August 18, 2020 11:26:42 pm
Amid concerns being raised over disposal of bio-medical waste, discharging of lahan (raw material for making country liquor) in Sutlej, water quality of the Beas and the draft Environment Impact Assessment report, Professor Satwinder Singh Marwaha, chairman of Punjab Pollution Control Board, speaks to The Indian Express. Excerpts
How are you ensuring disposal of bio-medical waste as per the norms during Covid-19?
The bio-medical waste is collected, transported, treated and disposed through five authorized Common Bio-Medical Waste Treatment Facilities (CBWTF) at Ludhiana, SAS Nagar, Amritsar, Pathankot and Sri Muktsar Sahib. A bar coding system helps us in obtaining information related to the collection of bio-medical waste. It also provides latitude and longitude information. The updates are uploaded online, including the tracking system of the vehicle that carries the waste.
Various categories of waste are collected as per a colour scheme. The incinerable waste is collected in yellow containers, plastic waste is collected in red, the glass waste is packaged in blue, and the syringes among other such waste are put in white containers. The yellow category waste is incinerated while that of the red category is shredded after autoclaving. After that the plastic waste is recycled. The blue category waste is disinfected with a solution and washed with soap. The white category waste was earlier disinfected and dumped in the Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC) pits but now it can be given to induction firms.
As far as Covid-19 is concerned, we segregate the waste in the same format, but there are new guidelines issued by CPCB on July 17. The waste of a patient suffering from Covid-19 is treated as a domestic waste. It is collected in a polythene bag and disinfected with a solution (1% Hydrochloride solution). It is then handed over to the local body, which dumps it at a dumping site. Gloves and masks are treated as bio-medical waste. If the gloves and masks do not belong to a person who has Covid-19, then these are kept for 72 hours, shredded and then sent to the dumping site. Covid-19 waste is collected in a double layered yellow polythene container after the disinfection process.
Do you think the new draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) has been brought by the government to improve the ease of doing business? Or is it going to make the Environmental Protection Act a toothless tiger?
There is not much difference between the earlier EIA and the new draft. Many amendments have already been made in the previous notifications. Now, the government has combined all the previous notifications.
The Punjab Excise and Taxation department has discharged lakhs of litres of lahan into river Sutlej. Rivers are already under stress due to discharging of pollutants and Sutlej in particular is under the watch of the NGT appointed monitoring committee. How do you plan to safeguard the river waters?
The incident involves two departments as stakeholders — PPCB and Department of Fisheries. PPCB is concerned with the quality of the water while the (aquatic life) mortality is measured by the Department of Fisheries. Samples have been collected to ascertain the effects on the quality of water. We will share the results with the media after testing the samples. PPCB is in process of writing a letter to the Department of Excise and Taxation of Punjab to ensure such action is not taken in the future. PPCB is pushing for a standard operating procedure to ensure that there is no impact on the environment.
River Beas is still recovering from the molasses spillage of 2018. PPCB is yet to recover Rs 5 crore fine imposed on Chadha sugar mill. Why this delay?
We had sealed the sugar mill when the incident took place. We also revoked their licenses in May 2018. After that, many teams investigated the molasses spillage case. The government imposed Rs 5 crore fine on Chadha sugar mill. They have already deposited 2.25 crore. We fortmed a Beas Rejuvenation Committee under some experts of PPCB and Department of Fisheries. Beas Rejuvenation project was given to Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) and Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (GADVASU) Ludhiana, Department of Forests and Wildlife Preservation. We have sanctioned Rs 1.2 crore.
The fisheries department had released new fishes after the incident in the river. GADVASU and PAU analyzed the damage in their study. The committee will evaluate the reports of last two years and recommend the future action plan with regard to rejuvenation of river Beas.
PPCB will extract money from Chadha sugar mill as per the evaluation of the reports. We will ask them to submit the balance sum soon. PPCB can increase the recovery amount because Rs 5 crore is not the final amount. We can demand more after evaluating the reports and harm caused. Real Time Water Quality Monitoring Station (RTWQMS) will be established at river Beas that will provide us detailed information relating to pollutants in the river. We have reserved Rs 70 lakh for this project. The five year rejuvenation plan will cost Rs 2.35 crore. As of now, we are going to study the recovery rate.
How do you manage the quality of river Beas?
Our team has worked considerably for the improvement of the quality of river water of Beas from C to B as per the Water Quality Monitoring by PPCB for the month of July 2020. It is a positive development. It has also been recorded by the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The technical committee will give us the reports after evaluation. It helps us in managing the quality of water.
How many incidents of crop residue burning were reported from 2018, to 2020? What action was taken?
The number of active fire events until May 2020 was 13,420 compared to 11,698 in corresponding period last year and 11,510 in May 2018. If we look at the comparison of total number of active fire incidents (Kharif season) in Punjab during 2018 and 2019 based on the satellite data, one can say that there is an increase. While the number of cases till November 2018 was 51,751, the number of cases till November 2019 were 52,942.
The environment compensation imposed in 2019 was Rs 6.16 crore. Similarly, for the wheat harvesting season 2020, out of 13,420 cases the environmental compensation of Rs 49 lakh was imposed in 1,742 cases.
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