Current Affairs

Tackling Industrial Pollution in India

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    30th Nov, 2020


  • Industrial pollution is the pollution is currently one of the leading causes of pollution worldwide.
  • Hundreds of millions of people in India are continually exposed to toxic air: they inhale, for example, a 24-hour average of up to 25 micrograms/cubic metre of air of the deadly, microscopic pollutant, PM 2.5—far above the World Health Organization’s (WHO) limit of 10 micrograms/cubic metre.
  • With long-term exposure, this particulate matter goes deep into the lungs and on to other organs and systems, gradually defeating the body’s defence mechanism.
  • Repeated exposure to toxic air causes cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, lung and other cancers, strokes, pre-term birth, type-2 diabetes, and other illnesses.
  • Since the advent of the industrial revolution, performance on economic indicators alone has been used as the principal criteria for measuring progress.
  • Introduction of liberalization measures in 1991 in India eased the entry of private and foreign investment & technology in the industrial sector.
  • Due to this India was able to develop a strong and diversified industrial structure, which put our country in the league of emerging economies.
  • However, rapid industrialization carried with it the seeds of environmental damage.
  • Industrial activities are a major source of air, water, and land pollution, leading to illness and loss of life.
  • India accounts for two-thirds of the world’s most polluted cities.

Kinds of Pollution

River Pollution

  • GPIs(grossly polluting industries)are industries that discharge more than 1,00,000litres of wastewater and/or hazardous chemicals into the rivers and include pulp and paper mills, distilleries, sugar mills, textile units, tanneries, thermal power plants, etc.
  • According to the State of India’s Environment (SoE), 2019 around 84 per cent of the GPIswere found to be located in four states — Uttar Pradesh (1,079), Haryana (638), Andhra Pradesh (193), and Gujarat (178).
  • Close to 11 per cent or nearly 275 industrial units continue to operate by flouting the pollution control standards in the country.
  • Nearly half of these non-compliant GPIs are in Uttar Pradesh and are responsible for polluting rivers like the Ganga.
  • The major contributors are tanneries in Kanpur; and distilleries, paper mills, and sugar mills in the Kosi, Ramganga, and Kali river catchments.
  • In 2019 Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) noted that the sugar industry is the key violator. For example, sugar industries in Hapur continue to discharge partially treated effluents into the Ganga, posing a potential threat to river water quality.
  • GPIs have little investment and technical capacity to treat their effluents.

Land pollution

  • Industrial pollution can enter the soil, causing widespread environmental problems.
  • Soil pollution differs from air and water pollution in the sense that the pollutants in the soil remain in direct contact with the soil for relatively long periods.
  • A large number of hazardous chemicals and several thousand tons of wastes are ultimately dumped on the land. These are leached by municipal and industrial wastes and are responsible for the pollution of groundwater. The problem of soil pollution is compounded by the use of agrochemicals, eg., pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, etc.
  • Dioxins, Chlorinated industrial solvents, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are some common industrial soil pollutants. Soil pollution due to PAHs(Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) can be sourced to coke (coal) processing, vehicle emissions, extraction of shale oil.
  • Concentrations of toxic metals in grains and vegetables grown in contaminated soils have increased at alarming rates. This poses a serious threat to humans and the environment because of its toxicity, non-biodegradability, and bioaccumulation.
  • Plastic waste: Accumulation of plastics harms the environment and also the fragments and toxins released during photo-decomposition pollute our soil and water.
  • Electronic industry is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing manufacturing industries. Burning of e-waste in an open landfill for obtaining gold and other precious metals produces fine particulate matter harm the environment.

Air Pollution

  • According to World Air Quality Report released by the pollution tracker IQAir and Greenpeace: when the population is taken into account, average PM2.5 pollution is highest in Bangladesh, followed by Pakistan, while India is at number 5.
  • Many industries are using high sulfur oil which is highly polluted. There are large mounds of solid waste. Seasonally farmers of Punjab and Haryana burn their crop residues for preparing their fields for the next crop
  • Delhi sees a significant rise in pollution during this time. Particulate matter has been linked to several ailments, from cardiovascular diseases to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • Children are more susceptible to adverse health effects of air pollution due to higher respiration rates and outdoor physical activity.
  • The pollutants most strongly linked with respiratory problems were sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide.
  • Thermal power plants are the major emitter of mercury: A typical power plant emits 90 % of its mercury into the air and 10 percent on land.
  • A study published in 2003 found that higher air pollution caused greater deaths from SARS, which was caused by a cousin of the current strain of coronavirus.

Industrial Pollution

  • Industrial pollution can be defined as pollution that stems from industries. Any type of pollution caused by industrial practices amounts to industrial pollution.
  • It is one of the major hurdles that restrict the environmental well-being of the country or the world at large. 
  • Causes: 
    • Burning coal
    • Burning fossil fuels like natural gas, and petroleum
    • Chemical solvents by tanning industries
    • Releasing untreated waste into the environment 
    • Improper disposal of radioactive material

Case of Transparency in Pollution Data

  • Since 2014, the government of India has been monitoring industrial emissions and effluents in rivers and lakes across the country.
  • The monitoring is done through what is called Online Continuous Emissions/Effluents Monitoring Systems (OCEMS).
    • 17 categories of industrial units are required to have OCEMS—these include power plants; aluminum, zinc, copper plants; cement plants; distilleries; fertilizers, iron and steel plants; oil refineries; petrochemicals; and tanneries.
    • The emissions monitored under the OCEMS regulations include
      • particulate matter (PM)
      • CO (carbon monoxide)
      • NOx (nitrogen oxide)
      • SO2 (sulfur dioxide)
      • fluoride
    • In March 2020, Parliament was told that there were some 3,700 OCEMS installed in different industrial locations across the country.
    • However, there are only 234 continuous air pollution monitors. The data from these monitors serve as the basis for the AQI or national Air Quality Index.
    • Thus it is apparent that the scale of monitoring of pollutants is bigger in the country’s industrial sector.
    • The data on industrial emissions is almost impossible to access for the public. CPCB recognizes clean air as “a matter of right.”
    • Detailed guidelines are provided for industries to report their continuous emissions data using an online platform.
    • However Industrial units are free to choose any type/ make of analyzers including the indigenous equipment, meeting the prerequisites.
    • Websites of the state pollution control boards, however concerns are raised that why the data in the CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) site is blocked.
    • The acute lack of transparency in industrial pollution emission means that whatever data or information is released will remain shrouded in a cloud of questions.
    • There is a strong case for open data on air quality in India. After all, in 2019, India was the 5th most polluted country across the world; it is home to 14 of the top 20 cities with the worst PM 2.5 air pollution levels.
    • Day-to-day monitoring is vital for people especially the vulnerable like the elderly and children, and those with health conditions like asthma and heart disease.

Economic Growth Vs. Environment sustainability Debate

  • Economic growth is the greatest pursuit as well as the challenge of mankind. Balancing it with environmental sustainability requires focused policy interventions, better planning, and people participation.
  • There is a need to resist the temptation to overlook environmental protection completely. It is because it causes many problems like Pollution can impose a disproportionate burden on the poor; increased mortality; increase the risk of future epidemics and also risk food security and lead to problems like malnutrition.
  • Instead of pollute-first; clean-up-later" approach. There must be planning of development projects, and explicitly identifying the trade-offs between economic benefit and ecological impact.
  • Designing transparent mechanisms that allow for meaningful discussion. We need to strengthen participatory processes such as public hearings in the environmental and forest clearance process.
  • The idea of sustainable development cannot be mere rhetoric; it must be accompanied by transparent, participatory mechanisms that allow for meaningful discussion of the development paths that make growth truly sustainable.
  • Agenda 21 is a non-binding action plan of the United Nations (UN) related to sustainable development.

Is clean environment, our right?

Constitutional Provisions

  • The Indian Constitution contains specific provisions for environmental protection under the chapters of Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Duties.
  • The Constitution was amended to introduce direct provisions for the protection of the environment. This 42nd Amendment added Article 48-A to the directive Principles of State Policy.
  • Article 48-A of the constitution states that the state shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.
  • Article 51-A (g) says: “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.”
  • Article 253 states that ‘Parliament has the power to make any law for the whole or any part of the country for implementing any treaty, agreement or convention with any other country

Steps Taken by Government

  • LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging): It is used to vertically monitor the air quality of Delhi-NCR. It is used to track the evolution of a pollutant over time and detect leakage of organic pollutants in storage facilities and industrial plants, such as oil refineries.
  • National Air Quality Index (AQI): It enables monitoring the quality of air in major urban centers across the country on a real-time basis and enhancing public awareness for taking mitigative action. The measurement of air quality is based on eight pollutants namely, Particulate Matter (PM10), Particulate Matter (PM2.5), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Ozone (O3), Ammonia (NH3), and Lead (Pb).
  • Centre-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR): The objective is to provide a real-time air quality index on a 24×7 basis with color-coding along with a 72-hour advance weather forecast. It also aims to issue a health advisory to prepare citizens well in advance. It monitors Pollutants like PM2.5, PM10, Ozone, Carbon Monoxide (CO), Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), Benzene, Toluene, Xylene, and Mercury.
    • World Meteorological Organization has recognized SAFAR as a prototype activity based on the high-quality control and standards maintained in its implementation.
  • Shift from BS-IV to BS-VI: The decision has been taken to leapfrog directly from BS-IV to BS-VI fuel standards.
  • FAME Scheme: Taxing polluting vehicles and incentivizing hybrid and electric vehicles. The government adopted the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and EV (FAME) scheme in 2015.
  • National Clean Air Programme (NCAP). It is a long-term, time-bound, national-level strategy to achieve a 20 to 30 percent reduction in PM10 and 5 concentrations by 2024.
  • Re-usage of plastic: The government of India is encouraging waste plastic usage for roads and highway construction. Melting down old plastic waste to repurpose it into useful new items is one of the ways of reducing the plastic in the oceans and landfills.

Learning from Best Practices

  • United States: In the United States (US), the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) makes industrial emissions data from all CEMS-regulated monitoring locations freely available to the public.
  • European Union: In the countries of the European Union (EU), the European Environmental Agency maintains the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) which contains industrial pollution data from more than 34,000 facilities across 33 EU countries.
    • The data from the E-PRTR register enables citizens to track industrial air pollution data across Europe, including who the top polluters are and the spatial and temporal trends of the emissions for each of those industrial locations.
    • Data made available to citizens allow them to focus on the area where they live; they are made aware of the short- and long-term trends of industrial pollution in their neighbourhoods, and thereby make certain decisions informed by the data.
    • Environmental groups have used such data to identify the air polluters in a region and have held them accountable, such as the Tata Steel plant in Netherlands.
  • Overall, in the European countries, industrial pollution emissions have steadily gone down since 2007, when the datasets were first made available across the Union.

These examples of best practices from the US and EU highlight the importance of having a public that is aware of the pollution emissions around them from stationary sources such as stacks and boiler plants. Tracking emissions from industrial sources helps build accountability amongst people who run the industries and allow citizens to understand the potential sources of pollutants in their vicinity.

Ways to control industrial pollution 

  • Stringent policies to control pollution: State governments and the Centre must join forces to regulate the norms under which industries can release pollutants. The pollution control board and the government must work together to ensure that all norms are followed by industries and a limit to the amount of effluents released must be set by them. 
  • Use of updated and environment-friendly technology in industries: Procuring machinery that can minimise waste and reduce energy consumption can be a crucial step taken by the industrial sector of the country. 
  • Proper methods of waste disposal: Both water and soil pollution is caused as large amounts of untreated wastes are released by industries. Therefore, ensuring that waste is properly treated before being released into the soil or water is another step that can help in curbing industrial pollution.
  • Treatment of heavy metals: Rivers in India have an extremely high concentration of neurotoxic heavy metals. Central Water Commission in its report has stated that the toxic metallic elements like chromium and its other associated heavy metals coming from the tanneries, mining and other industries should be treated chemically and biologically before such wastes find their way to River.
  • Increasing use of renewable sources: Combustion of fossil fuels to generate energy releases toxic gases such as nitrogen oxides onto the topmost layer of the soil, deteriorating its quality. Encouraging the use of renewable sources of energy would also help in curbing land pollution.
  • Penalize big and non-compliant polluters. Example banning the sale and registration of all new private diesel vehicles in Delhi. Ensure regular power supply to minimize Genset use; ban diesel gen-sets and promote CNG gensets.
  • Spot-checking of fuel pumps for adulteration. Move coal-fired brick/pottery kilns out of critically polluted areas.
  • Reuse of power plants byproducts like Fly Ash: It is a toxic air pollutant. It can be used in cement and concrete products, road base. Recently NTPC Ramagundam has developed geopolymer aggregate using more than 90% fly ash. Such research and encouraging use of byproducts need to be done to its full potential
  • Expedite strategic decommissioning of old and inefficient power plants: These inefficient power plants should be replaced by efficient super-thermal plants or with power generators that are based on renewable energy.

Wrapping Up

In order to make a successful transition from polluting industrial infrastructure to a green one, India will have to take bold measures such as cutting down on coal consumption for generating power, rapidly increasing the infrastructure to include clean energy in our daily lives such as EV technologies and, of course, ensuring that polluting industries are shown the door.

Green industrial revolution can usher in the next phase of economic growth for India. The more we delay clean industries, the more we deny ourselves this growth.

Verifying, please be patient.