Pollution control bodies have failed

The Boards must re-examine prevention of water pollution by means of effluent standards only.

It is more than four decades since first Central legislation – Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, for protection of environment - was passed by Parliament in 1974 and specialised institutions, the then Central Board for Prevention and Control of Water Pollution came in to existence. During their long journey, these boards entrusted with several other responsibilities as well, have been renamed as Pollution Control Boards and protection of all components became their mandate.

As per their founding objectives, these boards are to ensure prevention and control of water pollution and to work for the maintaining and/or restoring of wholesomeness of water. Based on the best designated uses, these boards have classified Indian river stretches into five categories, Class A – Drinking water source without conventional treatment but after disinfection, Class B – Outdoor bathing (organised), Class C – Drinking water source with conventional treatment followed by disinfection, Class D– Propagation of wildlife, fisheries and Class E– Irrigation, Industrial cooling, controlled waste disposal.

To safeguard water resources, boards are given powers to notify effluent standards and take punitive action if anyone violates them, and also the ultimate power to give directions to polluters to close their operations. Several effluent standards, general and also specific for particular industry to be complied by the polluter, were notified over the years.

Further, for effective monitoring programme to protect water resources, the Central Pollution Control Board started national water quality monitoring in 1978 under Global Environmental Monitoring System (GEMS) and monitoring programme was started with 24 surface water and 11 groundwater stations.

Parallel to GEMS, a National Programme of Monitoring of Indian National Aquatic Resources (MINARS) was started in 1984, with a total of 113 stations spread over 10 river basins. Water samples are being analysed for 28 parameters which includes 9 core parameters, 19 physico-chemical and bacteriological parameters along with field observations. Besides this, 8 trace metals and 15 pesticides are analysed once in a year to assess the water quality.

The present network comprises 870 monitoring stations on rivers, lentic (static) water bodies and subsurface waters across the country. Based on changing quality of the river water, the boards need to initiate corrective measures to ensure that water resources, across the country, will eventually restored to Class A or at least they will not further degrade any further. Thus put in different words, water resource quality can be used as indicators of performance of these boards for past four decades.

Within Karnataka, about 63 monitoring stations constitute monitoring network. But, KSPCB water quality monitoring results shows about 60 per cent consistence in one class (C- class), 16 per cent improvement (B-Class) and 24 per cent degradation (E-Class) in water quality and on an average quality of water resources show poor quality.

In entire state, only 1 per cent of river water has quality of Class A and only 19 per cent has the Class B quality. Maximum per cent of water about 67 per cent falls to Class C, about 5 per cent in Class D and Class E has spread to about 8 per cent. These values mirror the dismissal condition of water quality not only in the state of Karnataka but also entire country.

Effluent standards

Prima facie, such poor water quality suggests non-compliance of standards established by the Pollution Control Board. The 2013-14 annual report of KSPCB shows a few instances of non-compliance. This clearly indicates the inadequateness of effluent standards adopted so far. It led to a situation wherein, even through every one complies with standards, quality of water resources keep deteriorating.

Such dismal performance by these boards made the Centre to constitute a committee under the chairmanship of T S R Subramanian, former cabinet secretary, to review the functioning to environmental governance with the objective of aligning the current legal framework with the requirements of the future.
This committee summed up: “The state – arbitrary, opaque, suspiciously tardy or in-express-mode at different times, along with insensitivity – has failed to perform, inviting the intervention of the judiciary. Judicial pronouncements frequently have supplanted legislative powers, and are occupying the main executive space. The administrative machineries in the government in the domain of environment and forests at all the levels, appear to have abdicated their responsibilities. The legislations are weak, monitoring is weaker, and enforcement is weakest”, and suggested creation of a state level environmental management authority.

Probably, the pollution boards should re-examine their approach of controlling and/or preventing the water pollution by means of effluent standards only. If they want to realise their founding object, they might consider time bound goals to achieve percentage reduction in present pollution load of water bodies.

(The writer is associated with the Karnataka State Women’s University, Vijayapura, Karnataka)

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