KSPCB extends consent period for industries and plants to five years

Licence for operating a sewage treatment plant can now be renewed once in five years. Pic: Satarupa Sen Bhattacharya

Now, apartment management committees don’t have to trudge to the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) once in every two years, to renew their licence to operate sewage treatment plants (STPs). Industries have to renew their licence to operate only once in five years. This is the result of the KSPCB’s recent decision to eliminate extra paperwork and make the processes user-friendly.

In a move perceived to be industry-friendly, the KSPCB has decided to extend the minimum consent period for operation to five years across all categories, including industries and treatment plants. According to the KSPCB officials, this is considered to help create industry-friendly environment and improve internal administrative efficiency. The decision was taken on January 24th 2015, in their 195th meeting, presided over by the KSPCB Chairman, Vaman Acharya.

This follows Vaman Acharya’s appointment as the chairperson of an all-India committee that has 12 Member Secretaries from pollution control boards of different states across the nation. The Central government constituted this committee two months ago.

“Our task”, Vaman Acharya told Citizen Matters, “is to explore what possible measures can be taken to improve the ease of doing business without compromising with the environment. While relaxing pollution laws to help businesses is not on our table, we can still take business-friendly measures such as minimising unnecessary paperwork delay and hurdles for industries.”

Earlier norm: One year for polluting industry, 10 for green industry

There are two consents required for an industry. Consent for Establishment (CFE) is a one-time consent required before establishing an industry. Once the industry is established, Consent for Operation (CFO) is given by KSPCB upon inspecting and ensuring that all applicable norms are met.

Since 2012, large and medium industries under Orange category (including STPs in apartments and hotels) were given CFO by KSPCB for two years, while small industries under Red and Orange categories could secure consent for five years by paying consent fees for only three years. However, large industries in Red category could secure consent only for one year. Green category industries have been receiving, and will continue to receive, consent for a period of 10 years.

KSPCB, over loaded with paperwork, finds no time for inspection

This mechanism required the big industries to renew their consent for operation every year. “Every week, when we sit down to go through the paperwork for consent,” says Dr. Acharya, “we are overwhelmed by 100-200 applications for renewal. This is apart from the applications for new consents.”

“Bogged down by all this paperwork, we don’t have enough time for inspection and reporting. We go through all the necessary details before giving consent for the first time. There is no need to waste so much time for paperwork all over again,” he adds, justifying the extension of consent period to five years for all categories, which makes the KSPCB deal with paper work only once in five years, and presumably gives more time for inspections.

If an industrialist finds it difficult to pay consent fees for five years together, he has an option to pay it in two installments every two and a half years.

‘No environmental compromise’

This is not a move to make any environmental concessions for industries, Dr. Acharya assures. “We will conduct frequent inspections. On finding that any norm is not being complied with, we can take number of actions ranging from cancellation of consent to stopping the power and water supply while temporarily suspending the consent for two or three months. During this period, if the industry takes the necessary steps to comply with our norms, the consent, along with power and water supply, can be resumed,” he explains.

Measures to speed up the process

Earlier, it would take anywhere between 3-6 months for an industry to secure the KSPCB’s consent after submitting an application. Now, with the introduction of Sakala, a system set up by the state government to trace the movement of files in offices, the time period of waiting has been reduced to 45 days.

Every month a meeting is called by the Sakala authorities, who monitor the number of files received and disposed of, and the time taken for disposing each file. If there is delay, the Sakala authorities can impose a fine on the responsible officials in the KSPCB. “Although, no fines have been imposed yet, these measures are taken quite seriously,” Vaman Acharya said.

Categories of Industries
1) Red: Industries under this category are the most polluting ones, including plants for oil refineries, petrochemicals, tanneries, pesticide, fertiliser, iron and steel, zinc smelter, aluminum smelter, pharmaceuticals, thermal power plants etc.
2) Orange: These are relatively less polluting industries including tyres and tubes, synthetic rubber, glass manufacture and processing, lubricating oils, fire crackers, varnishes and paint. Hotels, apartments, milk and dairy products processing, and slaughterhouses also fall under this category.
3)Green: These are the least polluting industries, which include handloom weaving, shoe lace making, ice-cream and ice making, apparel making; rice mills, dal mills, grain processors, mineral water plants; manufacture of furniture, fountain pen etc.

KSPCB will not collect security deposit henceforth

The KSPCB has also decided to stop collecting security deposits from industries and apartments. The deposit was a guarantee for installation of structures required to be built to meet the environmental norms in place. The decision has been in effect from 5th of January 2015.

All industries and construction projects are required to build several infrastructure facilities, such as sewage treatment plant and effluent treatment plant, before they start operating. These are prescribed by KSPCB while sanctioning the approval for the project.

The projects that could not complete the work within the stipulated time could begin operating only after promising KSPCB to set up the required structures in accordance with environmental laws. 25% of the cost of setting up these structures had to be deposited with KSPCB, which was being refunded on completion of the project in the specified time.

The above rule meant that apartments which could not build the required STP by the time its construction was complete, could be occupied by depositing 25% of the cost of STP with KSPCB and giving an undertaking that the plant would be built in a specified time, mutually agreed upon by KSPCB and the apartment. Similarly many industries which had not met the requirement of having an Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) had also opted for this provision.

However, now, with the KSPCB’s decision to stop collecting the the security deposit, industries and apartments which have not completed construction of the required structures, can begin to operate by promising the KSPCB to construct the necessary within a specified time. No money needs to be deposited as security.

What is ‘Stipulated’ time?

Vaman Acharya says that the ‘Stipulated’ time depends upon the agreement between the KSPCB and the industry or the apartment managers. He says the KSPCB accepts the time suggested by the project promoters only if they find it reasonable.

KSPCB can’t impose penalties

Vaman Acharya says that there are no legal provisions which allow the KSPCB to collect security deposits or to even impose monetary penalties on defaulters. “Only courts and few other organisations like the BBMP, traffic police and the RTO have the authority to impose fines as per law. We tried to get permission to introduce a clause which authorises us to impose monetary penalties, but did not get it,” he explains.

However, he says there is no necessity for such a clause, for there are other provisions that can used to penalise those who don’t stand by their promise of building the required structures within the specified time. “We can file a case, ask BESCOM to stop their power supply, cut water supply, seize their generators if they are operating on it etc.”

This means the KSPCB can still send notices to polluting industries, as it has always been, but the KSPCB can only send notices to them when the issues comes to its notice. The KSPCB will come to know about the issues related to pollution only if someone complains, or if there is a suo-motu inspection by the KPSCB itself. Though the KSPCB officials say they conduct routine inspections to industries and plants, there is no clarity on frequency of such inspections.

The new moves are perceived to weaken the already-weak KSPCB, reducing it to a paper-tiger which cannot do anything if an apartment does not construct sewage treatment plant, or if an industry doesn’t construct effluent treatment plant, if there is no complaint from anyone. It remains to be seen whether with the reduced paper works the KSPCB will concentrate more on inspection and monitoring.

Rs 200 Cr + deposit lying in KSPCB accounts

Most of the large projects which have deposited security money have not collected it back. A deposit of over Rs 200 crore has now been piled up in KSPCB accounts. “On an average, about Rs 5-6 crores were being deposited each month with KSPCB as security amount, out of which less than a crore was collected back by the depositors,” says Vaman Acharya. The KSPCB is now busy writing to the builders and project owners, asking them to collect the money back.

Any industry or apartment which has not yet collected their deposit, even after completing construction of the required structures within the agreed time, can visit the KSPCB office with the agreement document and the records of the Demand Draft through which the money was deposited.

Alternately, a letter can be written to KSPCB, along with the necessary documents attached, requesting the deposit to be refunded. Usually, the deposit will be refunded within 6-7 days of time, to the bank account, said Vaman Acharya.

‘Post-clearance monitoring necessary’

Commenting on the KSPCB’s recent decisions, Environment Support Group (ESG) Coordinator Leo Saldanha says that it seems the Board lacks interest to protect the environment.

“It is not about fixing a minimum or maximum consent period for industries but to place a mechanism to ensure that the industries do not easily get away with violating environment clearance rules. A study conducted by the ESG last year revealed that a large number of medium and large industries are indulging in violation of water and air pollution acts. Lack of post-clearance monitoring of industries is resulting in pollution,” he said.

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About Pavan Kulkarni 22 Articles
Pavan Kulkarni was associated with Citizen Matters as a staff journalist.

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