Sunday, 11 May 2008

Cleaning up Bhutan

From June 2008, around 120 industries in Bhutan will have to follow the industrial emission standards set up by the national environmental commission (NEC).

However, an NEC report in November 2007 showed that most of the major factories were not within these new norms. The NEC, which will be monitoring these factories, as of now has only three technical staff with equipment yet to be purchased.

In a related development, a pollution control team from Delhi, India, has said that Pasakha was too crowded with factories even if it eventually met emission standards.

“We met with the industrialists last year in November 2007 and asked them to be ready for the new emission norms within 6 months, that is June 2008,” said NEC deputy minister, Dasho Nado Rinchhen. “Further, we also made it clear that those factories that cannot or will not comply with our regulations can be fined or shut down,” he added.

The November 2007 report says that major companies like Lhaki Cement, BCCL, BFAL, Bhutan Iron and Steel, Singye Vanaspati (now shut), Bhutan Fruit Products and Kenpa Vanaspati had to improve their emission standards.

NEC officials said the biggest polluters are the chemical factories like Ferro silicone (6) or carbide due to their sheer size and by generating waste like micro silica, a pollutant that causes respiratory diseases and also cancer. Following these are the steel industries (4), which, besides generating sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and SPM, also pollute the water with slag, also a hazardous substance.

Other major sources of pollution are coal, wood and oil-fired boilers used in the food processing and wood industry. Cement plants, especially those like Druk Cement and Yangzom Cement, use old technology like the vertical shaft technology.

The problem is compounded by a lack of a waste disposal site in the area and, in fact, a few years ago, one boy suffered severe injuries from the BCCL factory’s chemical waste. “A central pollution control board (CPCB) team from Delhi has recently collected pollution samples from all the factories in Pasakha, Phuentsholing, Gomtu and Samtse and we’ll get the results in two weeks to know our status,” said Dasho Nado Rinchhen. A second sample will be taken in September 2008 to check the status after implementing the emission standards.

“We’re short of manpower and are in negotiations with RCSC to provide us with more technicians, so that we can monitor these factories more efficiently,” said Dasho Nado Rinchhen. “Since we don’t have adequate expertise, we’ve already signed an MoU with CPCB for technical assistance to help us initially.” The Shri Ram institute of industrial research in Delhi is also assisting NEC with emission standards.

NEC has also received clearance for buying the initial equipment required for checking. Apart from manpower and equipment, a major problem facing NEC will be getting industries to strictly follow the new standards. “Due to budget and manpower restrictions, we can do around only one inspection a year and even then we face various tricks,” said an inspector.

The ruses of the factory owners include shutting down working factories, declaring them to be under repair, tampering of emission gadgets and also using them only when NEC officials are around. “Another major issue is that the owners of these factories are very big people and so they tend to call up some highly placed people and get off, which is very discouraging for us,” said an NEC official.

However, linked to this are also the high costs of keeping an environment-friendly factory. An industrialist said, “In the ferro-silicone industry, buying a filter set costs around Nu 20 million, with annual maintenance of around Nu 2 or 3 million, not counting the monthly electricity bills of another Nu 2 million just to operate these filters,”

Another major problem is that, with Gelephu having no power and Samtse needing flood protection works, and with no electricity for big industries, Pasakha will soon be more crowded.

“We’re currently using the Indian baseline for emission standards but in due time we’ll try and improve and bring about tighter standards,” said Dasho Nado.

Only a wait and watch policy can now tell how effective Bhutan’s first industrial emission standards will be in the coming months.

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