11 Apr 2021  |   05:42am IST

Cleaner production - an emergent need

Despite different environmental acts and regulations, the consumption of huge quantities of resources and energy within remarkably short period through industrial production has had a far reaching influence on natural environment. To reduce this burden DEBAPRIYA MUKHERJEE feels there is need for an environmental improvement at the micro level


If we look into the areas close to industrial sector, production of pollutants particularly from Small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) has damaged the natural environment by excess emission of wastewater, gas or other solid waste. Environmental agencies are failing miserably in controlling pollution from most of the SMEs across the country. SME contributes significant fraction of total environmental burden in developing countries like India. Despite enforcement of environmental acts and regulations, the consumption of huge quantities of resources and energy within remarkably short period through industrial production had a far reaching influence on natural environment. Reducing this burden needs environmental improvement at the micro level, a goal which has been stubbornly elusive in India. 

According to my observations, the major problems in SMEs are old technologies, poor management practices, limited availability of funds, inadequately trained officials, lack of appropriate inspection and monitoring and overall sustainable gap between enforcement agencies, industries and communities because impassivity of top management in environmental sector and political will have impeded sustainable environment management. Regulatory pressure on the SMEs could not implicate positive effect on environment to maintain sound ecosystem as observed in many areas close to SMEs such as foundry, sponge iron, electroplating industry, food processing, tannery and others. 

Environment sustainability (ES) to maintain wholesomeness of the environment by controlling production of pollutants has been practically jeopardised. The possible reason is that several industrial complexes have been established without considering environmental and social impacts and thereby sustainability of industrial development is not gaining momentum. This dismal ES in India remains well hidden because social aspects (such as human rights, corruption, poverty, child mortality, land degradation, illiteracy and health problems) and their interrelation with economic and environment aspects are not considered with due emphasis by the regulatory agencies. The traditional approach of enforcing environmental acts and regulations is unable to explain and address the complex dynamic inter-relation among economics, environmental and social aspects with time. Though environmental impact assessment and environmental management system as per the Environment (Protection) Act in India are mandatory to establish and to operate any project but ES and social benefits are always questionable. Industrial growth without ES under prevailing socio-economic condition is definitely neglected and delayed.

Survey of these industries reveals that SMEs are mainly dependent on end-of pipe (EOP) technology and their functionality are not consistent. Regulatory pressure compelled these industries to install pollution control system for compliance with standards. But non-compliance is a common feature due to non-availability/ non-operation/ failure of pollution control system. Though regulatory agencies inspect the industries once or twice in a year but unable ensure consistent control of pollution. Also, the regulatory authority cannot evaluate the different compliance level and thereby violation of standard to any extent is subject to the same penalties as it is marginal violation. Environmental managers can easily control the pollution level within permissible limit during inspection by manipulating raw materials feeding and/or by operating the pollution control devices. It is not always feasible with limited trained/experienced personnel to conduct in-depth study on material and water balance in order to justify the quantity of pollutants emitted to environment based on the monitoring data. Enforcement agencies put emphasis on performance evaluation of EOP technology as per the stipulated standard without considering ecological crisis and social problems in the area closed to the industries. As a result, owners of the industries are not serious to initiate CP despite economic benefits associated with its implementation. On the contrary, owner of the industries are well versed how to tackle adverse situation temporarily and make their units in operation. Regulatory agencies issue time to time closure notices or directives to improve the performance of pollution control system to the non-compliant industries. In response to these notices, owners of the industries with the help of outside experts find out temporary solution with little financial investment just to fulfill the legal requirement not “real” requirement. As a result, actual compliance status over time remains well hidden and thereby environmental and social problems remain unattended. One of reasons may be vested interest of the concerned officers entrusted for verification of the report. Otherwise why water, air and soil are still so much polluted?

In this context it may be mentioned that the majority of residents are poor and do not have access to higher authority for solving their problems as well as they are not well educated to explain their sufferings to media/press highlighting ecological crisis created by these industries. Government has already launched various projects to remove the poverty, to educate the people, to provide health facility and to create environmental awareness among the people to highlight the pollution problem but implementation status of these projects is not always satisfactory. This has resulted environmental and social problems to alarming proportion in many industrial clusters in India and simply visual inspections supplement these findings. Limitations in government’s actions to solve the problems are not disseminated via media for public awareness for various reasons. More over accountability of government employees for implementing the projects in terms of success and failure is not properly evaluated because knowledge and hardship required for evaluating degree of success are practically lacking. 

This problem in regulatory organization, may be attributed to top management persons because they often recruit either new scientists/engineers or retired government engineers/scientists on the basis of political connections or bribes or nepotism to look after activities related to environment management but their style of management clearly exhibit impassivity towards CP implementation because of their poor technical capability. Whereas huge potential offered by the country’s young population is far from being leveraged. Also many highly qualified young scientists/engineers refuse to take up the challenging works related to environment management in these organizations because of the lack of knowledgeable and skilled experts to guide the newly recruited personnel, hostile environment and bureaucracy. 

This is really a disturbing situation. Thereby, India needs innovative minds to meet its formidable challenges. For this, both the state and central governments should take urgent action and must appoint highly qualified, broad-minded top most officers, who will recruit qualified competent engineers/scientists and give them state-of-the-art technology based on sound scientific evidence with no external interference. Fixing our organization system will require a complete overhaul of the recruitment system, changes in environment policy and implementation of CP concept in these SMEs. According to UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) CP is the continuous application of an integrated, preventive environmental strategy towards processes, products and services in order to increase overall efficiency and reduce damage and risks for humans and the environment. However this will be difficult with the present disconnect between science and policy in these organizations.

My experience clearly established the economic efficiency of CP through incremental innovation based on production process optimization and thereby the payback period of investment towards CP technology was short. Unfortunately, in India actual level of implementation of CP in industries in particular all SMEs as found in other countries to deliver environmental advantage is not determined. Therefore, evaluation of actual environmental and economic performance improvement is an emergent need to maintain sustainable industrial development, social welfare, social equity and sound ecosystem. In India, the manufacturing industries and the government can play major role in this sustainable development. However, community pressure followed by enforcement of environmental acts and regulation has slowly changed the attitude of these industries but overall success towards consistent compliance is still a distant dream. 


Iddhar Udhar