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For a new India

Real-time environmental monitoring, a new-age technology in India, is on its way to replacing the conventional system of pollution compliance check with the use of advanced, digitalised and less labour intensive equipment

For a new India
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This week, as the World Environment Day passes us by, we must acknowledge one of the most important environmental policy initiatives of the decade — 'the real-time environmental monitoring in Indian industries'. The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) deserve appreciation for this. Intended to ameliorate the existing compliance monitoring mechanism, the real-time monitoring system was initiated to bring credibility, transparency, efficiency beside developing sense of self- monitoring attitude in the Industry. Adopted and proven worldwide, India is comparatively a new entrant in this league.

India's environmental compliance check regime carries a new face now, owing to online pollution monitoring and reporting system. It is not the same conventional system where pollution monitoring in the industry was being carried by an external laboratory and the report was made accessible to a handful in months. Today, online monitors come as a first preference if pollution monitoring is talked about in industries. Such vast scale of use of the online monitoring system was not thought before February 2014 when it was first mandated in major industries by the CPCB. These monitors, now, are not only required by large scale industries falling under '17 categories of highly polluting industries' but also in medium and small-scale ones located in the Ganga basin for effluent monitoring as per CPCB requirement. A number of state-level regulatory requirements also demand industry to use real-time monitors such as — 'Particulate Matter Emission Trading Scheme (PM-ETS) in Gujarat and 'Star Rating Programme' in the state of Odisha, Maharashtra and Jharkhand. Also, installation of real-time monitors for all red category industries in Delhi-NCR has also been directed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in the pretext of high-level pollution.

The requirement of these new-age monitors has created a huge Indian market, so big that almost all such technology manufacturers across the world have got their share in India. Approximate size of this market, as of now, would be Rs 5,000 crore which includes installation and maintenance of various types of continuous emission monitors (CEMS), effluent quality monitors (CEQMS), ambient air quality monitors (CAAQMS) and portable equipment for environmental monitoring and testing. The market continues to grow further.

Is it worth it?

Significant economic burden and challenges have come with the real-time monitoring system. Therefore, a question is often raised — is it worth the cost? Well, there are multiple aspects to understand this.

Poor data credibility and corruption have historically been serious challenges for India's environmental governance. Poor data quality, lack of transparency, non-uniform data reporting, lack of trust between regulator and industries have had a severe impact on suitable policy-making and realisation of environmental initiative on the ground. Real-time monitoring initiatives bring solutions if implemented properly. Last six years of experience shows a good sign — the positive approach towards environmental monitoring as it has become a serious job unlike before.

Where expanding industrial scale and mounting workloads on environmental regulators have made it tough to watch industries on a regular basis, the real-time monitoring gives a helping hand. This system gives regulators real-time remote access to industrial pollution reports and enables them to send automatic alarms and instructions to the industries without additional manpower and travel requirements. It is also a helping hand for the industry to make the operation more optimised and efficient. At the same time, it can be proven an important tool to take precautionary and immediate corrective measures in case of any unfortunate incident.

Moreover, a good amount of credible data will assist in effective and practical policy decisions. As is the case in the USA, China and many other countries, the real-time monitoring system can also lead towards a market-based emission control mechanism, popularly known as emission trading scheme. It would be ideal that this new technology guides India's compliance check mechanism towards a 'self-monitoring and reporting' regime in future.

Crucial phase-2

On average, these online monitors have 7-8 years of life or even lower if proper maintenance is absent and these are continuously exposed to a harsh environment. In India, monitors are usually exposed to harsh environments such as high temperature, dust, moisture, and corrosive pollutants. Adding to this, lack of skilled manpower and knowledge leads to inadequate maintenance. It has been more than six years since the industries had started installation of online emission and effluent monitors, time of replacement is almost there. New industries, as usual, also need these monitors for mandatory pollution monitoring requirement. This phase-2 demand will add significantly to the existing market, soon after the economic impact of COVID19 episode subsides. Considering existing infrastructure and accessories for installation, existing long-term maintenance contract and manpower in place, Rs 2,000-3,000 crore new investment is expected in phase 2. Its, therefore, important that mistakes made in phase 1 shall not be repeated and a blue-print for next phase shall be defined beforehand.

Clarity in execution

The expectation from real-time monitoring initiative is clear — shifting to a digitalised online regime where credible data collected from industry is used for legal compliance check and developing a sense towards self-monitoring in the industry. The goal should be inclusive to boost the development of indigenous manufacturing, the capability of certification, testing and auditing of the real-time monitoring system. Last six years of experience is good enough; it is high time now to utilise the investment and efforts on ground. Keeping a clear blueprint at the forefront, a time-bound action plan needs to be followed.

roadmap

Given below are a series of steps that may serve as a roadmap to institutionalise real-time monitoring as India's new compliance check system:

Set timeline for a legal framework

To bring legal sanctity in the real-time monitoring system, amendments are needed in the 'Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986', the 'Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974', and the 'Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981'. Rule 6 of EPA: 'Procedure of taking samples' gives legal sanctity to manual pollution monitoring only, which has to be amended to make provisions to include real-time monitoring into practice. In the same line, Section 21 and 22 of the 'Water Act 1974' and the Section 26 and Section 27 of the 'Air Act 1981' which talk about manual sampling and reporting of results need to be modified accordingly.

Without further delay, the CPCB should initiate the amendment processes, keeping a fixed deadline, not beyond January 1, 2022, in focus. This should be informed, well in advance, to all the state pollution control boards (SPCBs), pollution control committees (PCCs), industries and other stakeholders so that they prepare themselves to adopt the new regulatory system. A consultation meeting before the formalised system comes in effect, will be a good guidance drive for all.

Government control of

data handling

Data handling by private players presently brings serious concerns being raised by industries, technology manufacturers and state regulators. Users call it is a serious conflict of interest as some private players have access to the industry data which is prone to be used directly or indirectly unethically. Truly, it could have been acceptable only during the trial phase of real-time monitoring, but not anymore. India has touched new heights in information technology and digitalisation, and real-time data handling is just a tiny job. The government entity— the National Informatics Centre (NIC) is already doing such jobs and is very much capable of doing this.

Once real-time monitoring is legalised, various legal disputes of industrial non-compliance may emerge where data credibility and responsibility will become pain in the neck of the regulator. It is high time that the Government takes over and manages the real-time monitoring of data handling like many other such platforms. It will ensure a more secure, credible and conflict-free compliance check mechanism is put in place.

Finalise indigenous

certification system

Certified equipment assures the quality of the monitor which is important for data quality confidence. Till date, internationally-certified equipment is the preferred option, otherwise, the quality of monitoring by non-approved system remains in question. After much delay, the job of developing an indigenous certification system was allotted to the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in 2019. Keeping the timeline in mind, the MoEF&CC and the CPCB must track the progress and assist the NPL to come-up with proper certification system well in time. Once the system is put in use, it will help to improve the quality of indigenous equipment which currently is being produced and used in a very unorganised way. Better quality of locally produced equipment will help in data quality improvement, more competitive market, and lesser dependency on import- in line with 'Aatma Nirbhar Bharat' and 'Make in India' concept.

Empanel the laboratories

and divulge responsibility

The environmental analytical laboratories have a crucial role in calibration, testing and performance check of real-time monitors which is needed as per the CPCB guidelines, but unfortunately have not been in place till date. However, the CPCB had come-up with a notice for calling laboratories to get empanelled for real-time monitoring jobs, real-time monitoring jobs but it never moved further it never moved further. Currently, the vendors or industry itself, or laboratories recognized by the EPA, and accredited under the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration (NABL), not evaluated for real-time monitoring expertise, are doing these jobs. Moving ahead towards legal use of real-time data, this problem may end up in severe disputes related to non-compliance conditions. Therefore, it is important for the Government and CPCB to define the procedure and protocol for identification, evaluation, and empanelment of suitable laboratories as early as certification system is put in place.

Let the industries assess

themselves first

Industries have gone through numerous challenges for the implementation of a real-time monitoring system. Earlier challenges were largely superficial in nature such as — incorrect technology selection, incorrect installation, no calibration and maintenance, data tampering, etc., which have been resolved by many, if not all. New sets of challenges emerging in most industries are complex and difficult to identify and rectify without sufficient knowledge. These include — non-availability of correct point and position of installation, wrong equipment set-up, no proper calibration and performance check of equipment, missing data standardisation, etc. All these end-up in inaccurate data supply and, therefore, must be rectified.

It will be nearly impossible for the CPCB, SPCBs and PCCs to audit every industry to identify the problem and ask to rectify them. The way out of this problem is to ask the industry to self-assess their installation by the plant officials or hired experts, and submit the audit report and action points to the respective regulators. It will be easier and much quicker to resolve a majority of such data quality problems, the remaining portion can be dealt with on a case by case basis with plants. The CPCB can also identify a group of experts for this purpose.

Formalise the system

before any expansion

While blueprints for environmental monitoring phase-2 rectify existing data accuracy problems and prepare for legalising the use of real-time data, the Government should be wary of extending real-time monitoring into any new industry category. Existing industries have earned more than six years of experience in this new system; therefore, it would be easier to formalise it with them. Adding a new industry before formalising the existing set-up will only multiply the problems. The experience of the formalised system in existing industries will guide and encourage systematic transition into new groups.

Allow performance-based

relaxation

The maintenance requirements of real-time monitors are — daily zero drift test, fortnightly span drift test, calibrations in six months and data comparisons with reference methods for CEMS. These are crucial for data accuracy but are costly and tedious also. Many industries possess high-quality equipment which is nicely set-up and maintained; therefore, incidents of drift and other problems are a rarity. It is, therefore, advisable to recognise such good practices by assessing previous data and allow them to reduce the frequency of unnecessary test requirements. This will not only save operational cost for the industry but will also encourage industries to ensure better operation, maintenance and data quality.

Invest in manpower

One of the crucial requirements is training and skill development for regulators, industries, manufacturers, and service providers. Where the Government can mandate minimum man-days of training for government officials, industries can also get trained for better performance and compliance record. Since the world is already moving towards more advance real-time technologies and suitable policies for very low-level emission monitoring, air pollution source apportionment, emission monitoring in maritime industry, moving vehicle emission monitoring and predictive emission monitoring,

India must keep these in mind and prepare for future policy and regulatory framework.

Changing environmental governance system of India is a herculean task which requires concerted and calculated efforts by all the stakeholders involved. The best working model for this would be that, unlike before, the CPCB works in coherence with SPCBs, PCCs, industries and other relevant parties, dividing up the responsibilities and liabilities. Also, the time has come where industries need to integrate environmental aspects into their core business decision-making process. It is time now for the regulator to not only play the part of the inspector but a mentor and guide as well.

The writer is an environmentalist, research & advocacy professional

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