Worried over rising air and water pollution, people living in cities, particularly Bengaluru, want more action from the state forest, environment and ecology department. Their concern has only mounted after the appearance of toxic foam from Varthur and some other lakes in the City. They are also angry over the continuing garbage disposal crisis. What is the government doing to improve things? Minister in charge of the environment department B Ramanath Rai, in an interview with Anil Gejji of Express, spoke at length on the measures being taken by his department to protect the environment and control pollution. Excerpts from the interview:
Though you are in charge of forest, environment and ecology, there are allegations that you focus more on forest and less on environment and pollution. Why is it so?
This is incorrect. I am devoting equal time to all the departments. But since there is a statutory body - the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) - to handle environment and pollution issues, you do not hear me talk much about the two issues. However, I regularly review the performance of the board. I held a meeting as recently as June 25 and had given strict instructions to the officials to accord top priority to pollution control and environment protection.
But some say nothing is visible on the ground...
Before coming to such a conclusion, one should understand the enormity of the problem. Rapid urbanisation, development (infrastructure building) activities, increasing vehicular population, and letting sewage into lakes are leading to air and water pollution. In Bengaluru alone, there are over 56 lakh registered vehicles. Of these, 35 lakh are two-wheelers and 1.38 lakh auto-rickshaws, which contribute the most to air pollution. Due to lack of required road infrastructure, vehicular movement slows down and this leads to air pollution. Similarly, all water bodies are polluted due to insufficient sewage infrastructure like STPs (sewage treatment plans) and main trunk lines.
What are the steps taken by your department to address these issues?
We have been taking several measures. Over 64,800 industries have been brought under the ambit of pollution control laws. Regular inspections are being carried out. Water and air quality is also checked. Till now 66,293 samples of water have been analysed. Twenty-one common bio-medical waste disposal facilities have been created and nine more are under construction. In addition, river water is regularly analysed for its quality at 83 locations under various programmes. As far as air pollution in Bengaluru is concerned, KSPCB is monitoring ambient air quality at 15 locations, including two round-the-clock monitoring stations at City Railway Station and KSPCB’s Nisarga Bhavan. Also 10 noise monitoring stations have been set up. As and when there is an increase in pollution level, we ask KSPCB to intervene and take steps. This apart, we are taking strict action against erring industries and hotels. In 2014-15, 216 cases were booked under the water and air act.
According to a study by Breathe Blue, Bengaluru city is ranked second in the list of most polluted cities as far as air pollution is concerned. What is your take on this?
I don’t agree with the survey findings. Only Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM) is exceeding the prescribed limit in Bengaluru. But all other parameters are well within the prescribed limits. You can cross check it with official figures.
There is a perception that you never speak on Bengaluru’s garbage issue nor do you interact with villagers protesting against unscientific dumping of garbage. Any reason?
There is Bruhut Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) which is mandated with ensuring garbage collection and its scientific disposal as per the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000. My department has a very minimum role to play in this. Having said this I am not running away from my responsibilities. I have been regularly interacting with BBMP officials to address environmental issues.
On toxic foam overflowing from lakes
I have directed KSPCB officials to take serious note of the issue and find out the reason for the same.
What is the status of the Kasturirangan Report on Western Ghats? Has the state government sent its recommendations to the Centre?
We have sent our recommendations after holding elaborate talks with elected representatives and villagers of the Western Ghats. We have recommended the exclusion of all 1,576 human habitats, farm lands and plantations from eco-sensitive areas (ESAs) and also suggested re-modifying the proposed buffer zone around the ESAs. I am confident that our recommendations will be accepted (by the Centre).