Reforms needed in SPCB to reduce pollution

Excerpt from Indian Express newspaper yesterday. State Pollution Control Boards need funding, resources and to be a higher priority for the State Govt. They are currently short on all fronts and its officers mostly corrupt.

The footsoldiers of India’s battle against polluters are its officials at the state pollution control boards. While our discourse often is focussed on legislation, legal battles and politics of air pollution, the ones quietly toiling away behind the scenes are pollution control board professionals who don’t have adequate resources, necessary specialisation, skills, tools or focus to do their job efficiently.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) based in Delhi is generally well funded and resourced, unlike the state pollution control boards (SPCBs) that are in charge of implementation of the rules that CPCB writes. In this theatre, CPCB is akin to a scriptwriter, while the various state pollution control boards are the actors who execute it.

Take the role of a field officer at a SPCB. These officers are in charge of inspections of a wide range of infrastructure and activities. They also have additional duties of conducting awareness programmes, such as those directed at farmers in the case of stubble-burning.
Editorial | Dealing with bad air during pandemic will call for concerted effort by Delhi and neighbouring states, not band-aid solutions
With chronic problems at the SPCBs, these officers and others like them are unable to fulfil their duties and implement pollution rules effectively. There are at least five structural and inter-related issues that these institutions face. First, there is a critical shortage of staff in most SPCBs. As an illustration, the Haryana State Pollution Control Board has been operating with a 70 per cent staff shortage. What this means practically is that a single officer is tasked to handle the demands of pollution control for an entire district without any subordinate technical staff. To illustrate this better, consider the NGT-appointed Special Environment Surveillance Task Force, for which a single officer who is otherwise in charge of field duties, has to run around various offices, haggle with bureaucrats to finalise monthly meeting dates, prepare the agenda, conduct the meetings, and then write the minutes-of-the-meeting themselves without any administrative help. This comes at the cost of not being able to do inspections and other core pollution control work.
Secondly, officers at the SPCBs do not get to develop any specialisation. The CPCB has a decent workforce and robust laboratories, where scientists once recruited get to work and excel in a particular area such as biomedical waste or hazardous waste or air quality management. They are incentivised to specialise and are even promoted on the basis of it. On the other hand, SPCBs don’t have such a stratified system, and the same officer is in charge of all these pollution categories, making it impossible to gain expertise and excel in any one area.
Thirdly, SPCBs lack the necessary legal skills to take on polluters. While a legal cell may exist at the head office of a SPCB, they have few full-time public prosecutors there. In contrast, most other major government departments have a handful of public prosecutors posted in every district-level office. As a result, engineering graduates in district SPCB offices — with no training in law — have to don the hat of lawyers and develop legal paperwork that often falls short of holding polluters to account. Clerks and superintendents at courts often refuse to file cases, pointing at flaws that someone not trained in law would naturally make.

Fourthly, SPCBs are chronically underfunded. For instance, the funds of several SPCBs such as Haryana’s largely come from “No Objection Certificates” and “Consent to Operate” that the boards grant to industries and projects, rather than budgetary allocations by the government. Owing to this, SPCB officials are unable to spend on critical functions.

Finally, SPCB officials are at times given additional responsibilities that are unrelated to pollution control. Haryana’s SPCB, for instance, has poultry farms under its ambit.
Our fight on air pollution rests on the shoulders of these overworked, underfunded, multitasking professionals, who would be successful only if they were given a chance. India must empower SPCBs to act by giving them the necessary funds, human resources, tools and technologies. more  

View all 15 comments Below 15 comments
Rightly said, SPCBs should be empowered! more  
We talk too much and act too less. more  
What is we? What have you done so far in this circle Sir? Kindly illustrate more  
SPCB & CPCB is wrong. it is ( S) CPB ( State / Central Pollution board) . They are not doing anything practically , But Does on Papers. Good Scientist are making good Project reports. But how many are useful methods & Economically viable to control the pollution in Industrial Field is is million dollar question. Simple example. If You have pet dog then You will have to take care about his Poo also. But same time for street stray dogs the rules are not applicable. All pollution board is having one policy to close the industry under name of pollution. The Industrialist are very clever. They purposely make the pollution , get Unit closed & hence saving the money of Workers dues. But the same SPB / CPB are not doing advisory to owners / management how to reduce existing pollution. The pollution you can't stop. with Development it is going to come for destruction. but Certainly we can minimize it. more  
Post by M/S Garima Sharma highlights following: 1. its officers mostly corrupt. 2. don’t have adequate resources, necessary specialisation, skills, tools or focus to do their job efficiently. 3. here is a critical shortage of staff. 4. No time to perform field duties. 5. No legal knowledge to take violators to punishment in Court of Law. 6. Underfunded because there is no budgetary allocation from State Govts. To my mind if first problem is solved only then other points would have some relevance. Otherwise the corrupt officials would swindle any additional money given to them and/or additional staff would also resort to corruption, putting more financial burden on corrupt polluting companies forcing them to increase price of their product which in turn put additional burden on common man. I therefore feel that all out effort should be made to eliminate corruption from the system rather than do cosmetic treatment of added recruitment and/or injection of additional funds etc. How do we go about it? firstly I think all the staff in this department which must be very small in no. (as there is critical shortage of staff) should be immediately relieved of their current position by preferably terminating their services or transferring them to other department/s where there is genuinely shortage of work-persons. Fresh recruitment is done on new terms of payment by results basis i.e. each employee or a group of employees shall be paid on the basis of revenue generated by them for the Govt. This is expected to bring a sea of change in attitude, aptitude and effective work. If no one comes forward for employment on these terms then only the work may be contracted out on well drawn contract on the same basis i.e. the company is paid on basis of revenue earned on their working and bonus on basis of improvement in specified environment indexes. RYK more  
PCBs and Tribunals are generally loaded with retired persons. They remain loyal to the State Govt. authorities during the whole term. They never do any act which annoys their bosses. Corruption and non-accountability are the root causes of virtually non-functioning of PCBs. There should be an independent Body to enforce pollution control measures efficiently. Their performance should be assessed quarterly and the dry wood should be weeded out quickly. more  
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