Today's Paper

Centre, CPCB to rope in tanners

CHENNAI Jan. 3. The Union Environment Ministry and the Central Pollution Control Board have embarked on a programme to rope in polluting industries for protecting environment.

The exercise, which began here yesterday, will end with a face-to-face meeting with chief executives of polluting units on January 27 and 28 in New Delhi, where a "charter of corporate responsibility" will be finalised.

The idea is simple: the CPCB will lay down "base" norms for industries. It is up to the polluters to set their own standards over and above.

The ball was set rolling at the Central Leather Research Institute here, where Environment Ministry officials and CPCB professionals met representatives of tanners and the State Pollution Control Boards.

"There are 17 kinds of polluting industries. We have made a beginning by holding the dialogue here,'' the CPCB chairman, Dilip Biswas, told The Hindu. After a day-long meeting, described as "fruitful'', the officials proceeded to Mumbai for the next round of discussion.

About 80 per cent of 2,500 leather processing units in the country are located in Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The sector is the fifth largest foreign exchange earner, with annual sales exceeding $6 billion. Together, the units discharge about 24 million cubic litres of wastewater and about 40,000 tonnes of hazardous solid waste every year. Nearly 80 per cent of tanning units have set up chrome recovery units. Waste oxides of chromium and common salt are among the major pollutants.

Everyone, including the enforcer and the violator, knows the problems and solutions. But steps taken so far have been only to ensure there was no legal action. "This situation should change. We should be partners in the process of ensuring a cleaner environment,'' said Dr.Biswas.

Apart from pollution , one major concern to the Pollution Control Boards is the huge amount of water consumed by units. Punjab consumes the highest (80 to 100 litres/kg of hide) and Tamil Nadu, the lowest (22 to 30 litres/kg of hide). The CPCB has promised tanners technology, which would help in reduction of water consumption and scientific methods to transport hide. At present, a large amount of salt is applied to hide at slaughter houses for preservation, before it is transported. It is then washed off, which contributes to soil salinity.

Tamil Nadu was selected the venue for tannery talks, as many first `clean-up' initiatives were launched here: the first Common Effluent Treatment plant in the country was set up at Ranipet with CPCB support. Dr.Biswas said preliminary meetings in different parts of the country were aimed at exploring problems in various sectors in a spirit of partnership. "The discussions here involve technical people. But they are not the ones who make decisions in corporate boardrooms. We have also to reach out to top executives and make them part of the process. The January-end meet will help achieve this objective.''

The initial response from industry representatives, who were "sounded out", was "very encouraging," the officials said. Hence, they embarked on a sector-wise interaction.

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