Modi government’s onslaught on environment: Pollution Index weakened, say activists

CPCB’s plan to implement a colour-coding scheme could lead to 36 industries no longer requiring an environment clearance.
Modi government’s onslaught on environment: Pollution Index weakened, say activists
Modi government’s onslaught on environment: Pollution Index weakened, say activists
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In keeping with the policy of relaxing environmental regulations in the country, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has proposed to do away with the consideration of factors such as impact on people and eco-geology while deciding whether an industrial cluster is critically polluted or not. Environmentalists say that this could lead to further environmental degradation.

The Hindustan Times had reported earlier this month that the CPCB’s plan to implement a colour-coding scheme could lead to 36 industries no longer requiring an environment clearance. “This will take care of 80% of emissions from industrial sector and will bring transparency in implementation of pollution control regulations,” a CPCB official had then said.

Needless to say the move is likely to be welcomed by industrialists who are unable to live up to environmental norms. But the move has raised the eyebrows of environmentalists for more reasons than one. Sanjay Upadhyay, an environmental advocate in the Supreme Court told Mint “It is unfortunate that CPCB is trying to dilute the CEPI parameters. In my view both qualitative and quantitative criteria are equally important.”

So what’s this all about?

Since assuming power in May 2014, Modi government’s environment ministry has lifted a moratorium on industrial units in nine critically polluted industrial clusters. Additionally, it also asked CPCB in June 2014 to “reassess” the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI) within a year.  The Index was based on the effect that industries had on air, water, land, health and ecology. The index was used as an instrument of pan-India pollution monitoring, as the pollution board carried out an assessment of 88 industrial clusters. The Index identified 43 clusters as critically polluted - their score on the index exceeded 70 (the points were between 0 and 100).

The NDA, in consultation with State Pollution board, is now proposing a revision of the CEPI norms citing lack of qualitative data as its reason. The draft proposal stated that even after these studies are conducted it is difficult to acquire truly representative data; therefore a revision of the norms is necessary. The proposal to delete the consideration of eco-geological factors implies ignoring factors such as water bodies (rivers, lakes and ponds), ecological parks, sanctuaries, any ecologically sensitive zones and buildings or monuments of historical, archaeological or religious significance.

The revised health considerations are likely to be based on the consideration of real-time observed values of the pollutants in the ambient air, surface water and groundwater in and around the industrial clusters. The proposed plan for acquiring health related statistics is to do so from hospitals in the area. This implies that the statistics that determine the health hazards of an industrial cluster will be based on the number of cases of pollution related diseases hospitals provide. For instance, for measuring air pollution, experts will consider the total number of hospital cases related to asthma, bronchitis, respiratory cancer, and acute respiratory infections. The same would apply for checks on other types of pollution. This completely removes any aspect of qualitative data and makes the assessment purely quantitative.

The implementation of a new classification of industries that uses colour codes to denote environmental impact, will complement the proposed revised version of CEPI scoring. A group of 59 industries, which scored between 60 and 100 points, were classified “red”—down from 89 in the 2012 system. While the second most hazardous colour code orange (scores between 30 and 59) went up from 73 to 93 under revised scoring. Observing this trend could lead to a conclusion that the manipulation of data or the dilution of required data is leading to a great increase in leeways being granted to industries.

Senior officials from the CPCB have however stuck to their standpoint stating that industrial projects should not be stalled on the basis of data that was “subjective” in nature.

An important point to note is the fact that a Joint Secretary from the Environmental Ministry currently heads the CPCB. The post of Chairman of the board has been vacant for the last three years.

Not too long ago, the Environment Ministry changed the rules of the Environment Impact Assessment to allow Industrial projects to come up within 5km of Wildlife sanctuary or National Park. This move followed the reconstituting of the National Wildlife Board that flouted the requirement for the board to have 5 independent (non-governmental) experts.

The weakening of the National Green Tribunal, amendment of the Forest Rights Act that removes the necessity for prior informed consent of local Gram Sabhas in forest areas and the exemption coal mining companies from public hearings are telling signs of a subtle operation against the environment. The proposal to dilute CEPI standards is just the latest addition.

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