Precious Human Life

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 05 Aug 2018 10:32:26


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is cheap for India to buy and burns hotter than coal, which is why we buy them but forget the fact that they release much more carbon and sulfur content, posing a grave threat to human breathing and his lungs.


The US exports no less than 10 million metric tons of petroleum coke to India every year, which is used in countless factories and industrial units. It is said that the US refineries, unable to sell their dirty fuel waste product in their own country, are pushing the same to countries like India.

 

PEOPLE are more important than industries, the Supreme Court recently said while taking note of a report that 60,000 people have died due to pollution. The top court asked whether the Government had allowed pet coke import without studying its impact on the people’s health.
A bench of Justices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta also pulled up the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for seeking time to study the impact of ban on import of pet coke used in industries as fuel. “You seem very keen to allow the import of pet coke. Were you earlier allowing import of pet coke in the country without even conducting the study,” the bench asked.
Advocate Aparajita Singh, who is the amicus curiae in the case, said the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG) supported the ban on import of pet coke, but the MoEF was opposing it. She alleged that the MoEF’s stand on conducting the study was the reason for “delaying the ban on import of pet coke a fuel used in industries which is a cause of pollution.”
Additional Solicitor General A Nandkarni replied, “We also consider that life of people is more important than the industries… but there are various situations in which pet coke is used in industries and not every scenario is a cause of pollution.” The ASG said every ban has to be based on some rules after conducting a proper study by experts or else the decision can be challenged in the courts.
“It’s not that the MoEF is more interested in importing pet coke,” he said. On May 10, the apex court had set a deadline of June 30 this year for the Centre to decide on the issue of banning the import of pet coke and said the Government’s failure on this count would compel it to pass a direction. The court also asked the Government to consider implementing the ambitious National Clean Air Programme in Delhi first as the people here were “struggling” due to pollution. The NCAP is aimed at tackling the air pollution problem in 100 cities across the country. The Centre had then told the apex court that discussions were underway on the issue of banning the import of pet coke and it would take around six weeks to take a decision.
Petroleum coke is often a source of very fine dust that passes through the air filter of humans before settling in the lungs. This can cause several health hazards. Not just their use but even storage and handling of pet coke thus becomes hazardous because of the fine dust they release. In itself, this solid carbon form is not hazardous but for the fugitive dust and smoke, it releases.
The US exports no less than 10 million metric tons of petroleum coke to India every year, which is used in countless factories and industrial units. It is said that the US refineries, unable to sell their dirty fuel waste product in their own country, are pushing the same to countries like India. It is cheap for India to buy and burns hotter than coal, which is why we buy them but forget the fact that they release much more carbon and sulfur content, posing a grave threat to human breathing and his lungs. Studies have found that the sulfur content in pet coke is at least 17 to 18 times more than the sulfur content of coal.
No wonder then that close to 1.5 million Indians are dying prematurely every year in the country due to pollution-related ailments. While all the brouhaha and action surrounds automobile pollution, this major source of pollution is often sidelined. Most people don’t even know how dangerous these pollutants are and how they invade the air around us. Close to 2.5 million of Delhi’s children, i.e. about 50 per cent of them has lung-related problems, including spasms, coughing sprees, asthma, bronchitis etc. This classic case of environmental dumping to satiate India’s unending appetite needs to stop urgently. India herself produces pet coke, which is said to be less dirty than the US imports, but the Indian production doesn’t suffice India’s energy needs. This leads to India’s dependence on the US. The SC’s concern is justified and needs urgent action from the Government. While it is not possible to shut down all industries using US pet coke at one go, it is pertinent to mandate stringent laws for industries to detoxify the pet coke of its sulfur content.
This needs investment in technology, which most industries skimp on and continue to use the unclean fuel. Since the laws are not strong, these industries get the reprieve. The Government thus needs to take heed of the SC indictment and take up the matter on priority. If the traditional coal-based method is comparatively less polluting, then the old method must be re-introduced. But more than that, what is needed is to relocate the polluting industries away from urban peripheries and find out newer fuel options to replace the pollution-causing agents that today fuel them. Non-conventional energy sources have to be explored and used in a big way. Solar energy, wind, tidal and hydropower options are largely unexploited in India, though there is ample opportunity to harness them.
Though the Government has laid immense emphasis on exploring these renewable energy options, we are quite late in the day and commercial exploitation/utilisation of these energy sources is yet to start in any big way. Our efforts should have started at least three decades ago, given India’s growth trajectory and industrial/environmental scenario. Even if we start to act today, it will take years before we can have clean fuel options in all industry sectors.
That too needs fast and immediate action, which is not much likely, given the complex paraphernalia we have to deal with. We don’t have the adequate groundwork and infrastructure yet to shift to a completely green fuel regime. It needs money and technology, which is always in short supply, given the other pressing priorities of health, education and communication the Government has to address. The environment remains one of the most neglected sectors though it needs the utmost attention as the problems are compounding.
City after city is falling prey to toxic air and the disease burden on the country’s exchequer is surmounting. We are losing a chunk of our potential workforce to ill-health caused by industrial effluents that poison our water and air. No further delay must be broached. Industries must be issued strict and specific guidelines on pollution norms and ways in which they need to control pollution levels.
Their actions must be closely monitored and the Government apprised of their progress. Industries have been asked time and again to adhere to the laws and bylaws of environmental safety but several thousand industries flout them, bend the rules, hide facts or take advantage of the loopholes, mostly because of lack of time-bound auditing, accountability and tracking of their affairs.