The pollution watchdog has, for now, been rendered toothless and offenders across the state aren’t complaining.
Dogged by internal trouble sparked by a recent government decision, the day-to-day functioning of the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) has suffered significantly for the past month. “Board employees have been enjoying all the facilities and benefits of state government employees since its inception in 1974. But the government has suddenly refused to pass on the additional four per cent DA (dearness allowance) to us. And this has been done without even issuing a circular,” complained members of all four unions — two workers’ and two officers’ — now in protest mode.
Last Thursday, the high court stayed the government deny-DA decision after hearing the board employees. But a lot of damage — in real pollution control terms — has been done, with the 250-odd workers, including those in the Salt Lake headquarters, having unanimously decided “not to work beyond the stipulated hours” (10 am to 5.30 pm) for around four weeks now.
“Pollution monitoring, including laboratory analysis and functioning of the public grievance cell, has suffered the most,” confirmed a board employee.
“It is virtually impossible to complete lab work within the normal working hours. The samples are often brought in at odd hours and some tests require long hours in the lab. Sometimes, for some critical tests, like the cola controversy, the laboratory is used through the night,” added another.
Sample collection is most often carried out after office hours, “as it is the normal practice of many offenders to flout norms during late evening or all-night operations”. Now, all that has stopped and the polluting industries are breathing easy.
The other problem area is the board’s busy public grievance cell. A normal week witnesses around 50 hearings, with several going on way beyond office hours and some spilling over into Saturdays. “Complaints are bound to suffer,” admitted a senior PCB official.
The protest point raised by the employee unions also highlights the fact that the “PCB practically meets its own financial requirements by raising resources”, using its expertise in various speheres.
PCB’s member-secretary Shyamal Sarkar, admitting that “most of the staff members are sticking to their scheduled duty hours”, added that he was “yet to receive any report regarding the board’s regular functions being hampered by this”.