India may be all set to become one of the few countries to put in a nation-wide ‘cap and trade’ mechanism for air pollutants, if environment minister Jairam Ramesh has his way.
Jairam, who has been critiqued for pushing for ‘developed country’ environment laws on a developing country like India, announced that three Indian states -- Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu -- will have ‘cap and trade’ mechanism for air pollutants by January.
“With this, we are taking a step away from the ‘command and control’ method of enforcing environmental regulations,” the minister said, detailing the scheme.
Under it, every factory will be given a certificate that enables it to release a certain amount of pollutants -- based on the kind and quantity of product it makes.
For example, a cement factory producing 1 million tonnes of cement a year will have a different allocation compared to a steel factory producing 1 million tonnes of steel or another cement plant that makes 5 million tonnes.
These certificates will be issued free of cost and can be sold by the factory as and when its emissions drop down due to the introduction of better technology.
On the other hand, if the plant emits more pollution than is allowed by the certificates it holds, it can purchase extra certificates from those who pollute less or from the government.
The scheme, originating from the Acid Rain crisis of the US in the 1980s, has been credited with not only allowing the US to successfully overcome it, but is also finding favor in addressing the issue of global warming.
The European Union and some states in the US and Australia have already put in place such mechanisms while China has announced it will do so before 2015.
The scheme has proven to be more effective in reducing pollution due to the absence of ‘inspector raj’ and the possibility of bribing environmental inspectors.
The monitoring will be done by placing air-quality analysers, both in factory premises as well as inside the chimney stacks, said Valsa Nair Singh, chairperson of the Maharashtra State Pollution Control Board, one of the three early volunteers.
The monitors will continuously analyse the proportion of pollutants in the air and send the data through the mobile network to the Pollution Control Board on a real-time basis. The big industries will have to pay for the monitors while the smaller ones may get such devices on rent from the Board.
Singh said the project is likely to be kicked off from industrial clusters like Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Chandrapur. “We already have 131 ambient air monitors [in factory premises] and 45 stack monitors in these areas,” she said. They, however, cover only a fraction of the total highly polluting industrial units in the state, numbered at around 7,000.
To bring down pollution, the government will progressively reduce the permissible emissions per unit of production every year, to force companies to upgrade their technology. The system, which will include only particulate matter (fine dust) emissions in the first phase, is targeted at reducing both emissions as well as the corruption associated with pollution checking by officials.