- As compared to any other developing or developed country, India must rank way down the pecking order vis-à-vis the way industrial wastes are treated and disposed of. Yes, Indian authorities have made earnest efforts at addressing the concerns raised by the environmentalists, scientists, and other stakeholders to treat the hazardous chemical residues. However, it is not rocket science to observe how blatant disregard reigns supreme while adhering to the SOPs on the safe disposal of harmful chemicals. Any number of instances are reported when standard safety protocols are ignored leading to precious loss of lives. Unfortunately, only a tragedy of monumental proportions tends to wake up the authorities to further press on the matter.
- Northern India, especially Punjab, is notoriously known for stubble burning leading to unlivable pollution-related challenges. The national capital region always finds itself at crossroads during those stubble-burning months invariably leading to particulate matter reading perennially breaching alarming levels. It is noted that Agricultural stubble burning is hardly Punjab’s only pollution challenge. The toxic gas tragedy that took 11 lives in Ludhiana on Sunday has reminded everyone that the state also has a serious industrial waste problem. Effluents illegally discharged into the sewer took this toll in a matter of minutes. But the city’s many industries, especially dyeing and electroplating units, are accused of making a regular practice of this.
- Worryingly, the problem is not restricted to a few cities but spread across several cities in India. Small enterprises, often running out of homes, see themselves as unable to afford the mandated effluent and sewage treatments. Urban local bodies that should be facilitating feasible solutions, are themselves frequently in violation of Solid Waste Management Rules 2016, National Green Tribunal Orders, etc. Note that the term of each of Punjab’s big municipal corporations viz. Amritsar, Patiala, Jalandhar, and Ludhiana have ended without an election date in hand. If this is one sign of a high degree of governance dysfunction, another is that urban local bodies do little capital expenditure. In Punjab, municipal corporations’ tax revenue is a measly 0.5% of GDP.
- The meaning of this should be clearly understood. India’s growth projections are very dependent on the growth of its small enterprises. But if these enterprises are denied crucial support systems, it will mean more and more unlivable cities, as illegal emissions poison air, water, and soil at will. It’s not just urban bodies that need strengthening though. NGT too needs to step up its act. Without better monitoring of the ground situation and better onboarding of various stakeholders, its words will not do any walking. For now, the polluter must be made to pay. As is its wont, this is often avoided thanks to the by-now-familiar connivance of local bodies. But imposing stringent punishment is an essential curb to act as an effective deterrent. The authorities should step up.