Develop time-bound action plans for critically polluted areas: MoEFCC tells state governments

A view of the smog-covered smoke stacks of the Indraprastha Power Generation Co. Ltd, a power plant in New Delhi. Greenpeace remains committed to the shared vision of bringing progress to millions of people via decentralized renewable energy.

  • Aiming to ensure proper environmental management in critically and severely polluted areas, the Indian government’s environment ministry has asked all states to develop time-bound action plans within the next three months.
  • According to the Central Pollution Control Board, there are 100 critically and severely polluted industrial clusters across India where environmental clearance for setting up new units (or expansion) of polluting industries is regulated.
  • The directive by the environment ministry deals with mitigation measures that expert panels of environment ministry can stipulate while clearing industrial projects in such polluted areas. However, experts point out that such plans have been around for a decade now but what lacks is proper implementation.

With about 100 industrial clusters polluting air and water across the country, India’s environment ministry has called for proper environmental management of these clusters.

To restore the environment quality of the identified critically and severely polluted areas, the ministry has asked the state governments to finalise time-bound action plans within three months. 

The directive by the central government’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) came following the directions of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in August 2019 which ordered proper environmental management of the identified critically polluted areas (CPAs) and severely polluted areas (SPAs) and for clearance to new and expansion of industrial activities and projects in such areas.

Among the 100 polluted clusters, Tarapur in Maharashtra is currently notified as the most polluted industrial cluster in India, followed by Najafgarh-Drain basin including Anand Parbat, Naraina, Okhla, Wazirpur in Delhi and Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. These are ranked based on the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI), revised by the national government in 2016, which identified 38 critically polluted areas (CPAs), 31 severely polluted areas (SPAs) and 31 other polluted areas (OPAs).

The CEPI was developed in 2009 by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to categorise environment quality of an industrial cluster by capturing details regarding air, water and land. On the basis of that index, the CPCB had identified and notified 88 industrial clusters as Polluted Industrial Areas (PIAs) which were ranked as critically, severely and other polluted areas, depending upon their CEPI scores. The index was revised in 2016 and further monitoring brought the number of polluted industrial clusters from 88 to 100. 

Under the revised CEPI, the industrial sectors were categorised under red, orange, green, and white category based on their emissions (air pollutants), effluents (water pollutants), hazardous wastes generated and consumption of resources. Polluting industries with CEPI pollution index score of 60 and above were categorised as red, those with 41-59 as orange, 21-40 as green and upto 20 as white. As per the list finalised by CPCB, 85 types of industrial sectors were categorised as red, 73 as orange, 86 sectors as green and 36 as white. 

There are at least 100 identified polluted industrial clusters across India. Photo by Kartik Chandramouli/Mongabay.

Now, in the latest order on October 31, 2019, the environment ministry has held that the assessment of industries done by CPCB under CEPI “may be used as a warning tool by the state governments, state pollution control boards (SPCBs) and other concerned to understand the severity of pollution existing in the area and to formulate appropriate action plan.” 

It held that the “action plan may be prepared by a committee constituted by chief secretary” and representative of industries association may be included in the committee as well. The plans should include factors like environmental quality monitoring in all CPAs, installation of continuous ambient air quality monitoring stations, strengthening of manual monitoring stations and installation of continuous water quality monitoring stations. 

“Long term and short term action plans, along with sector and region-wise action points, should be defined clearly with timelines and responsible implementing agencies. Additionally, source apportionment studies may be conducted to ascertain contribution from sources including industries for planning actions,” said the environment ministry, cautioning that any delay or inefficiency in implementation of the plan will call for action against the responsible parties.  

The MoEFCC also said that action plans prepared for the critically and severely polluted areas, environmental quality monitoring data, ranking of industrial clusters under the CEPI 2016 and progress reports of committee meetings be placed in the public domain. 

A senior environment ministry official explained that such a mechanism was required because, following the tribunal’s order, many proposals for environment clearance were kept on hold pending its formulation. 

Aarti Khosla, who is the director of Climate Trends, explained that the authorities also need to look at the impact of pollution load on the health of people living in and around such critically polluted clusters.

“For instance, in critically polluted areas like Singrauli, people have been facing polluted air and water, several times beyond the permissible limit but their voice their voices aren’t heard. Reducing pollution load whether in industrial clusters or in urban centres is a much larger battle. CEPI has now been around for 10 years but has not been much successful even when there was a  moratorium on giving clearance to setting up of more industries in such areas. Until we can ensure strict implementation of the laws or action plans the condition would remain the same,” Khosla told Mongabay-India.

Penalise if an area continues to remain critically polluted

The MoEFCC directive held that in case the CEPI score of a particular critically polluted area continues to be in critical category for a year, the ministry may review the action plans with the concerned state governments and impose additional safeguards such as revising the time limits for implementation of action points and may recommend penal action against the authorities responsible for implementation of action plan for environmental management of such areas.

The environment ministry directive also called for a “carrying capacity study of each of the area.” In simple terms, the carrying capacity of a critically polluted area can be defined as the maximum number of industries it can support. 

Regarding proposals from industries for environmental clearance for new and expansion activities listed in the ‘red’ and ‘orange’ categories in critically and severely polluted areas are concerned, the environment ministry said that when such projects are being appraised by the MoEFCC’s sectoral expert panels committees, “appropriate mitigation measures for the environment possessing higher CEPI score may be made.” 

As per the environment ministry’s directive, the mitigation measures for cleaner air included conditions like steps like installation of continuous emission monitoring systems in all large and medium red category industries, imposition of effective fugitive emission control measures, transportation of materials by rail/conveyor belt, wherever feasible, encourage the use of cleaner fuels, increase of green belt cover and stipulation of a greenbelt outside the project premises.

Environment ministry wants polluting industries to install continuous emission and effluent monitoring systems. Photo by Hridayesh Joshi.

The mitigation measures to stop water pollution included conditions like reuse/recycle of treated wastewater wherever feasible, continuous monitoring of effluent quality/quantity in large and medium red category industries, a detailed water harvesting plan and zero-liquid-discharge wherever feasible.

In May 2018, the environment ministry had come out with a detailed plan on the amount that the sectoral expert committees can impose on projects as corporate environment responsibility (CER) for carrying out activities like infrastructure creation of drinking water supply, waste management, solar power, health education, rainwater harvesting, plantation etc. 

Shweta Srinivasan, domain lead (Climate & Environment Policy) at the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy, said that it is a welcome move.

“However, there is not enough emphasis in the proposed mechanism for external audit or even enabling access to data collected by continuous emission monitoring systems or through manual monitoring. State authorities require capacity building. There is a need for providing access to pollution data, monitoring and progress reports for the public and independent experts. This can also enable quicker appraisal to develop plans,” Srinivasan told Mongabay-India.

“For example, the graded response action plan in Delhi-National Capital Region is a very detailed mechanism but stakeholders involvement and scrutiny of pollution data to enable implementation will be crucial going forward,” said Srinivasan.


Banner image: Time-bound action plans are needed to reduce pollution load in critically polluted areas. Photo by Subrata Biswas/Greenpeace.

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