Environmental Concerns

The High Cost of
Environmental Protection

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 Asia Region.

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 Civil Engineers.


learnt 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 help 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)

Source [Rs. (lakhs)
per 1,000 cubic
metres daily flow]*
Cotton textiles
(excluding denims)
Milk dairies 60-100
Sugar 80-120
Pharmaceuticals 200-300
Soaps, detergents,
vegetable oil refining
Bulk drugs, antibiotics 500-900
Distillers 500-900
Petrochemicals 800-1,200
* 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
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 amount of waste.

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 included.

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 noted below.


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 industries.


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 suffer.
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 by-product recovery
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 benefits
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.


Relocate small-scale industries
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.

The Future
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.


Eagerness to 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.


Respect for 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.


Sense of 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 prosper.


Organised: Any work given to you should be done in an organised manner. It will save time and avoid confusion.


Neatness: Neatness is appreciated by one and all. Neatness in all facets of life will definitely help you. Neatness should be reflected in your work.


Alertness or 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.


Loyalty to 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.


Intelligence: 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.


Tactfulness: 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.


Yearning to learn more: The above-mentioned qualities can be acquired by anyone if they have an intense desire to master and
 practise them.