The adoption of a star ratings programme to monitor industrial pollution in two big states of Maharashtra and Odisha is expected to boost transparency and compliance

Continuous monitoring of industrial emissions will enhance compliance (Photo by Pixabay)

The release of effluents in rivers and towns choking with air pollution are some of the consequences of industrial pollution that currently plague India. As many as 102 cities in the country have alarming pollution levels, according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), but only 73 have submitted a plan of remedial action to the pollution watchdog. Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Nagpur and Jaipur are among the cities that are yet to submit their plans, the CPCB said in August.

Earlier in May, the World Health Organisation said that Delhi and Varanasi were among 14 Indian cities that figured in a global list of the 20 most polluted cities in terms of high levels of particulate matter less than 2.5 microns (PM 2.5) that are considered extremely harmful to health.

However, the launch of a star rating system in Maharashtra on World Environment Day on June 5 in 2017, and more recently in Odisha, has given hope that things are likely to improve in the next few years. This is in turn expected to improve environmental compliance that will help check greenhouse gas emissions.

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who launched the programme in his province on September 17, said: “The star rating programme will help the public to find out whether industries in their vicinity are fair in their environmental compliance, and empower them to strengthen regulations through public participation.” On the occasion, he unveiled a website — www.ospcb.info — where citizens can access the information.

While the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board worked with researchers from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC-India) and others to launch the programme, the Odisha State Pollution Control Board’s (OSPCB) star-rating programme is one of the first transparency initiatives in India that discloses pollution data from the online monitoring systems to the public in an accessible manner.

Continuously monitoring emissions

It uses continuously monitored emissions data captured in real time from major industrial plants. Essentially, it will categorise industries from 1-star to 5-stars, with 1-star being the least compliant and 5-stars being the most compliant to the pollution standards set by the regulator. Along with informing residents and industries, the programme aims to strengthen OSPCB’s regulatory efforts to reduce pollution.

“SPCB Odisha has been collecting data through a Continuous Emission Monitoring System (CEMS) on industrial air pollution emissions,” explained R. Balakrishnan, Chairman, SPCB.

Concurring, Michael Greenstone, Milton Friedman Professor in Economics and Director of EPIC and the Tata Centre for Development at UChicago (TCD) added that the Odisha star rating programme is a pioneering initiative that will help citizens identify the sources of pollution in their cities and empower them to help ensure that industries comply with existing Indian laws.

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Paitnaik launching the star ratings programme (Photo by Odisha Government)

S.N. Srinivas, CEO of the Clean Energy Access Network, is of the opinion that the study is a good practices platform. When it comes to industrial work, it doesn’t reveal much, but as far as pollution from industries is concerned, it is pretty relevant. On how it will help tackle pollution, he said that it’s a pressure on industries from the government, the public and investors. “Moreover, an awareness will also be created among the public,” he told indiaclimatedialogue.net.

Opting for Odisha

Odisha has more than 1,000 small to large industries. The star rating programme focuses on the nearly 150 large industrial plants belonging to the 17 high polluting sectors and makes their data public through the star-ratings. These plants have CEMSs installed that send data emissions from their stacks in real-time to OSPCB’s server. The monitored pollutants include particulate matter (PM), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrous oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), and mercury (Hg), among others, which are harmful for health.

Currently, the programme is restricted to PM emissions. These sectors were identified by OSPCB as those with high pollution potential and include cement, captive power plants, integrated power plants, pulp and paper, integrated steel and sponge iron. The programme will be implemented with the help of researchers from EPIC India and TCD in a phased manner. Initially, it will cover 20 industrial plants, and eventually cover all 136 plants with continuously monitored data.

Since coal mines, iron, manganese mines are present in Odisha and the state also has sponge iron units that are distributed, it is good that the study has been undertaken there, said Srinivas.

Santosh Harish, associate director of research for EPIC India, told indiaclimatedialogue.net: “The major advantage of relying on online monitoring data as opposed to the traditional manual inspections is that the ratings will get automatically get updated every month.”

This effort is likely help augment regulatory efforts to mitigate pollution with community pressure on polluting plants. There is promising evidence from similar transparency programmes around the world that suggest that improved transparency leads to better compliance and lower pollution from industries.

In the years to come, Harish hopes that other states take note of the initiatives by Maharashtra and Odisha pollution control boards, and look to replicate the programme. A few states have already approached EPIC India and expressed interest. “We hope and expect that this is only the beginning of a larger move towards greater transparency in pollution regulation across India,” he said.

“When we see the whole of India, wherever cites are getting chocked, the states around that should be the first target. This programme looks at those kinds of issues,” Srinivas said. “Industry clusters have been mapped earlier and there have been projects that were undertaken by the World Bank along with Bureau of Energy Efficiency, wherein 10 or 20 clusters were identified and energy efficiency measures are being initiated.”

 

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