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Adverse Consequences of DMK’s Regime at Environment Ministry

Written By Gopal Krishna on Friday, November 26, 2010 | 7:07 AM

Press Release

National Borders compromised with rampant hazardous waste trade  

Raja permitted toxic ships with fake flags to enter Indian waters

Allowed controversial dead ships like Le Clemenceau, Riky & Blue Lady  

New Delhi 26/11/2010: A Raja- Nira Radia relationship blossomed during Raja’s tenure as environment Minister which made environmental clearances for Radia’s clients easier since 2006. Radia's influence at Environment Ministry was an open secret.  Actually the roots of the present telecom scam can be back traced to Raja’s incarnation as the environment minister when environmental clearances for projects brought companies across sectors nearer to him. With the assistance of R K Chandolia, then a Director, Planning & Coordination in the Environment Ministry and Radia, clearances were granted at a supersonic speed. 

The country is still handling the sins committed by him. Currently, 17,000 explosives weighing 200 quintals are being detonated in Ludhiana, Punjab. These explosives came in 2006 the containers of scrap waste/hazardous in the name of recycling. These were part of the same consignments that had caused explosions in the Bhushan Steel plant in Sahibabad-Gaziababd area that killed several workers in 2006.

Since November 16, the Army’s Bomb disposal Unit commenced its 75-80 day work to detonate these bombs near the Mattewara forest area in Ludhiana, Punjab. The residents of the villages in the vicinity have been evacuated from Sekhewal, Kalewal and Haider Nagar villages and were directed to move to temporary shelters on the bed of the Sutlej near Selkiana and Borreh villages.

So far only visual inspection has been done on a large variety of explosives ranging from small bombs to artillery shells. There are unexploded bombs as well. The scrap consignments have come from the Persian Gulf countries, they were perhaps used in the 1991 Gulf War. Moreover, the presence of unexploded bombs and war materials like artillery shells hints at their link with that war. Expressing security concerns, senior officers of the unit said there should be proper measures in place to check import of war materials from other countries to avoid a similar situation in the future. "This time the explosives came along with scrap unknowingly. Next time they could land up in India by design. We need to be very careful with imports. Raja Ministry allowed this. This requires probe.

There is an unacknowledged and irreparable loss to India’s ecological and natural resources due to decisions taken by DMK ministers during their term as Environment Ministers T R Baalu and Andimuthu Raja. A Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) should examine the environmental and pollution crimes of DMK Ministers while they handled Environment Ministry.

First, a ship with dubious credentials leaves the shores of Denmark. Then a month later, India allows it to beach at Alang, Gujarat's massive shipbreaking yard, for scrapping. In between, it gets a new name and rules are flouted to let it in Riky, the Danish ship unlike Le Clemenceau, the French ship (recalled by French court), sailed through the law despite a letter from the Danish Environment Minister to Raja warning him about the hazardous ship which had escaped from Denmark. The ship sailed in under the flag of Roxa, a non-existent "country". The case is pending in the Supreme Court. 

In the case of Blue Lady ship, Raja’s ministry presented a fait accompli to the Supreme Court, compelling it to pass judgment on fake technical grounds instead of legal grounds in order to permit the dismantling of the dead ship by reversing key milestones in environmental jurisprudence like it own landmark order, precautionary principle and the polluter-pays principle.

It may be recalled that T R Baalu was the Union Minister of Environment & Forests from 13th October 1999 to 21st December 2003. He was succeeded by Andimuthu Raja who was the Minister from 23rd May 2004 to 17th May 2007. During the DMK regime, the Ministry had almost decided to grant a self-certification option to project proponents so that project expansion and modernization proposals can be exempt from seeking environment clearances through one of the major amendments proposed to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2006 which delineates a legal process for the grant of environment clearances to industrial and infrastructure projects.

At the time of grating environmental clearance, a set of general and specific conditions are laid out for companies which are project proponents to comply with. This is done to ensure that adverse impacts on environment and communities can be minimized or mitigated. Despite manifest acts of omissions and commissions during the tenure of DMK ministers, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has so far failed to take cognizance of the fact that non-compliance of environmental clearance conditions like non-adherence of pollution reduction measures or dumping of industrial wastes, construction debris etc into rivers or farms have severe adverse impacts on the communities and the environment. The environmental clearances granted during the DMK ministers’ regime must be re-examined.   

Raja’s Exploits as Environment Minister

If one examines Raja’s tenure as environment it’s a story of what compelled environmental groups to issue a Death Certificate to the Environment Ministry? EIA Notification was first issued in 1994 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. In 20 years from 1986 to 2006 the ministry cleared 4016 projects. According to the 2009 report by the environmental group Kalpavriksh entitled ‘Calling the Bluff: Revealing the state of Monitoring and Compliance of Environmental Clearance Conditions’, the Ministry of Environment clears 80 to 100 projects every month with a range of environment and social conditions. Under the new EIA 2006 Notification (issued when Raja was the minister at least till May 2007), 2016 projects were cleared between 2006 and 2008 in just 2 years. The Ministry chose to have no database on the extent of compliance of the projects it cleared.  Those projects which were cleared under his regime now merit rigorous scrutiny.

Unscrupulous behavior was rampant even during his term as Environment Minister. Besides the projects, the appointments for the Expert Appraisal Committees (EACs), their impudent conflicts of interests also need to be examined and their decisions reviewed.  It may be note that under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2006, the EACs’ role at the 4th stage of environment clearance after the EIA report and the public hearing is of enormous significance on sectors such as river valley and hydropower projects, industries, mining, thermal power, infrastructure etc. It has been noted that in 2005 that out of 64 members in EACs, almost two-thirds of members were from the National Capital Region and Tamil Nadu. Is it that if there is a DMK minister, most of the expertise on environment must come from its legislative constituencies.   

The illustrative case of P Abraham (former Secretary, Ministry of Power), thechairperson of the EAC on River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects who was appointed in April 2007 by Rajareveals the rot that had set in. Even though he was a project promoter for hydropower projects, he was appointed to Chair the EAC on River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects. After it got exposed by environmental groups, he was made to resign by the present Environment Minister. But is this sufficient? Why has Minister not yet ordered any investigation into all the clearances granted under Abhraham’s tenure? 

Besides EAC on river valley and hydropower projects, EACs on industries, mining, thermal power, infrastructure etc also need to be probed if they are Raja’s appointees and their decisions with regard to environmental clearance need to be revisited and if need be cancelled as is being proposed in the matter of 2G licenses.

Let us also examine the tenure of T R Baalu. Nowhere in the world are rules to deal with thieves, defaulters and criminals made in consultation with the culprits but environment ministry under Baalu undertook the same unthinkable step to outline norms and action points with the consent of the heavily polluting and defaulting industries making mockery of the very notion of norms. Instead of making companies liable for their environmental crimes, Baalu launched Government's Charter on Corporate Responsibility for Environmental Protection (CREP) on March 13, 2003 in New Delhi. The charter was prepared in an "immoral collusion and unholy partnership' with the companies for 17 highly polluting industries. He had arbitrarily chosen 17 industries out of the 64 heavily polluting industries under the Red category (highly polluting industries). In private conversation, one Environment Ministry official said, this is just an exercise to attract funds for fighting elections which is round the corner.  

A Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) official revealed anonymously that in order to prepare this impotent charter some 17 meetings were held almost within a month during December 5, 2002- January 10, 2003. In fact as many as four meetings took place in a day on some occasions.  The "negotiations' for even this effete charter continued till March 12, 2003.

While the issue of monitoring and implementation has also been left unaddressed, Baalu said, "We will not punish any industry if it fails to implement the charter, as such an act would be against the spirit of voluntary compliance.' In an illustration of remarkable innocence, Baalu said, the Pollution Control Boards and the industry together will check the pollution as if the industry will concede that it is polluting the environment. This amounts to giving the industry the license to pollute.

This voluntary Charter on Corporate Responsibility for Environmental Protection (CREP) is applicable to 2098 units in 17 categories of major polluting industries. These include sugar industry (525 units), pharmaceuticals (397 units), distilleries (232 units), leather (150 units), pesticide industry (150 units), cement (126 units), fertilizer industry (111 units), dyes and dye intermediates (100 units), pulp and paper (96 units), thermal power plants (83 units), petrochemicals (51 units), caustic soda industry (35 units), oil refineries (17 units), iron and steel (8 units), aluminum (14 units), copper (6 units) and zinc (4 units). It recommended toxic technologies like incinerators to deal with waste and hazardous waste of all kinds. In fact there was a shocking proposal of making import of incinerators duty free. Incinerators are dioxins emitting machines. Take the case of Pesticide Industry, with 150 pesticides manufacturing units, the industry agreed to take up segregation of waste streams for appropriate treatment and detoxication and treatment of highly toxic waste streams will be taken up as suggested by the industry itself. If the industry knew that segregation of and its appropriate treatment was desirable, why have they been waiting for the charter to be prepared?

In the matter of cement industry there was lack of consensus on the exact radius of the area around a cement plant which is vulnerable due to pollution. When conflict arose as to whether 3 km belt would be severely affected or 7 km zone was likely to be under threat of pollution, the then special secretary, Environment Ministry V K Duggal fixed a limit of five km arbitrarily without any scientific basis. The Environment Ministry and CPCB simply deleted wherever companies disagreed with something in the charter. One clause in the charter required "all the major tannery units to obtain ISO 14000 certification by December 2004'. This was deleted. There was a section on tanneries exploring the possibility of "sulphur recovery (for reuse) from sulphide-bearing effluent by December 2005', it was also removed from the charter.

The chlor-alkali industry benefitted the most from such callous omissions. The draft charter had proposed shutting down of all chlor-alkali plants, based on mercury cell technology by December 2005 and had directed them to adopt membrane technology. The deadline was removed from the charter.  Had the time-frame for compliance been retained, it would have seemed consistent with the incentive given in that year's Union budget to encourage the shift to membrane cell technology. The incentive related to a 10 per cent reduction in customs duty on components of membrane cell technology. This was to make their import cheaper.

In the charter, there was the condition about the industry needing to reduce mercury consumption below 50 gm of product manufactured which is still very high. Approximately mercury-based chlor-alkali units are being allowed to release 25-30 tonnes of mercury annually to produce 5-6 lakh tonnes of caustic soda whereas only 9 tonnes of mercury is consumed in western Europe to produce 60 lakh tonnes of caustic soda.

Although the petrochemical sector and refineries is included in the list of highly polluting industry, it was treated with notable softness. When asked what will be the punishment for the industries, which do not follow the charter, Baalu said, the Charter incorporates the voluntary initiatives and actions by the identified categories of industries to ensure total compliance with pollution control norms and standards by the industry and it does intend to punish industries.
Environment Ministry under Baalu expected the media and the civil society to believe that these heavily polluting industries are mature enough and they do not need punishment to mend their polluting practices.

There was no civil society consultation in the drafting of CREP. The two-day seminar at Ashoka Hotel, New Delhi where the charter was released was akin to a market place where bargaining for lax environmental standards by the industry to the detriment of vulnerable natural capital had the field day.

Not surprisingly, less than 50% of the projects cleared in 2003 had monitoring reports generated by the Environment Ministry and only 150 of the 223 projects cleared in the year 2003 had at least one compliance report submitted by project authorities.

Way Ahead

Such clearances by the regime led by DMK environment ministers did not take into account issues such as soil erosion and land degradation of about 146.82 million hectare area of country's total geographical area of 328.60 million hectares which is about 45 per cent of the country's total geographical area, generation of 4.4 million tonnes hazardous waste generated in the country, poisoning of the food chain as evidenced in Punjab and detection of some 287 toxic chemicals in the umbilical cord blood in the mother’s womb, The resulting human costs due to callous and corrupt decision making agencies like the one led by Baalu and Raja are bigger than the financial loss in the spectrum scam.

If for no other reason at list for the sake of intergenerational equity, these clearances require rigorous environmental auditing and inquiry to set matters right for future. For this to happen, the environment ministry must be given enhanced budgetary allocation for rejuvenating the decaying institutional infrastructure in the aftermath of the debris left by Baalu and Raja. Underlining the same, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests said the CPCB has been 'reduced to a near-defunct body'. It is high time environmental regulation keeps pace with environmental crimes. Even Interpol has a Pollution & Environment Crime Working group; India too needs one. The weak environmental regulation must be strengthened to stop transboundary movement of polluting technologies, hazardous wastes and to create an inventory of chemicals and wastes besides conducting an environmental health audit along with the ministry of health to ascertain the body burden through investigation of industrial chemicals, pollutants and chemical pesticides in umbilical cord blood. 

A JPC on environmental crimes during DMK’s period at environment ministry must recommend publication of a database of environmental criminals and fugitives with their photographs and profiles with the name of the companies which fall under the 64 heavily polluting industries under the Red category (highly polluting industries), 34 moderately polluting industries ('Orange' category) and 54 'marginally' polluting units ('Green' category). Also publish a list of India's Most Wanted Environmental Criminals with wanted posters.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance, New Delhi, Mb: 9818089660
E-mail: krishna2777@gmail.com , Website: www.toxicswatch.com,
Blog: toxicswatch.blogspot.com

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