV)

When any government and its concerned authorities talk about “prescribed norms” for chemicals, we should keep in mind that it only means that the establishment has declared that level of pollution burden acceptable, but not that there will be no impact on the environment or health of the people. The “prescribed norms” calculations are not based on the carrying capacity of the environment or thresholds of toxicity to people as much as they are on the capacity of the industries to keep up their profitability.
The “prescribed norms” of a chemical substance is an exposure level to which it is believed an environment and people can be exposed day after day for a lifetime without adverse effects. Same is the case with the threshold limit value (TLV) concept for the workers working condition inside the industries.
When we design “norms”, the fundamental question we should ask ourselves is, are we designing the “norms” based on carrying capacity of the area i.e. keeping in mind existing pollution load of the area? Are we considering the fact that many people staying in nearby industrial clusters are living below the poverty line and are not able to consume the required calories in their diets and many of them are malnourished? Making a universal prescribed norm based on “normal human body” is necessary but inadequate. Are we designing the “norms” for particular cluster or for an area in general? Can we design just general “norms” or we should design area specific “norms”?
Same is the case with calculation when we consider the TLV rather than taking into consideration the real socio-economic factors which impact workers’ health. TLV is calculated based on so called “ideal working hours” and “healthy workers”, neither of which are the reality. These disconnect between the assumptions underlying the norms and the reality of exposed workers and communities is conveniently ignored. Further, it has been observed in many occasions that the prescribed norms are arbitrarily relatively more “stringent” than TLV.
Why is it the case that the norms should be less stringent for those who come into direct contact and handle the chemicals? In actuality the whole approach to design the prescribed norms and TLV separately should be overhauled and a method of coordination between the authorities who prescribe norms, and those who deal with TLV should be adopted.
Overall, very few people have information and knowledge about the data which is used to design “norms” and “TLV”. This information should be made public which would engender further; there should be debate about the authenticity of database itself. Today both the data and debate are sorely lacking.
All of this is a result of the economic and political decision that determines the central and state government’s industrial policy to ensure the profitability of the industries at the expense of the citizens and workers.
Our environmental laws only talk about deterrent punishment to those who endanger human environment, safety and health but they lack any specific provision which mandates that Indian state, governments and industries conduct studies on an industrial cluster vis-a-vis it impacts on environment and health. And that is why one will also not find clear cut provision to provide compensation to the affected people. Even in the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 in section 15 dealing with relief, compensation and restitution, the burden to provide the studies and research to ask for the compensation is put on the affected people.
The Bhopal disaster is a prime example that exposes the fragility of Indian environmental law, particularly its lack of any clear cut provision to mandate studies relating impact of industry / industrial vlusters and environment and health. This is largely why the affected people of Bhopal are deprived of their rights to fair and just compensation and also to prosecute the culprits.

75 industrial clusters of India are critically and severely polluted

Despite the lack of good quality data, some progress has been made with respect to identifying and classifying of critically and severely polluted areas. The consistent follow up 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 clusters in the country. 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 areas no substantial or qualitative change was observed in these industrial clusters. For this reason, in 2009 the CPCB and Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT, Delhi) – in the light of demands from people’s organisations – decided to adopt a new method of ‘indexing the pollution levels’ of industrial clusters, which is now known as the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI). CEPI includes air, water, land pollution and health risks to the people living in the area.
However, CEPI still has a long way to go in attaining for example our demand to include 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. The latter has effects not only on people living around the industrial area but anyone consuming agricultural products grown in these areas – 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’ clusters while those with a CEPI between 60-70 are considered ‘severely polluted’ areas. In my opinion, those industrial areas with CEPI between 30-60 ought to be labelled as ‘polluted areas’.
In December 2009 the CEPI of 88 polluted industrial clusters were measured; it was then that the CPCB and then 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 Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on January 13, 2010 was forced to issue a moratorium (prohibition on establishment of new industries and/or increase of 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 the powerful industrial lobby and state governments working in tandem were able to prevent the moratorium. The mucky politics and economics of GDP growth prevailed over the cause of life and livelihood of ordinary people and environment and conservation. Later on the moratorium was lifted from various industrial clusters without the presence of proper studies and based on so-called “assurance” given by the industries.

CEPI: A detailed examination

CEPI is considered a formula to characterize the environmental quality at a given location taking into consideration the source, pathway and receptor. CEPI also captures the various health dimensions of environment including air, water and land.
CEPI is expected to act as an early word of warning to galvanize short term and long term action in terms of state policy. The CEPI helps the state in categorizing and prioritise the industrial clusters/areas in order to make immediate interventions.
The overall CEPI indicates the status of impact on air, water and land environment in terms of critical/severe/normal. In determining CEPI, first the CEPI for air environment, Water environment, and land environment are to be calculated and then based on that the overall CEPI can be calculated. One can refer to the following formula:
CEPI = A + B + C + D whereas
A (Pollutant Score) = A1 x A2; where, A1: Presence of Toxin; A2: Scale of industrial activities
B (Pathway Score) = B1+B2+B3; where, B1: Pollutant Concentration B2: Impact on people; B3: Impact on Eco-geological feature
C (Receptor Score) = C1xC2+C3; where, C1: Potentially affected population; C2: Level of exposure; C3: Risk to sensitive receptors and;
D= Additional High Risk Element.
In Factor B (pathway score) for adverse impact on people, following types of evidence has been used as data on health impact are not available. The study has considered broadly three options: 1. No reliable evidence is available; 2. Evidence of symptoms of exposure; and 3. Evidence of fatality or disease(s) leading to fatality (such as cancer) due to exposure. But because of poor documentation of almost all factors, studies are not able to indicate the real CEPI.
In 2009, Ankleswar’s industrial area’s CEPI was 88.50; it topped the list of ‘critically polluted areas’ of India. In 2011 and 2013, Vapi industrial area, with CEPI of 85.31, topped this list. Thus Gujarat topped in 2009 in ‘critically polluted areas’ in India and continues to maintain its position in 2011 and 2013.
These reports of CEPI in fact question the credibility and facts mentioned in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports submitted by various industries to the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) for new industries and expansion of the existing industries for these areas. These reports of CEPI demand review all the past EIAs of 88 industrial clusters of India, and based on that action was to be taken against consultants and industries for misleading people and MoEF&CC.
Inspite of these reports the government and even environment laws of India fail to address the need for research on health problem vis-a-vis chemicals and particular industrial clusters of India.
In 2009 CEPI studies for all 88 industrial clusters were done but in the year 2011 and 2013 CEPI studied for only 43 clusters were done. The process of declaring a moratorium on new and expansion of existing industries was started from Ankleshwar in Gujarat in 2007. The industries located in Ankleshwar, Panoli and Jhagadia Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (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 for this area, 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 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 several industrial clusters like Vapi at different times. In spite of CEPI studies of 2009, 2011 and 2013 no concerned authority has found it fit to order for detailed studies and research related to the industrial cluster vis-a-vis its impacts on environment and health.
The Modi government honouring BJP’s pre-election “commitment” given to corporate houses, and also pressure from them, government started diluting the concept of CEPI. This started in UPA government and now speedy dilution is on by Modi government.
The order dated June 10, 2014 of the MoEF uploaded on its website on July 24, 2014 states, “It has, therefore, been decided to keep in abeyance until further orders the aforesaid OM (Office Memorandum) dated September 17, 2013 to the extent it related to the re-imposition of moratorium in eight CPAs (Critically Polluted Areas) till CPCB re-assesses the CEPI taking into account all constituents of index as originally envisaged in 2009, subject to the following stipulations:
In addition to monitoring by the regional office concerned, third party monitoring by a reputed agency at a frequency to be specified by the EAC would be necessary;
At the stage of TORs the EAC concerned would, in such cases spell out the due diligence required in terms of assessment of baseline conditions of ambient air, water bodies, etc. as applicable and provide guidance on monitoring locations, parameters, etc. In doing so, in addition to pollutants to be discharged / emitted by the proposed project, the pollutants of concern in the area would also be kept in view. Assessment of performance of common facilities such as CETP, TSDF, etc. if proposed to be utilized should also be included as part of due diligence;
All projects requiring EC in these areas will be considered only by MoEF;
The implementation of action plan of each of these eight CPAs to be jointly reviewed by the CPCB and SPCB on quarterly basis and report sent to MoEF by the seventh day of the month succeeding the end of quarter.”

The decision dated June 10, 2014 of the MoEF&CC that the latter gives no clear logic for putting order of the previous government, dated September 23, 2013 in abeyance. It appears that the sole purpose of the decision of the MoEF&CC is to lift the moratorium by hook or cook.
This is no surprise as the Central government is not concerned about environment but it is working under the pressure of industrial lobby. The current Central government is involved in reversing the past decisions of the MoEF&CC (which were products of the genuine people’s environmental movements) in order to please the industrial lobby.

TSR Subramanian committee to review six environmental laws

The BJP’s Election Manifesto for 2014 categorically assured that policies to promote industrial growth will take precedence over those that ensure environmental protection. This is consistent with the Gujarat Model of Development, which led Gujarat State to become number one in pollution. To make operational this commitment to industrialists, on August 29, 2014 the Modi government appointed the TSR Subramanian committee to review six environmental laws.
Officially known as the High-Level Committee constituted for review of Environment and Forests Laws, the committee was tasked with submitting an exhaustive appraisal of six environmental laws to the MoEF&CC within two months (three months subsequent to a one month extension). The specific laws were: [1] The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, [2] The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; [3] The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; [4] The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; [5] The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981; [6] The Indian Forest Act, 1927.
In spite of the impossibly short time frame, surprisingly the committee submitted a report with detailed recommendations to develop a totally new structure of NEMA (National Environment Management Authority) and SEMA (State Environment Management Authority) to replace the Central Pollution Control Board & State Pollution Control Boards. The Committee also proposed a new umbrella law ‘The Environmental Laws (Management) Act, 2014’ (ELMA). The name “NEMA”, “SEMA” and “ELMA” clearly indicates that the committee is interested in management of environment and not in protection of environment. This committee dealt not only with the six laws under review but also suggested some fundamental changes in two other laws, [1] The Forest Right Act, 2006, and [2] The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. It appears that the committee particularly scrutinized environment-related laws which have been effectively used by the people to protect the environment.
The committee was expected to read, discuss and review:
The laws and various notification, amendments and circular issued under these laws,
Land mark judgements of courts on Environment Laws of the Indian Courts and courts of advance countries,
Status of environment of the country, and public consultation with various concerned state authorities, mainly the industrial associations across the country and with the people and people’s organisations.
Yet, during one instance of a public consultation in Bangalore, the committee chose to walk out of the consultation rather than engage in a discussion when people’s organisations raised fundamental questions regarding terms of reference of the committee and various other issues. Actually, there was no serious consultation across the country organised by the committee in order to deliberately avoid the real feedback on the concerning issues by people’s movements and affected people.
It is also surprising that a former Cabinet Secretary of the Government of India, a former secretary to the Government of India, a former judge of the Delhi High Court, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court of India, a joint secretary of MoEF&CC of the Government of India, and member secretary of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board felt confident and competent to do the task within three months without proper consultation across the country and to propose new laws and new structures to “implement” the law.
The recommendations of the committee are going to deteriorate the environmental condition further of these industrial clusters and there is chance that more such industrial cluster will join this list. The ‘high-speed’ committee has given what corporate houses were asking consistently before the election from the new government and what was promised broadly in the BJP Manifesto. Now it is crystal clear that for the Modi government’ the word ‘environment’ means only “environment for investment”.
This clearly indicates that the present government is not interested in a genuine people-centric approach, which puts the focus of industrial pollution’s impacts on the workers, people and prioritises the experience of the affected people. Until we have that, we will not see a prioritisation of the sorely needed field of research which begins to tackle the health impacts of industrial pollution.
It is time for all us to compel the governments and its institutions so that they allocate required resources for the studies and research which co-relating impact of industrial clusters on environment and health and also conduct such studies and research. Human societies have faced several ecological crises at various phases of civilization, but today’s reality has raised fundamental questions on the very survival of human beings and life on earth. The ecological crisis is an outcome of the present capitalist society, its developmental model and has reached a point where all life forms are threatened.

*Environmental activist with Praryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Gujarat

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