Central Pollution Control Board: A story of wasted potential?

Rapid industrialization in the country, coupled with an emphasis on the development of a “Modern India” has led to an increase in the amount of pollutants being generated everyday. The economic growth of India has come at the cost of deterioration of its environment. Be it in the form of harmful and toxic gases being emitted by the industries or contamination of our natural water bodies, the noxious presence of pollution can be witnessed throughout the spectrum.

The Government of India has passed various laws and policies to control and prevent this rapid environmental degradation. However, these laws and policies, so far, haven’t been implemented strictly-thereby leading to an insignificant effect. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was established to ensure the efficient execution of such laws and policies, and to set environmental standards for the entire country.

The CPCB is a statutory organization constituted on 22 September 1974 under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. In the early days under this Act, its main function was to promote cleanliness of streams and wells in different areas of the States. Later in 1981, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act was passed and the responsibility to improve the quality of air and to prevent, control or abate air pollution in the country was also assigned to the CPCB. This organization falls under the ambit of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).

The functions of the CPCB include advising the Central Government on various pollution issues, coordinating activities of the State Pollution Control Boards, resolving their disputes, collecting and compiling data regarding air and water pollution, and other ancillary responsibilities.

Concerning its composition, the Board consists of a full-time Chairperson, five officials to represent the government, five officials from different State Boards, three non-officials to represent agriculture or fishing or any other trade, two people from corporations or companies owned or managed by the Central Government, and a full-time Member Secretary. All the members of the governing board are nominated by the Central Government and must possess sufficient qualifications and knowledge about the position they’re being nominated for.

Some issues with the current structure of the CPCB, which need an urgent overhaul:

There is no specific time limit for which the post of Chairperson should lie vacant and as a result, this position lay vacant for almost two years on two occasions. Additionally, the position also remained vacant for almost four and a half years before the appointment of the current Chairperson. This issue could, to some extent, be attributed to the fact that many renowned scientists don’t apply to the post since it’s widely believed that the CPCB doesn’t hold much power. This issue can partly be resolved by advertising the vacancy before the tenure of the present Chairperson ends so that enough time is put in for the evaluation of the new candidate.

Some key posts in the CPCB are filled by IAS officers and bureaucrats, who do not possess the necessary capabilities and expertise in managing pollution control activities. 

The remunerations offered to the employees of the CPCB are also not lucrative enough to attract talented people for the offered positions. As a result, the Board loses out on the valuable and experienced lot that is then hired by the corporate sector.

Since all members of the Board are nominated by the Central Government, there is no diversity in opinions and thus, no effective solution is offered by the CBCP for the problems that are presented by the Central and State Governments.

Owing to such systemic issues, the CPCB comes across as a defunct Board, with very little to no powers. 

Suggestions for improvement in the functioning of the CPCB:

The CPCB should be an autonomous organization that is not regulated by the MoEFCC or the Central Government. The Government usually chooses economic growth over environmental protection. Having an autonomous body that doesn’t have to constantly answer to the Gvernment and seek permission at every stage will turn out to be more beneficial for the environment. We can learn more about this structure from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is an independent agency working for a cleaner and healthier environment.

Members of the CPCB should possess nuanced knowledge about environmental problems prevalent in our country, and must be experts in the field they’ve been hired for. The members, especially the Chairperson and the Member Secretary, should be competent and capable of fulfilling their duties. This can be ensured to an extent, by setting up an impartial panel to evaluate and examine all the candidates appropriately.

In addition to making the CPCB an autonomous organization, its current standards must be revamped. The instruments being used currently for measuring and monitoring air quality are calibrated mostly to European standards and attuned to their climatic conditions and air quality levels. These instruments cannot be expected to give reliable results in Indian climatic conditions. We need our own standards concerning air quality so that apposite steps can be taken to monitor and measure the same.

The CPCB should set norms for emissions for the entire country to avoid discrepancy in reports submitted by the State Boards. Real time data monitoring mechanisms could be put in place, to ensure that the data submitted by various States is not tampered with. 

CPCB officials could visit the State Offices every few months, to organise knowledge and training workshops, to ensure that the environmental problems faced by States are monitored and dealt with, in an efficacious manner. Various stakeholders, ranging from State Officials to Civil Society Organisations should be made part of such workshops. The CPCB should work with the SPCBs in close coordination to study the extent of pollution and reexamine the norms to be set for any particular State.

A proper blend of stakeholders in the leadership of the CPCB is a necessity. Stakeholders may include government, local and state organizations, business and industry experts, environmental NGOs, think tanks, and the general public. Increased involvement of people, right from the inchoate stages of the decision-making process of policies might prove fruitful for curbing the increase in pollution levels in the country.

The CPCB should be allowed to issue closure notices and impose fines and punish offenders in any way the Board sees fit. This will force violators to reduce their polluting emissions as well as treat them effectively before emitting them into the environment.

Currently, there are six zonal offices established by the CPCB in Bangalore, Kolkata, Shillong, Bhopal, Lucknow, Vadodara. Each zonal office has to cover three to eight States under it, which is not feasible due to the proliferation of industries, vehicles and subsequently the pollution caused. In order to decrease the load on the zonal offices, each State should have a Zonal Office catering to the specific needs of different regions in the State.

The budgetary constraints on the CPCB prove to be a huge impediment in its functioning. The budget of the CPCB was brought down from INR 114.4 crore in the fiscal year 2018-19 to INR 100 crore for the year 2019-20. In order to combat rising pollution levels and rapid deterioration of the environment along with it, the Government must provide enough funds to the CPCB, instead of cutting down on it, to tackle this enormous problem effectively. 

The Central Pollution Control Board can be improved immensely if the Central Government puts in enough effort to utilize its potential effectively, especially now, when we have only a few years left to reverse the effects of climate change.

By Drashti Vadhel, Rizvi College of Engineering, Mumbai.

This article first appeared on LexQuest.

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