For many years now, Kannan B, a resident of T Nagar for more than four decades, has been trying to draw the attention of authorities towards different kinds of pollution in his neighbourhood. A renovation carried out at a huge jewellery showroom in the same locality had led to inconvenience for him and many others like him, due to unbearable levels of noise. The diesel generator sets placed on the top of commercial establishments in the area had led to asthma and skin allergies. Kannan had filed a series of complaints with the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB). After an inspection by the engineer, the board had forwarded the petition relating to the noise to the zonal officer of Zone 10, Greater Chennai Corporation, for taking action under the Chennai City Municipal Corporation Act and 1919 Public Health Act, 1939.
“No further action was taken by the civic body. We have been filing repeated complaints about various activities by the commercial establishments that have been inconveniencing us with high pollution levels—both air and noise. But no follow ups have been undertaken by the Corporation,” says Kannan. Fed up with the indifference, Kannan has moved his family—his wife and son—to Thiruverkadu to escape the pollution.
Expertise and enforcement
MR Gokul, standing counsel for the Union government, points out that while the TNPCB has the mechanism and expertise to measure the air quality standards through their stations located across Chennai, it is the Corporation that is the enforcement authority after the source of the pollution is identified. “The stations monitor particulate matter (PM) and file a report, after which the Corporation is supposed to initiate steps by warning the party responsible for it. The board can also take suo moto action,” he says.
The Greater Chennai Corporation receives only about five to six complaints about noise pollution involving loud generators in residential areas that cause public nuisance. “These are verified by our officials and the corrective action is undertaken after meeting the parties concerned. As far as air and water pollutions are concerned, the Water and Air Acts give the TNPCB the rights to take action,” says D Karthikeyan, Commissioner, Greater Chennai Corporation.
The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, directs the state boards to plan and execute a comprehensive programme for the prevention, control or abatement of pollution of streams and wells in the state. Similarly, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, directs the State Board towards prevention, control or abatement of air pollution and to implement appropriate measures.
Action against industrial sources
The TNPCB maintains that while it acts against industrial units polluting the environment, the monitoring reports are directed to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
A source from the department says, “We have the power only to close the industries responsible for polluting the cities. The rest of the monitoring feedback is directed to the central authority—CPCB. The air quality is monitored at stations located across the city. Every month, we also take the samples of water bodies in the city like Cooum and Adyar rivers and Buckingham Canal, and the reports are forwarded to the CPCB.” The source adds that while they have stations monitoring noise levels, the vehicular noise levels come under the purview of the Transport Department.
Gokul says that while noise levels from vehicular traffic in the city is difficult to control, the local police stations can call for a noise level survey by the board in areas where high noise levels are reported.
The inaction by TNPCB is puzzling, says Jayaram Venkatesan, convenor, Arappor Iyakkam, a city-based people’s movement. “The Water Act governs not just industrial units, but everyone concerned. If the TNPCB, an independent body, cannot act, what other option do residents have?”
He says that it is important that the regulatory body stepped up the heat on polluters. “Our report found that 100 crore litres of sewage water were being let into waterbodies in the city. These include parties like the CMWSSB and domestic sewage.”
Need for separate department
Saidai S Duraisamy, former Chennai Mayor, opines that the Corporation should form a separate department to investigate pollution. “Like other departments, including health and education, pollution, too, should be taken up by both the state government and the Corporation. This will ensure day-to-day supervision is carried out smoothly,” he says.
Periodical cleaning and sanitisation can solve half the problems, adds Justice Dr P Jyothimani, former High Court judge who served as the judicial member on the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
“When I was part of the NGT, I had told the Corporation to set up a separate department for pollution. At the moment, source segregation is not being implemented. The Corporation seems keen on taking the garbage to the assigned dump yards, through which they reach water bodies. Residents should be proactive to ensure that the steps are implemented and take the errant departments to the court.”
However, Commissioner Karthikeyan maintains that there is no necessity for a separate department. “Even the municipal corporations in Mumbai and Delhi, which area bigger in terms of area when compared to Chennai, don’t have a separate department,” he notes.
The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board monitors noise levels through ten stations — at Egmore Eye Hospital, Triplicane, T Nagar, Anna Nagar, Pallikaranai, Washermanpet, Velachery, Sowcarpet, Guindy and Perambur. While the TNPCB monitors noise pollution levels, officials say that the initiative to implement and ensure silence zones re-main noise-free rests with the local bodies, in association with the police.
Functions of State Pollution Control Boards
Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981
- To plan and execute a comprehensive programme for the prevention, control or abatement of air pollution
- To inspect air pollution control areas at such intervals as it may think necessary, assess the quality of air and take steps for the prevention, control or abatement of air pollution in such areas
- To advise the state on any matter concerning the prevention, control or abatement of air pollution
Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
- To plan and execute a comprehensive programme for the prevention, control or abatement of pollution of streams and wells in the state
- To encourage, conduct and participate in investigations and research relating to problems of water pollution and prevention, control or abatement of water pollution
- To collaborate with the Central Board and organise training sessions for people engaged or to be engaged in programmes relating to prevention, control or abatement of water pollution
- To advise the state government on any matter concerning the prevention, control or abatement of water pollution
- To inspect sewage or trade effluence, works and plants for the treatment of sewage and trade effluents and to review plans, specifications or other data relating to plants set up for the treatment of water, works for the purification and the system for the disposal of sewage or trade effluents or in connection with the grant of any consent as required by this act