Published on 06/01/2015
First Update 17/03/2017
I have been watching with keen interest and admiration, the recent initiatives of the Government in managing the environment and the zeal with which it has taken up the cleaning of the Ganga. We are also thankful to the Government for improving governance, inviting suggestions and initiating interactions between industry and regulators. You have, in this short span of time that you have had, instilled tremendous confidence in the general public. I am sure this would allow all the stakeholders, including the regulators and the industry, to express and participate more proactively in the building of a great Nation.
I represent neither a regulator nor an industry yet I would seek your permission to make a few, governance and management related suggestions which I feel may help us achieve our objectives more efficiently with the existing tools that we have.
1. 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. In this connection it would be useful to suitably train the industry and other stakeholders. Training Institutes could be set up at selected Pollution Control Boards. The rich resource available with former Ministry and Board experts could be utilized also.
2. The basic problem with implementation is not the lack of policy, procedures or guidelines but an indifference to our role and its importance to society. While everything may look good on papers, the reality is far removed and most of our decisions are based on poor quality background information. With strong competition, no controls and the EAC’S not empowered to certify and regulate the quality of consultancy support and the cut paste facilities available, the consultants may also not be different. It is a difficult situation for which I have no answer but I am sure the Government would certainly 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.
3. 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 waste and also maximizing profits. 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. Industry does not take it seriously but often entrusts the job to Consultants who fill it up as a ritual without supporting studies. The Industry needs to be trained on this. It is money, environment and goodwill that they are losing. 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. It is hoped that the Ministry would like to introduce a mechanism through which the Board of Directors of a Company, by being directly involved, can utilize this useful tool to their advantage and contribute to Nation Building by contributing to both Economy and the Environment.
4. The Pollution Control Boards may also be required to examine these reports( EIA Statements) more pragmatically and publish major findings for exchange with Industry. Environmental Statements are tools for self improvement. They should be utilized by the Boards 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 will certainly get meaningful statements which will help us improve the environment.
5. The new Company’s Act of 2013 has made provisions for Corporate Social Corporate Responsibility. A good C.S.R. initiative will promote a good environment and help in building a positive and long term relationship with communities by providing support where government support is inadequate. The advisory and monitoring mechanisms, in this connection, may need to be strengthened .The CSR needs of districts could be analysed collectively and desired initiatives and assignments recommended for the District by a Committee of members drawn from administration , gram panchayats ,prominent companies and beneficiary groups and the CSR assignments allocated by the District Magistrate from this basket of projects. This would make the exercise more meaningful and effective, more acceptable and useful and avoid duplication of efforts. We could under CSR, get some quick films made on good practices on corporate, government and citizens participation on cleanliness, hygiene and environmental rejuvenation from examples in India and abroad and show them in theatres and T.V. compulsorily. We have to feel at heart, the importance of our contributions so that we can move fast on the path to the great Nation which we are soon going to be.
6. 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 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. The Boards may like to prioritize and focus actions based on receptor wise source apportionment considerations.
7. The Pollution Control Boards may have to think 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.
8. Occasionally it is observed that circumventing the prescribed statutory procedures, specially the right to be heard without reasoned documentation, fails legal scrutiny and the entire exercise and efforts go in vain. This leads to embarrassment before the adjudicating officers, may lead to adverse comments against the Boards and may even call for the entire exercise to be repeated again. With limited manpower, financial and other support resources available with the Boards this may not be desirable and therefore the Boards may like to ensure that the proposals for punitive action are complete in all respects and accompanied by a certification that the necessary procedures of Law have been followed. The Boards may also monitor instances of nonconformity. This will help in a more effective utilization of resources by the Boards.
9. The entire process of granting clearances could to be simplified and credit given for past performances and ISO 14000 and other certifications. Renewal application forms could be simplified to seek minimal necessary information if there is no change from the previous status. The application forms could be made bilingual to make them more comprehensible and facilitate a better understanding of information required.
10. One time grab sample results may not be regarded as the sole basis of decision making in consent management. 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
11. In view of the severe resource crunch, the Boards and other Authorities may also have to relook into the necessity of the multiplicity of conditions issued and try to reduce the number of conditions, prioritizing the critical issues which the project proponents need to comply. During compliance monitoring also, it would be desirable to concentrate on the serious non compliances. The MoEF has come up with some guidelines in this regard which could be tailored further for the Industry and the Boards and suitably implemented.
12. Waste is a resource at a wrong place. The Pollution Control Boards may have to evolve technically viable technologies, examine them for their sustainability, debottleneck the problem areas and leave the option of application of technically viable technologies to the user on a case to case basis, rather than discrediting environmentally sustainable technologies just on management issues. The Boards will have to promote ways and draw protocols to utilise the irrigation, energy and fertilization value of wastes and help in creating wealth from waste, rather than depending on energy and resource intensive technologies which only breed noncompliance.
13. Zero discharge is good for management but may not be so for the environment specially vaporizing the irrigation potential, in the face of the impending water crisis. The minimum flow requirements and the self cleansing capacity of rivers has to be assessed, augmented and utilized. Withdrawing water from the ground and from the rivers and not replenishing our rivers may lead to severe imbalances.
14. Ground Water dewatering is a major environmental issue which needs to be addressed to in all seriousness, just not by the Ground Water Boards, but also by the Environment Departments.
15. When we are working for the environment, both the Board and the Industry should accept it as the sole objective. The cycle of apply refuse- reapply -refuse and continue polluting is bad for the Country. The Boards may have to introspect on the procedural systems of consent management and what is the disincentive for a refused consent. Does it mean a penalty, more fees for reapplication or associated closure orders? Necessary guidelines have to be drawn up. This may need priority attention to get rid of the “Sab Chalta hai” syndrome.
16. 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. The diversity of environment may involve a multiplicity of management options to which the Boards have to open up .Where the requirement is to go beyond compliance, either as deviations from standards or deviations from agreed practices like the Charter on Corporate Responsibility for Environmental Pollution, the Boards should consult all stake holders and take a balanced view.
17. The Boards may find it useful to monitor loss of man days due to actions( correspondence, inspections etc.) which by being late or obsolete or poor in quality do not meet their end objectives and /or are not utilised towards their intended purpose and end up being just pieces of futile attempts on paper.
18. Projects related to river bed mining of sand and other minor minerals under the EIA notification of 2006, involve perpetuity in activity with short term, low area leases. It may be desirable, in such cases, for the District Administration( as the owner of the mines) to avail the Environmental Clearance and prepare an Environmental Management Plan every 10 years for the District Mine Plan based on an EIA carried out for the entire mining area. Individual Environmental Clearance for mining lease areas included in such clearances could be simplified or not be required at all. The EMP could be implemented under the District Plan. Sanction or renewal of leases could be accompanied by conditions which assist in implementing the EMP. The Lessees could also be charged a fee as their contribution to the preparation of the EIA and their financial contribution to the implementation of the Management plan. This will facilitate a more complete assessment and an integrated management plan, offset the cluster effect, reduce delays in renewal of leases and ease the clearance process for this very important constituent of infrastructure development. It will also ensure that thousands of substandard EIA’s and management plans, of little utility in achieving the end result of environmental rejuvenation, are not submitted and the clearance mechanism for these projects of great importance to infrastructure and nation building is simplified and made less time consuming.