SPCB losing grip over violators

Staff Reporter

BHUBANESWAR: State Pollution Control Board (SPCB), the nodal agency to take polluters to the task, seems to be gradually losing its grip over violators of environmental norms.

Thanks to the weak enforcement mechanism of the board, many violators reportedly managed to get away without being prosecuted. If a reply obtained through RTI application is to be believed, the helplessness of board becomes evident. The SPCB had prosecution only on two occasions on account of water pollution, three cases relating to air pollution cases and eight cases for violation of Environment (Protection) Act during the past five years.

According to sources, the number of filing of cases by SPCB seeking penalty against environmental culprits have gradually come down since 1986 under both Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act.

Insiders further say that the pollution watchdog has hardly acted suo motu to take violators to the task. Recently, the High Court took cognizance of a matter in connection with pollution of Brahmani River due to discharge of ash slurry by Rourkela Steel Plant (RSP). It asked the board to initiate stringent action including criminal proceedings against erring official of RSP.

Similarly, in one out of two cases on violation of Water Act, the SPCB acted only after Supreme Court asked it do so. In another case, SPCB filed cases against 105 brick-kiln units in 2003-04 when government issued a direction in this regard. It is not that violations of environmental norms are not taking place in the State and SPCB does not know about it. As per information obtained under Right To Information (RTI) Act, the board has issued 373 show-cause notices to polluting industrial units during past five years. However, these notices have mostly ended in further slapping of closure notices and then granting of permission to re-operate polluting units on “rectification”. Sources said issuance of show-cause notices are many times intended at forcing operators of polluting industries to grease the palm of authority. Several sponge iron units had been slapped with show-cause notices for more than one occasion that meant these polluting industries had either been let off on earlier occasion by pollution control board or some of the units were habitual offenders of pollution norms. “Although SPCB has enforcement mechanism, it does not have enforcement culture. Pollution control board officials are unable to see the environmental damage ramifications and are lacking in clear understanding between regulatory measures such as closure notice and criminal prosecution,” said senior High Court lawyer Bibhu Prasad Tripathy.