"It is wiser for industry to invest in pollution control"

  • 14/06/1996

How do you rate the level of environmental awareness and motivation in the state government?
I was absolutely amazed at the total ignorance and negligence of any environmental consider- ation while taking policy decisions. There is no concern whatsoever, both at the administrative and ministerial levels.

Would you say that this neglect points ultimately to a comprehensive lack of planning?
Yes, definitely. Until and unless the enforcing authority of the Central government takes environmental issues seriously, industry will not spend money on pollution control because they view this as an useless expenditure. We have mega industries here that give out at least 20 to 30 different types of emissions without proper control measures. We do not even have any decent pollution monitoring equipment. Take Bangalore: we have just three outmoded and ancient air pollution monitoring devices, for a city of this size.

Which is the guiding and enforcing authority in the state?
The Karnataka Pollution Control Board (KPCB). The environment department can guide but cannot enforce pollution control. It is for the PcB to insist on environmental planning and regulations. But when I questioned PCB officials, they said the industries have been warned but they "do not listen".

Why is the PCB ineffective?
The attitude of the PCB officials seems to be one of abetting the industry. They are interested in giving licences and consents, which is more lucrative. What industry does not understand is that expenditure for pollution control is a pittance when compared to the expenses incurred in renewal of licences through underhand methods. So, I also blame the big businessfolk, the elite who are in direct touch with the politicians, keeping the latter in their 'payroll'. That is why any ruling party stops the PCB from taking action. But industry should understand that improper pollution control affects productivity too. Indian industry does not fall into the category of viability.

What do you mean by 'viability'?
We do not have any viable technology. No industry has spent any money on research and development in this sector, whereas they should be devoting at least 25 per cent of their budget to study ways and means of reducing the use of resources and reusing their wastes. The electroplating industry generates chemicals like cyanide, chromium, cobalt and nickel. Installation of digital sensors can tell you - during the manufacturing process itself - of the precise quantities of chemicals used, the amount of other chemicals needed to neutralise cyanide and so on. They can help recover at least 25 per cent of the original inputs and also some of the by-products. What is required is stream-wise recovery and the control of effluents.

There is also complete ignorance in the field of reuse. For instance, much of the three- four million litre of water used daily by Mother Dairy can be treated and reused by textile units. It works out much cheaper than buying water from the Cauvery. I had begun working on this angle of reuse during my tenure, but I do not know if the initiative will be sustained.

There was a major controversy over a speech you made prior to your retirement. What was it about?
In a seminar, I had spoken of the ecological threats posed to the Western Ghats by the thermal plants coming up in Dakshina Kannada. The area is ecologically sensitive; it is the water basin for peninsular India. What I had been insisting on was a 'clean burn' of de-sulphurisation technology for any coal-based plant coming up in the area, with particular reference to Cogentrix. They alone will be generating 250 tonnes of sulphur emissions per day. Ron Somers (the managing director of Cogentrix) says he is bringing in air emission standards set by the us Environment Protection Agency, but I am more concerned about the sulphur and nitrogen oxides in that emission, a query- that he was not able to answer. The Ghats run up just 20 km from the coast rising to a height of 3,000-4,000 feet (ft). So, even if they erect American-size chimneys (the tallest is 250 ft), they are not going to mitigate the sulphur emissions problem, which causes acid rain. On the contrary, tall chimneys will increase the problem because the sulphur will lodge itself on a wider area of forest canopy and the area's 3,000 - millimetre- rainfall will cause the dissolution of these chemicals onto the forest floor where most breeding takes place in the monsoons. Also, no one knows how the 680 tonnes of flyash per day is going to be handled. Somers says he will put up a de-salinisation plant to recycle the water used, but what will Cogentrix do with the remaining salts? Dumping this will threaten the estuary, marine life and the mangroves. My main contention is that they have used industrial benchmarks in an ecologically fragile zone. Actually, I was just doing my job by discussing environmental hazards. So I do not understand why the chief minister took exception to my speech.

Why did you seek voluntary retirement?
At that time, my comments were being sought on high-level decisions regarding setting up industries. Ever since the new government came to power in 1995, not one of my suggestions have been heeded to. I had opposed the setting up of a large number of steel industries in Bellary. The area has no groundwater. The farmers rely entirely on the river Tungabhadra, which is itself threatened due to relentless mining. Bellary has very high diurnal ranges in temperature, which will be further aggravated by so many largescalekdustries. A whole chain of negative effects would be shot off by the industries there. At each stage, I have vehemently opposed these decisions with facts and figures. Yet, a powerful lobby saw to it that permission was granted. The government keeps saying "we want industry, at whatever cost", and systematically weeds out whoever opposes it. It is difficult to function under such conditions.

Your environmental concerns also include the 'sacred garden' in Ramnagaram, near Bangalore. What is this all about?
I discovered that in Bangalore there was a shortage of bilwapatra, or bael leaves, used for worship by the priests of the famed temple at Gokarna. I eventually realised that most of the flowers needed for worship were not found, and the priests used substitutes.

Actually, every religion regards as sacred certain flowers and plant parts. Our studies in organic chemistry showed that most of these plants and flowers have volatile oils which evaporate when torn and are held inside cupped palms, and find their way into our body system. These oils have significant value in aromatherapy. They possess other medicinal values as well. By 1989, with the help of Vedic scholars, I had published a book, Sacred Plants, through the forestry in Dehradun. All this culminated in setting up the gardens.

How is the pavitra vana structured?
There are separate plots for each flower needed for a specific puja. For instance, the Lakshmi plot breeds Calophyllum inophyllunt" which is said to be Lord Shiva's favourite. Its juice is a purgative, its oil is used to treat rheumatism and the bark for treating wounds and ulcers. There are plots devoted to the seven Hindu rhishis, (sages), nine planets and the 12 signs of the zodiac. There is also the Garden of Eden and the Garden of Mohammed. We have identified sacred plants of Islam and Christianity but we are yet to procure most of them.

Actually, I had wanted the scheme to flower into social forestry. Each village temple could be allotted about two ha of land for practicing this. But the chief of the social forestry department said that this did not fall within his jurisdiction.

What other schemes are you working on?
There is also the Dhanvantari vana, where we are cultivating 700 species of medicinal plants in a 12 ha-garden named after the mythical Indian medico, Dhannvantari. These can be used by common people by following simple prescriptions. We have conducted radio conversations and used other methods of spreading awareness and the response has been very favourable.

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