The Modi government’s first big bang reform to clean the Ganga by introducing real-time online monitoring of pollutants from April 1 has hit a roadblock after stiff resistance from the industry, potentially jeopardising a plan to expand the plan nationwide.
Major industries along the Ganga have complained the government is forcing them to install particular software and not allowing them flexibility to choose from an array of available technologies.
“We are not against online monitoring but the government should be more accommodating of our concerns,” said a representative of an industry body. “We have to import costly equipment and install infrastructure, which takes time.” The industry is required to bear the entire cost of maintaining the system.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the national pollution-monitoring agency, had invoked the “polluter pays” principle in January last year, making it mandatory for the industry to pay for and install equipment that could be calibrated by the CPCB or state pollution control boards’ data centres, thereby making the system “tamper-proof”.
Due to the resistance, however, the government has now extended the deadline for industries in the Ganga river basin to install online pollution monitoring systems by another three months with a stern warning — consent to operate will be withdrawn if the industries fail to comply.
CPCB officials believe polluting industries are unwilling to opt for real-time online monitoring system as it could expose them and put an end to “pollution inspector raj” — which often leads to discharge of pollutants into the river.
“I don’t understand the industry’s resistance. When they can import technology, why can’t they import the equipment to ensure they comply with statutory pollution norms,” asked a senior CPCB official. “We have not introduced something new. Real time affluent and emission monitoring is a global norm.”
The Ganga and its tributaries support more than 500 million people but is one of the most polluted regions in the world with industries contributing a lion’s share of the pollution load. Cleaning up the river is one of the government’s priorities but several Ganga Action Plans stipulating treating of waste water haven’t helped in improving aquatic health.
The CPCB official said around 200 of the 754 major polluting industries along the Ganga had already installed the system and the rest will follow suit in the next three months. “We have told the state pollution control boards to withdraw their consent to operate if they fail to install the system,” the official added.
But the stalemate may also affect the government’s plan to widen the plan’s ambit to 17 highly-polluting industries across India. CPCB officials said some states like Tamil Nadu have done well in getting the industry to install online emission monitoring system but other states have been slow.
Once the system kicks off in the Ganga river basin, states will be more than keen to introduce this technology-based pollution-control intervention.