Environment

Problems with PCBs

Print edition : September 06, 2013

Dead fish floating on Poosivakkam Lake in Kancheepuram, a May 2012 photograph. Photo: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

WHY are State pollution control boards (SPCBs) ineffectual? An analytical report, “Environmental Regulatory Authorities in India: An Assessment of State Pollution Control Boards”, written by Dr Geetanjoy Sahu, Assistant Professor, Centre for Science, Technology and Society in the School of Habitat Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai, looks at the structure and functioning of SPCBs in all the States in a detailed and critical manner. It explores the pros and cons, and the rules overturned and the impediments the SPCBs face. The boldest part of the report is the section titled “Composition of State Pollution Control Boards and Tenure of Members of SPCBs”.

Essentially, it says that political appointees who have no scientific or technical background are placed in leading positions. For instance, under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, the chairman of an SPCB should be “a person having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of matters relating to environmental protection or a person having knowledge and experience in administering institutions dealing with the matters aforesaid”.

But the report points out, “It has been observed that time and again… State governments have not been able to choose a qualified, impartial, and politically neutral person of high standing to this crucial regulatory post.” According to the report, the Chairman of the Karnataka SPCB is Vaman Acharya, a senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader. Himachal Pradesh has Kuldip Singh Pathania, a former legislator of the Congress. Uttar Pradesh’s SPCB was headed by Waseem Ahmed Khan for less than six months before he was transferred. He was appointed allegedly on the recommendation of a Samajwadi Party leader. Arunachal Pradesh has Ramol Barang, a sitting legislator of the Nationalist Congress Party, heading its pollution control board. Manipur’s SPCB is led by E. Dwijamani Singh, a sitting MLA, while Maharashtra’s is headed by J.S. Sahani, a former bureaucrat. Environmental scientists and other officers of the SPCBs have criticised this practice of filling key regulatory posts with “the primary intention of rewarding an ex-official through his or her appointment, upon retirement, to a position for which he or she may not possess the essential overall qualifications”. However, the States say the posts benefit from the vast experience these people bring to it, especially if they are from the IAS.

Analysing the tenure of chairpersons, the report says: “Many State governments have appointed and transferred chairpersons at will and no systematic attempt has been made to institutionalise the process of appointment and ensure the continuity of chairperson for a minimum three years….” Sahani, for instance, had not only retired but was also appointed for a period of only one year by the Maharashtra government. This was in violation of Section 4 of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act.

There are other lacunae, too, listed, such as fewer than the required number of officials on the boards, inadequate number of meetings held, paucity of training programmes, and low staff strength. For example, the Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Odisha pollution control boards “have not recruited even one person in the last five years”.

The report concludes that the existing environmental regulatory network is fine but it is implementation that is lacking. “The results do suggest that lack of strong financial, human and technical resources of pollution control boards at the State level and the increasing interference of State governments in the affairs of State pollution control boards are the dominant factors of non-implementation of environmental laws at the implementation level.”

That explains why, despite laws, environmental degradation in the country has been drastic over the past 30 years.

Lyla Bavadam

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