Khushboo Narayan and Padmaparna Ghosh, livemint.com, 28th January, 2008
A review of documents obtained through the RTI Act suggest appraisal committees have accorded environmental clearances without scrutinizing documents
Mumbai/New Delhi: Environmental clearances issued to Dow Corning India Pvt. Ltd’s Ranjangaon plant in 2005 by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) were based on a site map of the company’s plant in Elizabethtown, Kentucky (US), and on incomplete emission data.
Interviews with activists, environmentalists, people responsible for policy, and a review of documents obtained through the Right to Information (RTI) Act suggest this is yet another instance where appraisal committees have accorded environmental clearances without scrutinizing documents.
The clearances issued by MPCB to Dow Corning’s plant, which makes silicone-based products at the Ranjangaon industrial estate near Pune are routine, but required for any factory to start operations.
Among the requirements for such clearances is that the companies concerned attach to their applications a topographical site plan of the local area showing surrounding villages, towns, rivers and roads.
An MPCB official said “layout of a site” was not its “concern”.
“What we really check is the distance of the plant from the river, habitation and ecology. And since this unit is in MIDC (Maharashtra Industrial Development Corp.) area, which is solely for industrial purpose, the environmental norm is further reduced. The parameters that we are concerned about are air, water and land pollution,” added Sanjay Khandare, member secretary, MPCB. He confirmed the only site plan with details submitted by Dow was for the Elizabethtown plant. This is also the document received by an activist group in response to its RTI application.
Dow Corning, which commenced operations at its Pune plant in December 2005, confirmed it had indeed submitted the map of its plant in the US.
“At the time of obtaining the consent to operate from the MPCB in 2005, we submitted a list of documents as requested by MPCB. We can confirm that a map of our plant at Elizabethtown was submitted along with the plan for Ranjangaon— this may have been because of a request from the MPCB,” said Raj Kapur, chairman and managing director, Dow Corning. Asha Albert, a spokesperson for Dow, said the company had also provided a layout of the Pune plant.
However, even Khandare’s claim that the agency only looks ar “air, water and land pollution” rings hollow because documents procured by RTI applications reveal that Dow Corning’s submission does not provide complete data on air emissions.
“The table on air emission aspects does not specify the aerial effluents of the chemical process. The air emission aspects in the list only refer to combustion products. This is incomplete information on environmental impacts of the project,” said Manju Menon of Kalpavriksh, an environmental activist group that had made the RTI application to MPCB.
Following Kalpavriksh’s petition, MPCB re-examined Dow Corning’s papers and admitted oversight.
“In the consent letter, the company has not given readings for aerial effluents emerging out of the process. We will conduct an inspection of the site and if there are issues regarding air pollution, we will take proper action against the company,” said Khandare, adding that there were also discrepancies related to the consumption of furnace oil.
“We will write to the company and get information on this matter,” he said.
According to the company, the environmental consent issued in 2005 was valid for a year, and it was extended for another five years in 2006.
Albert claims the company submitted complete data, but that MPCB had reviewed the documents again and said the data was incomplete. “We are willing to provide all the information,” she added.
Khandare was not the member secretary of MPCB when the Dow Corning clearance was given. D.B. Boralkar, who was the member secretary at that time, said: “I can’t comment on the Dow case as I don’t have the documents and I have handed over the charge.” However, Boralkar contradicted Khandare’s claim about environmental norms being relaxed for plants in industrial areas. “There is no relaxation of norms for units in industrial estates or SEZs (special economic zones),” he said.
MPCB’s clearance to Dow was given under the 1994 notification of the Union government, according to which only those projects with capital investment of more than Rs100 crore require a clearance from the Centre. The clearance for the Dow Corning plant, which had an investment of Rs43.50 crore, was given by the state government.
Indian laws allow for a clearance to be revoked if it was initially granted on false data.
Mint had reported on 27 December how the Union environment ministry had cleared a bauxite mining project in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, to be operated by Ashapura Minechem Ltd, a listed Indian firm, on the basis of a critical environmental impact assessment that was based on data simply copied from a similar report for a Russian bauxite mine.
An MPCB official defended the boards decision to clear Dow Corning’s project.
“The pollution control board gives thousands of consents and mistakes can happen, but there is no malicious intention behind it,” said a senior MPCB official, who did not wish to be identified.
However, information on such lapses have emerged only after applications under the RTI Act and consequent additional scrutiny of environmental applications by the pollution control board.
“To be effective, the entire process needs to be changed. Authorities who clear such proposals have to take variables such as air and water data (submitted by companies putting up the project) on face value as there is no benchmark for us to compare it to,” said a Union environment and forests ministry official, who did not wish to be named.