People associated with TNPCB say it is bogged down by too much work
For over four years I have been a regular visitor to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board on Anna Salai for news. At a personal level, I have also been curious about finding a solution to Chennai's noise and ambient air pollution issues. But all that the TNPCB has been able to offer me is a table on the levels of air, water and noise pollution on a regular basis.
I have often asked them if they were aware of the blaring noise of horns or the increase in pollution levels caused by the city's slow-moving traffic. The responses varied from recalling how a few former bureaucrats had performed well in removing air horns to being under-staffed and therefore, overworked. While the city is grappling with increasing pollution levels, the monitoring agency is struggling to cope with a whole range of challenges.
With just 670 employees, the board manages over 23,000 files of industries in various categories and also monitors urban pollution levels. In the Cuddalore SIPCOT industrial estate, there are 31 toxic chemical industries and there are just two people there. These people are in-charge of the entire district — what will they take care of, ask activists.
At times, applications for consent to set up and operate industrial units await clearance for months together. Until two years ago there were nearly 2,000 industries around Chennai that operated without consent from the TNPCB.
People who have been associated with the TNPCB for long say that the Board is not as effective as it used to be as it is bogged down by too much work. To make the system perform at optimum levels, there is a need for recruitment of people in the scientific cadre with a background in environment. Roles of officials are not clearly defined and this leads to staff doing what they can to monitor pollution levels, without much coordination. TNPCB needs to ensure accountability, if it is really serious about addressing the issue of increasing pollution levels in the city.
Monitoring of air, water and noise pollution must be more effective and this might require more monitoring stations across the city. Achieving this should not be difficult, considering that funds are not a constraint. Clear long- and short-term goals must be set for every city and industrial region.
This would help officials understand what they are looking at and take initiatives. TNPCB's laboratories need to be upgraded and must go in for National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories and ISO 14000 accreditation and keep improving their performance.
Experts have also called for the setting up of an environment protection authority like in the United States. Such an agency would provide direction to the board. Its purpose would be to protect residents from risks to their health and the environment where they live in, learn and work.
The scope of the Board should be expanded to more areas including indoor air pollution, ocean pollution, pesticides and drinking water. It's high time the government considered revamping TNPCB.