Friday, August 31, 2012

Steel plants in eastern India blatantly flouting environmental norms, finds CSE green rating survey

West Bengal-based steelmakers rank as some of the worst of the lot

  • 16 of 21 large steelmakers rated by Centre for Science and Environment’s (CSE) Green Rating Project are from the eastern part of the country. Three of these from West Bengal – SAIL’s plants in Durgapur and Burnpur, and the Jai Balaji plant in Banskopa
  • Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar, minister-in-charge, Department of Environment, government of West Bengal, releases the ratings in Kolkata
  • Steelmakers polluting land, water and air, using up enormous amounts of resources. Environment and local communities become the worst sufferers
  • CSE’s findings have implications for the expansion plans of this core sector in the region and state. If performance remains as poor, growth will come at the cost of environment and lead to protests and more environmental degradation
  • CSE says the sector has huge potential to improve. Presents a road map for improvement in efficiency and green performance.
Kolkata, August 31, 2012: India’s eastern region has traditionally hosted the bulk of the steel making facilities of the country. Now, a new rating and analysis of these companies has found them to be severely falling short of environmental norms.
The sector has been found to be using up enormous quantities of resources (land, water, energy and raw materials), polluting blatantly, and getting away with all this because of the sheer apathy of the region’s regulatory bodies. Those at the receiving end of all this – the worst sufferers -- are the ecology and the people.
This assessment of the iron and steel sector for the region (and the country) has emerged from a unique rating of the industry done by New Delhi-based research and advocacy body, Centre for Science and Environment’s Green Rating Project (GRP). The ratings were released here today by Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar, minister-in-charge, Department of Environment, government of West Bengal.
Speaking on the occasion, Chandra Bhushan, CSE’s deputy director general and the head of the Green Rating Project, said: “The GRP has analysed 21 top steelmaking plants in the country to find out how ‘green and clean’ the sector is – how much resources it uses, how much it emits, how it disposes its wastes, and how it deals with issues of local communities. Of the 21 that we surveyed, 16 steelmakers are from eastern India – West Bengal accounts for three of these, and all three have fared miserably in the rating.”
The GRP and what it found
CSE’s Green Rating Project is a 15-year old programme – the only public disclosure programme of its kind in India -- which was envisaged as a tool to push for improvement in policy and practices in industrial sectors. It does this by assessing, rating and publishing the environmental and social performance of the companies.
The Project has already rated the automobile, paper, chlor-alkali and cement sectors; iron and steel is the fifth key industrial sector rated by it. In all the sectors, GRP’s efforts have led to significant improvements in environmental performance of companies and better environment policy formulation by the government.
The GRP rating process is extremely rigorous, independent, participatory and transparent. The GRP rates companies that agree to participate voluntarily as well as those who do not. Data is collected from many sources, including industry, and verified by plant and site visits.
On the basis of its findings, the Project also confers the Five Leaves Awards on the plants, which are rated the most environmental friendly.
In the case of the iron and steel sector, 21 companies, with over 0.5 million tonnes of annual capacity till 2009-10, were rated on over 150 parameters – from technology to process efficiency and from pollution to occupational health and safety and compliance. The rating of steel sector took two years to complete.
As a whole, the sector received a mere 19 per cent marks and the One Leaf Award. This has to be compared to rating of an equally polluting sector -- cement -- which in 2005 got 36 per cent and Three Leaves Award. Says Chandra Bhushan, “It shows that this core sector, which includes the biggest and most powerful names in Indian industry, has a long way to go.”
Of the 21, three companies scored over 35 per cent marks – and got the Three Leaves: they are Ispat Industries, in Raigad district of Maharashtra, Essar Steel in Hazira (Gujarat) and Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited (RINL or Vizag Steel), based in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. The Three Leaves Award represents ‘average’ performance under GRP.
The story in West Bengal
Sixteen of the 21 plants analysed by CSE are from the eastern part of the country. Of these, Tata Steel of Jamshedpur was at the fifth spot with just 32 per cent score and got Two Leaves, while Bhushan Steel of Angul, Odisha came last.
SAIL plants in general were found be non-transparent and non-compliant. Only the SAIL Rourkela plant participated in the rating exercise and got a One Leaf Award; the rest – Bhilai, Durgapur, Bokaro and Burnpur – did not participate in the Project voluntarily. Hence, they were rated on the basis of available information and found to be poor.
In the case of West Bengal, all the three plants that were analysed were found to have an abysmal performance. Banskopa-based Jai Balaji was awarded One Leaf with a score of 23 per cent. The SAIL Durgapur unit scored just 9 per cent and was at the 16th position, while the 90-year old Burnpur unit ranked 19th with a mere 3 per cent score. Both the SAIL units were awarded ‘no leaves’.
SAIL Durgapur has major problems: hazardous tarry wastewater discharge from its coke ovens, high air pollution and poor working conditions on safety and health – says CSE. Almost every two months, the unit receives a show-cause notice from the state pollution control board.
While SAIL maintains that that its old Burnpur unit, which runs on obsolete processes such as twin-hearth furnace for steel making, would be completely shut in 2013 and shifted to the adjacent new plant, CSE doubts the claim, as some units in the old factory were refurbished recently.
The third steel plant in the state surveyed by CSE, Jai Balaji, has been found to be discharging wastewater from its sponge iron kilns into nearby paddy fields, rendering huge acres of land unproductive.
With respect to the state pollution control board, West Bengal seems to be in a slightly better position than the other states of the region. CSE surveyors found that the board was good at monitoring and paper work, but poor on enforcement and bringing about real change on the ground.
Says Sunita Narain, director general, CSE: “The poor environmental performance of this sector is a measure of the failure of the regulatory institutions in the country. Nobody is asking this sector to improve its green bottom-line. Nobody is measuring and monitoring its actual performance. We should not be surprised. The country has worked to decimate its pollution regulatory paraphernalia – the steel sector is a hard reminder of this.”
Other key findings:
  1. The Indian iron and steel sector’s energy consumption of 6.6 GCal/tonne is about 50 per cent higher than the global best practice.
  2. Water consumption, including power generation, township and other downstream operations, was a high 16 m3/tonne steel for SAIL Durgapur – around three times the global best practice. Burnpur was found to be the highest water guzzler in the country for producing one tonne of steel.
  3. The large-scale plants were found to be highly wasteful on land. They have close to 1,200 hectares (ha) of land per million tonne of installed capacity; a well-designed plant does not need more than 200 ha. If all the residual land with steel plants were to be properly utilised, the industry can produce more than 300 million tonnes of steel, not the 75 million tonnes it is producing today. In fact, the steel industry will not need extra land till 2025.
  4. Most steel plants were found to be non-compliant with pollution norms.
  5. The functioning of the eastern region’s pollution control boards needs major review.
  6. It was found that more than 50 people die every year in major steel plants of the country. The steel industry of India has one of the worst safety records in the world.
The way ahead
Says Chandra Bhushan: “The future road map for the sector is clear. It will have to reduce its ecological footprints drastically, invest in health and safety of its workers and treat local communities as stakeholders and beneficiaries.”
Plants will have to halve their energy use, use only that much water which is needed for evaporative losses and thus stop discharging wastewater, and recycle and reuse their solid wastes. And they will have to take measures to reduce air emissions significantly.
In fact, the more the companies invest in environmental performance the better will be their cost-efficiencies. The investment in energy efficiency pays back as does the reuse and recycling of waste. The less the use of material and energy, the lower the costs and lower the burden of disposal into the environment.
“Therefore, good resource management not only makes the steel sector more efficient, but also protects the environment. This is a win-win that we must strive towards,” says Narain. 

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