How Reduced Scrutiny Of Polluting Units Could Lead To Industrial Disasters -Nikhil Ghanekar

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published Published on May 28, 2021   modified Modified on May 28, 2021

Recent changes to environment clearance rules allow polluting industries to expand their operations and change their product mix without full central scrutiny. This may weaken the already poor compliance with environmental regulations and could even lead to industrial accidents like the 2020 Visakhapatnam gas leak, experts say.

New Delhi: Recent changes in the environment clearance process for India's most polluting industries will allow them to expand their capacity and change their raw materials without seeking the central environment ministry's approval. This dilution of rules may not only worsen India's high pollution load but also result in lethal industrial disasters, experts warn.

The March 2021 amendment to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2006 reduces the scrutiny of habitually polluting units such as petrochemical, cement and fertiliser factories wishing to undertake critical changes in capacity and product mix. Earlier, these units could increase their capacity only up to 50% without a fresh clearance from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC). Now, they only need to secure a "no increase in pollution load" certification by a government-empanelled auditor or institution. And there is no longer a limit on the expansion.

This dilution in rules shows an abdication of responsibility on the environment ministry's part, said experts. Not only do Indian industries have a weak track-record of compliance with pollution control rules but also systems put in place to allow relaxed scrutiny--such as the Online Continuous Emissions Monitoring System (OCEMS)--have been patchily implemented, as we explain.

Also, the limited scrutiny of a unit's expansion, while ignoring the impact of associated activities such as road building, power supply and waste treatment, underestimates the environmental risk, experts said.

The highly lethal gas leak at the LG Polymers factory in Visakhapatnam on May 7, 2020 may have been "indirectly caused" by the unit's poorly scrutinised expansion carried out without the requisite environmental clearance, said the report of the panel that investigated the disaster.

Rameshwar Prasad Gupta, secretary, MoEFCC defended the move on the grounds that prior approvals are not a fail-proof fix for polluting industries though he admitted to the problem of compliance. "Laws and prior approvals are no substitute for good compliance. We are also working on this issue," he said, "Having prior approvals does not solve our problems, our compliance will have to increase irrespective of whether we have prior approvals or not."

We discuss some such steps to improve compliance, such as installation of OCEMS, later in the story.

Please click here to read more., 28 May, 2021,

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