The Assembly standing committee on environment and forest, which recently heard out the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (PCB) on its cola-related findings and subsequent course of action, is said to be “far from impressed”.
“It appeared the board had ventured out of its demarcated territory, while neglecting its actual work. And the government (read the environment department) is just adding to the confusion,” observed a committee member who was present at the meeting.
The committee felt the PCB had “clearly transgressed its limit” as it had no authority to test the quality of soft drinks on its own. “It is the prerogative of the health department and the PCB, or for that matter any other agency, can only act on its request,” said the member.
“Besides, the environment ministry and the PCB have handled the sludge issue (toxic metals like lead and cadmium were found by PCB experts in the sludge of cola-bottling plants in the state) in a most casual manner,” added another member of the committee.
Mursalin Mollah, CPI(M) MLA from Mahestala and chairman of the standing committee, confirmed that they had called the board officials for an update on the cola issue.
PCB experts had found “significantly high amounts” of toxic metals like lead and cadmium from sludge samples of all the bottling plants in the state. Subsequently, Central Pollution Control Board scientists reported similar findings.
“The bottling plants have never stated in their application for obtaining no-objection certificates that they deal with such toxic metals,” admitted PCB sources. The plants were immediately slapped with showcause notices, but since the responses were found inadequate, they were called for a hearing.
State PCB member-secretary Shyamal Sarkar said an order is expected next week. “Usually such orders are released fairly quickly. The offence (not disclosing facts in an application for a no-objection certificate) warrants immediate cancellation of the no-objection-certificate if not imprisonment and fine under the environment acts, but I am not sure what the board will do in this case,” said an environmentalist, expressing surprise at the delay.
Partha Chatterjee, Trinamul MLA and member of the standing committee, feels “there was absolutely no coordination between the government departments” like environment and health in dealing with the issue.