Bizarre as it may sound,the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has decided to blame the extra work generated due to the Right to Information (RTI) Act,2005,for their shortfall in collecting sufficient samples to check pollution levels.
This was the official reply given by the board to the Auditor General (AG)s observation on the shortfall in the number of samples. A copy of this report has been accessed by The Indian Express under the RTI.
During its latest audit of the MPCB,the AG had observed that specific norms have been fixed by the board for collection of samples by each field officer,working with the Sub Regional Offices. The AG had observed that the MPCB,through a circular dated May 31,1999,had stipulated that every field officer should collect 40 samples every month,recording them under the type of samples.
Joint Vigilance Samples to be collected in five days on field: 20. Samples of air emission to be collected in three days on field: 13,Environmental sampling for two days: 7, the report read.
During the audit,it was found that the total number of the samples collected by the Mumbai office was 3,417,Sub Regional Officer,Pune-1 394,Sub Regional Officer,Pune-2 441,SRO,Pimpri-Chinchwad 532,Sub Regional Officer,Satara 348 and Sub Regional Officer,Solapur 202.
When it came to hazardous waste sampling,the fourth category required to be collected by each sub regional officer,SRO Solapur failed to collect even a single sample,when it was supposed to collect at least 60.
The department stated that sampling of joint vigilance samples was not carried out as per board circular,due to the RTI issue. Moreover,issues relating to complaint investigations,Assembly work,consent procession work,upgrade and maintenance of office record have hampered the sampling work. This was the response AG received from the department to their observation.
However,refusing to accept the reply,the AG noted: The reply is not tenable as 29 per cent more officers were employed for sample collection. Further inadequate monitoring of polluting units would lead to spurt in pollution. The excess staff of field officers with the regional office has been brought to the notice of the government for comments, the report read.
Commenting on the report,environmentalist Vishambhar Chowdhury said the shortfall in collection of samples was mainly due to the shift in focus to consent management from actually collecting the samples. With a lot of real estate projects coming up for consent management,the field officers prefer paying attention to such projects instead of collecting samples. Consent management is a well-established norm of corrupt practices as well, he said.
In a letter written to the member secretary,Chowdhury said he has asked for the process of consent management to be made online. However,no action regarding this has been taken so far, he said.