The Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), which has existed for four decades, has no record of pollution sources and loads, says a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report. These records, if they would have been maintained, could have been crucial in planning for prevention, control and abatement of pollution.
The CAG carried out a thematic audit on the functioning of the KSPCB and pronounced severe indictment of this agency. “Though KSPCB was in existence for more than four decades, it did not prepare and collate the database, which was of vital importance for undertaking effective pollution control measures,” said the auditors in the report.
Although the audit was carried out by officers of Indian Accounts and Audit Department (IAAD) between February and June 2017 and the draft audit report was submitted to KSPCB and the state government in August 2017, the report was published on CAG’s website only on May 10, 2018.
Moreover, despite the fact that an exit meeting to explain and discuss the audit findings was held on August 23, 2017, the state government had not filed any replies till November 2017.
The audit, which scrutinised records pertaining of 13 test-checked regional offices, revealed the grave reality that the files only had form ‘F’, which just had the names, consent validity periods and category of industrial units, and nothing else.
In the report, the auditors said, “Apart from these details, none of the regional offices maintained a comprehensive database of the extent of water being used, the effluents generated and being discharged from industrial units in their jurisdiction.”
Audit scrutiny of files also showed that KSPCB didn’t have in place a mechanism to track renewal or expiry of consents granted to industrial units. Scrutiny of records of 13 test-checked regional offices revealed that in as many as 2,386 cases of ‘consent to operate’ were not renewed for a period ranging between one year and 12 years.
Thanks to ineffective monitoring of the polluting sources, many polluting units kept operating without valid consent. According to information furnished to audit team by KSPCB itself in respect to all 31 regional offices, 392 industrial units were operating without the valid ‘consent to operate’ as of March 2017.
Consent for establishment and operation for industrial units falling in red and orange categories were being granted without mandatory inspections, observed the CAG audit report. Ambient air quality checks in five districts showed presence of particulate/noxious gases above the prescribed safe standards, added CAG. The audit also voiced a concern that 899 health care establishments were found not utilizing designated common bio-medical waste treatment facility notified by KSPCB, leading to the probability of unscientific disposal of bio-medical waste.
The audit also remarked that KSPCB had not assessed the requirement of sewage treatment plants in the state.
The frequency of inspections in respect of orange and green category of industrial units was less due to shortage of manpower. The manpower position in KSPCB as on October 2010 was only 225 against the sanctioned strength of 547, even as the state government sought to increase sanctioned strength to 700 in October 2010. It was in October 2010 that the KSPCB had invited applications for vacant posts, but it could fill up 153 posts against 475 vacancies. The vacancy position as on March 2017 showed considerable shortfall at all levels as shown in the following table:
The staff composition of regional offices showed that each regional office had only one Environment Officers, one Deputy Environment Officer, one or two Assistant Environment Officer and meager support staff. This resulted in grave imbalance within the capacity to monitor red category industrial units by KSPCB regional offices as depicted in the following table:
Such an arbitrary and irrational staffing pattern led to Zonal Office, Bengaluru East having 16 officers for 400 red category industrial units, while Bengaluru City reported 20 officers for 259 such units. The most stressed region was Dharwad with merely 31 officers to monitor 1155 red category industrial units and Ballari with merely 30 officers to monitor 566 red category industrial units.
(The author is a faculty at Azim Premji University, Bangalore)