Clean Governance and robust compliance in Pollution Control

Published on 08/11/2016

Making India Great

  The Need for Clean Governance and robust compliance in Pollution Control.

 By Dr. Yashpal Singh

Former Director, Environment to the Government of Uttar Pradesh, India


Indian Products have a poor, rather dismal presence in the international market shelves.  Ironically, the domestic markets are also flooded with products from other countries and tragically, you come across reputed companies in India who choose to get their products manufactured abroad. This poor presence of Indian products suggests that there is something wrong with the manufacturing sector in India and we are unable to market our products, as well as we should, both on quality and on price considerations.

It is beyond doubt that corruption and non ethical behaviour influence competitiveness to a large extent. Surveys have even gone to the extent to suggest that India can achieve a 9% GDP growth if corruption is controlled. Unfortunately corruption and unethical practices have set in as a norm in society and there is hardly a person who may not have fallen into a situation where he has not had   to resort to such unethical practices. Corruption costs have now become part of the normal pricing mechanism and this is where it impacts our competitiveness. Unconfirmed estimates indicate that almost 50% of the cost of product can be attributed to corruption costs. Corruption also creates an inefficiency in the system by tending to sacrifice quality by facilitating incapable organizations. It makes thing lot more easier for both the regulators and the developers and breeds an indifference to the real issues. It makes the regulators head strong and obstinate and the developer increasingly complacent and evasive and believers in “All is Well”.

Environmental Legislation is necessary and stringent. The State Pollution Control Boards, the Central Pollution Control Board, the State and the Central Governments are all vested with the powers to take immediate restraining measures including closure of industries in case of established non compliance. The public has become increasingly aware of its rights and the duties of both the regulator and the developer and proactively fights for a clean environment. Regulation instills a fear which leads to circumvention and may promote corruption and unethical practices. Further because of a weak governance mechanism crippled by the vices of society and persistent non compliance by defaulters, regulators may exhibit helplessness in managing prevalent sustainable practices and often impose, easy to manage unsustainable technologies with high carbon footprints and higher costs on the developer. A case in point is the move to prescribe Zero Liquid discharge technologies for effluent disposal in certain polluting sectors. Distilleries were earlier permitted to use their effluents for fertiirrigtion and One Time Controlled Land Application by utilizing the irrigation and fertilization potential of the waste waters worth hundreds of crores of rupees. Industry could not fastidiously adhere to the protocols developed and started indiscriminate disposal resulting in large scale soil and ground water pollution. The regulators found this difficult to manage and imposed conditions on the distilleries to achieve ZLD through concentration and incineration. For distilleries this meant an additional expenditure of Rs. 80 crores per 100 KLD effluents for each distillery leading to an additional  cost of   Rs. 8 to 9 per litre of Alcohol produced. Hardly a sustainable or viable option.  For Tanneries and Textile, ZLD may mean an additional expenditure of about 16 Crores per MLD of effluents generated over the conventional statutory requirements. This additionality is only because, for some reason, the developers have demonstrated undue complacence to their statutory obligations and because the regulators have not been able to exercise the controls properly and now find it difficult to manage effluents through the earlier approved technologies, a fact officially acknowledged by the regulator. These are then examples of some additional costs that could come out of behavior linked non compliance and impact competitiveness.

Even if some manufacturers are able to compete today despite the corruption costs, it would be well realized that by ensuring robust compliance and excluding these costs, the competitiveness would surely improve and we can market better, earn more profits, give more wages to the millions of people engaged in our manufacturing efforts, raise their quality of life and make India really ‘Great’.  Good clean Governance and a robust compliance mechanism are therefore the needs of the hour and which the regulator and the developer should both strive for. It is always more expensive to make a mistake, get caught and then be required to fix it, than it is to prevent the problem in the first place.

It is also time for us to realise that regulation is a friend and that compliance helps us in maximizing wealth. After all waste is money gained or money lost. This realization would dwell on us better, as an industry, if we could also empathise with our India, the environment and the plight of the environmental refugees around us (including us) and just not end up   with drawing up Environmental Policies which we hardly address to. We should on the other hand, go further to develop conservation as a Culture imbibed in each individual associated with our enterprise at an official and personal level and create individuals who are married to the ethics of  cleanliness and conservation and who regard unethical behavior as blasphemy.

Controlling pollution and conserving environment is just not the Governments responsibility. All of us are needed to accomplish the goals. The regulators, the developers and the conservationists. This can be brought about by good governance. The Industry may need to understand that they are equal coparceners in facilitating good governance and should learn to manage environment efficiently. They should ensure that the energies they put in produces some “work done”. This may not be just getting clearances but also improving the quality of the Environment by effective compliance. When working for environmental quality, we should realize that this is what we are for and should try to accomplish our task with the greatest efficiency.

Both the Industry and the regulator somehow lack the will to see or be seen in the mirror. The Industry hardly reviews its Environmental Performance or the per capita resource utilization. At the operation level it hardly realizes the importance of conserving resources for reducing wastes. An honest audit will surely help in    maximizing profits and better competitiveness through cost reductions. The E.P. Act of 1986 does make a provision of Environmental Statements and Audits with a view to show the mirror and promote self regulation. Industries do not  take it seriously but knowing fully well that this is just another piece of paper with the regulator,  which can be used against them but not in their favour,  often  entrusts the job to Consultants who fill it up as a ritual without supporting studies. The Industry needs to be more sensitive to this and perform the audit with the full ethical sanctity prescribed for the process. It is money, environment and goodwill that they stand to lose or gain. Environmental Statements are responsible documents meant for their benefit and should be utilized to improve the Company’s worth.   If we want an environmental improvement, audits may have to be taken seriously in all their perspective and the document may need to be examined by the Board of Directors of the Company rather than being submitted as routine by someone down the line. Environmental Statements are tools for self improvement. They should be utilized by the regulators and the Industry to draw up action plans for improvement and the imposition of consent conditions rather than a tool for punitive action. If Industry is assured of this we may get meaningful statements which will help us improve the environment instead of evasive statements from a complacent industry.

The quality of background information available for environmental decision making is often poor. With strong competition among consultants, inadequate verification mechanism, difficult protocols for monitoring, difficult terrains and the cut paste facilities available, the consultants may also not often be able to be sincere to their job of collecting representative data. There is a need to evolve means of ensuring the representativeness of data to ground situations and inculcate sincerity in reporting. We are dealing with poisons. If we do not report correctly, which most of the time we do not, we cannot take corrective action and they end up within us or kill the systems sustaining us.

I have in the past years also closely been interacting with senior persons from the Industry. The level of awareness on environmental responsibilities and implications is poor. The information base, at the very top, is generally restricted to the status of clearances. Rarely are the people who matter and who are ultimately held responsible within the Industry, aware of the conditions of clearance and their compliance implications and the priority issues which need to be immediately addressed to. This may again lead to a laxity in  fixing responsibilities, both at the vendor and the employee level and in conducting a periodical review of compliance by  the Board of Directors of the Company. With regulators, judiciary, public and shareholders becoming increasingly conscious, a sound compliance monitoring mechanism within the industry will help it to build immense social acceptability. Better compliance will result in more efficient utilization of resources, lesser mandays lost, better employee satisfaction and increased profitability and ultimately a better environment. Industry has therefore to prove intent through sustained compliance, develop faith in the regulatory machinery and stand up to injustice without fear. The Pollution Control  Boards would understand this and I am sure this would help in a better hybridization of ideas and efforts for a cleaner environment.

The Pollution Control Boards have limited resources which need to be optimally utilized for only one end   – a clean environment. It is unfortunate that the Pollution Control Boards, due to whatever reasons (?), have in the past years developed only as Industrial Pollution Control Boards although the contribution of the Industrial sector to both water and Air Pollution is much less as compared to the domestic, vehicular and other nonpoint sources of pollution and there is utter noncompliance by local bodies both in terms of consent and water cess. The Boards across the country seem to be spending more than 80% of their resources in dealing with just about 20% of the problem. The Boards may like to prioritize and focus actions based on receptor wise source apportionment considerations.

The Pollution Control Boards may have to think of utilizing their resources more effectively and avoid multiplicity of appraisals and inspections by implementing common appraisal procedures and common inspection schedules for all related regulation. This may also bring down the number of visits and frequency of interactions. Recognising one time grab sampling as the sole basis of decision making in consent management may lead to a certain degree of behavior induced, prejudiced appraisal. A system could be evolved to consider the previous long term performance of the Industry. This will promote better all the year round performance, would be a deterrent to biased action and catalyze a more robust compliance monitoring system. Compliance monitoring should be stepped up

It is also important that the Boards open themselves up to suggestions and take reasoned decisions. A certain level of confidence has to be developed between the Boards and the Industry to assure them that counter suggestions will be considered with this open mind. I am sure that a hybridization of opinion will help.

All said and done, it is extremely important that Indian Industry starts regarding waste as a resource and realizes that regulation is a friend and compliance ultimately helps it in maximizing wealth. Being a part of corruption and unethical practices in any form increases the cost of production and impacts competitiveness. Good clean governance and robust compliance is therefore the need of the hour. Regulatory bodies may have to be more focused, use their resources optimally and be more transparent and open to suggestions from Industry. This will improve the competitiveness of the industry, help in earning more profits and more equitably distribute the wealth so created amongst the millions of workers in order to improve their quality of life and make India a great nation.

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