The High Cost of
Prof. Sorab J. Arceivala
Sorab J. Arceivala specialised in Environmental Engineering from
Harvard University, USA, and introduced a postgraduate course in
Environmental Engineering in 1959 at the Victoria Jubilee Technical
Institute, Bombay University. He was the first person to establish a
consultancy company specialising in water and environmental
engineering work in India, as far back as 1961, long before any
legislation for pollution control existed.
He undertook various projects in municipal and industrial waste
treatment, and introduced water reclamation and reuse of wastewater
after treatment for the first time in India. He then became Director
of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur,
from where he joined the UN/WHO as Regional Adviser, first with the
European Region and then as Chief of Environmental Health, South East
In 1993-94, he was the President of the Indian Water Works Association
and in 1996 he became the Founder President of the Indian
Environmental Association. In 1999, Prof. Arceivala became the first
Indian ever to receive Honorary Membership of the American Society of
long ago that any pollutant can be removed from water or air if sufficient
money, manpower and technology are available, but if politics gets into it,
removal is almost impossible at any cost! I must, therefore, clarify that
the cost of environmental protection we are discussing below is quite high ?
even without politics getting into the picture!
For any industry, environmental protection involves controlling pollution
from air, water and solid wastes, some of which may be particularly
hazardous and need elaborate treatment before disposal. Central and State
Pollution Control Boards have been in existence for over 30 years. But where
are we with pollution control today? Every river, every lake, every
watercourse in India is polluted. Implementation of pollution control rules
and regulations (which have so far been mainly focused on industries) is
rather weak and is almost non-existent as far as municipal bodies are
concerned. Such is the result of political interference. Only the courts
us to take difficult and unpopular decisions.
The Cost of Effluent Treatment
Effluent treatment costs a great deal of money. Effluent treatment plants do
not come cheap. The cost depends on the quantity and quality of the
wastewater and the discharge standards to be met at the factory site. Larger
plants cost less per unit volume owing to economy of scale. Constructing
industrial wastewater treatment plants can cost anything from Rs. 1 crore to
Rs. 2 crores for a typical cotton textile unit to about Rs. 100 to Rs. 200
crores for a petrochemical unit. The Table below gives us an idea of the
relative costs for a few industries.
Capital Cost of Industrial Effluent Treatment (2001 costs)
per 1,000 cubic
metres daily flow]*
vegetable oil refining
Bulk drugs, antibiotics
* Land cost is not included in above estimates.
By comparison, the construction of municipal sewage treatment plants costs
less at about Rs. 20 to Rs. 30 lakhs per 1,000 cubic metres flow per day,
but the volumes are much larger. Besides capital costs, there are operating
and maintenance (O&M) costs. For industrial waste-water, the O&M costs may
be Rs. 3 to Rs. 5 or more per cubic metre of effluent treated. To this must
be added the cost of return of capital with interest. Thus, there is no
doubt that we are talking about big money.
Hazardous wastes can be even more expensive to treat and dispose of. Several
chemicals, heavy metals and persistent organics are labelled as "hazardous"
and if likely to be present in the liquid effluent or in the sludges,
slurries or solid wastes, they would need very special treatment and perhaps
final disposal in a "secure" landfill from which nothing can leak into the
environment. Only one secure landfill exists in the Mumbai region and
disposal is charged by weight. This is a strong incentive for reducing the
How Can Costs Be Reduced?
Here are a few points which industries can consider, wherever feasible, for
keeping environmental protection costs down. Firstly, their mindset has to
change, followed by some advance planning and self-control.
Industries' Mindset Has To Change
No longer can we afford to set up a factory at any site we fancy, nor go
overseas and buy old technology simply because it seems cheaper in initial
cost, nor can we say that we will worry about pollution control in future
only if government authorities cannot be "managed" otherwise! Gone are the
days when effluent treatment was an end-of-pipe or end-of-stack approach. It
is better to reduce costs through the use of various strategies to make a
holistic effort to protect the environment at minimum cost right from the
beginning (not as an afterthought).
Whether any serious effort is made or not on the part of an industry for
environmental protection becomes evident from the manner in which an
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study is undertaken. EIA studies are
now essential for many types of industries requiring environmental and
socio-economic studies, including examining the neighbourhood for resultant
traffic problems, power supply and so on besides the usual pollution
problems. Risk analysis and disaster management may also need to be
The value of EIA studies lies in the fact that every likely environmental
impact is attempted to be visualised in advance and mitigative steps
planned. There are cases where EIA studies have led to a complete or partial
change in the manufacturing process and/or a change in the location of a
factory. A preliminary EIA is thus undertaken with two or three possible
sites in mind before one is finalised. Sometimes, a site may be found
suitable from the water pollution control viewpoint but may not be suitable
from the point of view of air pollution or some other factor. A full-scale
EIA may then be done on the finally selected site.
A few other suggestions to keep environmental protection costs down are
Minimise water production
Every cubic metre of effluent flow reduced helps cut capital costs by lakhs
of rupees and O&M costs by thousands of rupees. Carry out a waste audit.
This is valuable for all industries, especially where industries have to
meet rigorous discharge standards, and in the case of industries with
hazardous wastes. Waste minimisation is beneficial for both new and existing
Adopt "cleaner" technology in manufacture
This is also applicable to both new and existing industries. New industries
must use newer technologies and manufacturing processes which produce less
waste and wastes easier to treat and dispose of. Many industry associations,
CSIR labs and private agencies nowadays have information available on such
matters. In the case of existing industries also, "cleaner" operations and
unit processes can often be incorporated gradually, first replacing the more
"dirty" processes or chemicals used in manufacture.
Exploit Reuse/Recycling potential
Reuse and recycling can help in many ways such as:
1. To get over water shortage at a given site so that production does not
Many industries and commercial establishments in Mumbai and a few in other
cities reuse sewage after treatment for different purposes such as
industrial processes, boiler feed waters, make-up waters to meet evaporation
losses in cooling towers, landscape and gardening, golf courses, etc. Reuse
water of even high quality generally costs less than municipal water
supplied to industries.
2. To reduce costs where the cost of freshwater supply is high.
Many municipalities increase the cost of freshwater for industries in order
to "cross-subsidise" individual consumers in the city. The high cost of
freshwater makes reuse and recycle more feasible to use in industries.
Example: the Mahananda Dairy, Goregaon, Mumbai, and Reliance Petrochemicals,
Jamnagar, where reuse saves the use of expensive distilled sea water.
3. Where effluent treatment and disposal costs are high.
Reuse after treatment (even if it costs a little more) may become a better
alternative as it would save freshwater costs and payment of "cess" charges,
which are normally based on the volume of freshwater used.
Example: Century Denim, Indore.
4. To meet "zero discharge" requirements imposed in certain areas.
Zero discharge from a campus is possible only if total reuse is practised,
partly within the industry and the remaining part for crop/garden irrigation
within the industry's campus. Example: Max Pharma, Mysore.
Exploit any feasible
In the case of certain industries having high-strength wastes
(for example, distilleries, breweries, sugar, etc.) by-product recovery in
the form of biogas is very beneficial as it helps reduce the payback period
substantially. Other by-products are also recoverable (for example, chromium
from leather tanning).
Optimise for tax
Many tax benefits and concessions are offered in certain regions, which make
it attractive to locate there. If any additional costs have to be incurred
on power, transport, etc., because of this location, see how these
additional costs optimise against the proposed benefits.
Relocation is generally painful but perhaps the only long-term
solution to solving the pollution problem of small-scale industries. The
provision of a Combined Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) becomes possible
with some relocation. The CETP can then benefit from economy of scale, have
better operation and maintenance and get grants, subsidies, etc. from the
Government and other bodies.
As I envisage, environmental protection will remain a serious objective of
any government in future. The old "command and control" structure will,
however, yield to a more effective and cooperative structure as more
awareness is generated. The mindset I referred to earlier is already
beginning to change. In this multifarious task, the roles of Government and
industry will not be mutually exclusive but complementary.
Voice with a
smile: This guideline is given to and practised by telephone
operators to offer pleasant service. When a person smiles, his vocal
cords get tuned to pleasantness. A smile is always reflected in a
person's voice. Loudness causes noise, which listeners don't like.
help others: This is the best quality, which helps a person to
develop friendly relations.
A person who practises this is never short of friends.
others: When you address a person with respect, he responds in a
favourable and friendly manner. If you respect others, they will also
respect you. It is better to call a person by the name he likes most.
responsibility: The organisation trusts you. If you serve the
organisation and its customers with a sense of responsibility, you,
too, will be rewarded. Always think first of how the organisation will
Any work given to you should be done in an organised manner. It will
save time and avoid confusion.
Neatness is appreciated by one and all. Neatness in all facets of life
will definitely help you. Neatness should be reflected in your work.
action without delay: Delay is dangerous not only for you, but
also for your organisation. Promptness is the opposite of delay. An
assignment carried out promptly speaks of the superb efficiency of a
person. It also prevents loss of business.
management and colleagues: One must bear in mind that loyalty to
an organisation brings out the best in a person. Loyalty to colleagues
inculcates a spirit of teamwork. This definitely has a long-term
benefit. It makes the person think creatively and prosper in this
highly competitive world.
Developing good reading habits on issues pertaining to yourself and
your organisation increases intelligence. Always read magazines and
books on subjects that give you ideas for your job.
This means skilful handling of a situation, especially if you wish to
correct a person's mistake. First, point out his/her positive
qualities and then move on to his/her negative qualities. This will
enable the person to accept criticism more favourably. Remember, never
criticise a person in front of his peers and subordinates.
learn more: The above-mentioned qualities can be acquired by
anyone if they have an intense desire to master and