Citizens' Issues
Steel industry doesn’t follow environment norms, says CSE study

The poor environmental performance of the iron and steel sector is a measure of the failure of the regulatory institutions in the country. Nobody is measuring and monitoring its actual performance, says CSE

While the iron and steel sector is known as the back-bone of the Indian economy, having made a substantial contribution to growth, it also among the worst industries when it comes to complying with environmental norms, reveals an analysis by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi based NGO, released on Monday.

CSE’s Green Rating Project (GRP) analyzed 21 top steelmakers in the country and found that the sector has not been complying with even the weak environmental norms and getting away easily due of lax regulatory and monitoring capabilities.
Bhushan Steels (Dhenkanal, Orissa), Monnet Ispat and Energy (Raigarh, Chhattisgarh), Jayaswal Neco Industries (Raigarh, Chhattisgarh), Steel Authority of India (SAIL)-Bhilai, Durgapur, Bokaro and Burnpur; Welspun Maxsteel (Raigad Maharashtra) were found to be the worst performers under the GRP.

The GRP analyzed 21 companies from iron and steel sector with over 0.5 million tonnes of annual capacity on more than 150 parameters including technology, process efficiency, pollution, occupational health and safety and compliance, etc. The project spanned over the period of two years.

While the overall sector received a 19% GRP mark, only three companies of the total 21 scored over 35% marks and were termed as ‘average’ under GRP. They were Ispat Industries, (Raigad, Maharashtra), Essar Steel (Hazira, Gujarat) and Rashtriya Ispat Nigam (RINL or Vizag Steel from Visakhapatnam).

The CSE also pulled up public sector major SAIL for non-transparency and non-compliance. Only SAIL Rourkela participated, while SAIL Bhilai, Durgapur, Bokaro and Burnpur did not participate. They were rated on the basis of available information and were found to be poor in meeting the norms.

However, according to media reports SAIL has rejected the CSE’s findings.
Sunita Narain, director general, CSE says that, “On the eve of World Environment Day, the steel sector rating is a reminder of the challenges, but also the enormous potential of bringing about change.”

She adds, “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 bottomline. Nobody is measuring and monitoring its actual performance. We should not be surprised.”  

The GRP rating exercise also found that that the iron and steel sector’s energy consumption of 6.6 GCal/tonne is about 50% higher than the global best practice and their process water consumption, excluding power generation, townships and other downstream operations, is a high 3.5 m3/tonne—over three times the global best practice.

“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 steel, not the 75 million tonnes it is producing today. In fact, the steel industry will not need extra land till 2025,” CSE found.

Chandra Bhushan, CSE’s deputy director general and head of the Green Rating Project, points out, “The iron and steel sector’s score is the lowest compared with the other sectors that the GRP has rated previously. In fact, the steel sector not only has the worst pollution compliance record, it was also found to be highly non-transparent and poor on information disclosure.”

He further said, “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.”


Banks continue to treat customers shabbily!

This is a story of HDFC Bank. Other banks are not any better

My wife has an auto loan with HDFC Bank. We decided to part pay the loan. I called my personal banker to ask him the minimum amount I need to pay. He told me the loan department has not yet opened for work as yet and that he would let me know in one hour! This is core banking for you. He called back within one hour as promised only to tell me that he can't access the information and I should call their call centre and ask them! So much for a personal banker, who you are supposed to contact for your 'Banking Needs".

I did not have my loan account number with me and requested him to trace the loan from my Customer ID which I thought was enough for all my transactions. They could only trace my loan through my car number and not from Customer ID-even though the EMI (equated monthly instalment) is debited to our savings account with HDFC itself. I later found out that my savings account reflects the loan account number as well.

I then got a call from loan department saying that I will have to pay 3% pre-payment charges on the amount that I wished to pre-pay. I protested saying RBI had asked banks to do away with these charges. I was told, "We have no such information and your request for waiver has been forwarded to higher authorities."

A couple of days back I got a mail saying that for making the pre-payment I would have to travel to their "loan branch" and I couldn't make the payment at the branch where my account was! I would also need to carry an authority letter from my wife to make the payment along with my wife's and my photo ID.! I asked why do they need all this when I am their client and paying money from my savings account with them? The answer was as usual "Sir this is our procedure and I can't do anything about this! Our system is like this."

Finally I went to my branch where two officials came to my rescue and accepted my cheque for pre-payment. So at the branch I do get personalized treatment, may be because I keep causing trouble to them! But what about other customers?

When liquidity is tight and banks are offering high rates on deposits should they not be welcoming pre-payments and actually offer incentives rather than asking for penal charges? Or are they saying that we have increased our cost of funds but don't know what to do with the money? If that is the case then they should reduce interest rates on deposits!

I also learnt that no charges are applicable on your at par cheques only up to a limit of Rs2 lakh per month; anything above that is chargeable. I have no idea why this is so. Banks with complete automation are expected to become customer friendly. When I was a banker, without computers we delivered better service to our customers! This also reinforces my belief that IT companies lack domain knowledge and banks themselves do not provide all information to them when they are writing the software. So the customer will be at the mercy of the banks and their systems, developed by great Indian IT companies! 


The Indian Medical Association should indeed sue Aamir Khan!

Medical malpractices and related corruption are rampant but the truth rarely comes out. And that is why it would be great if the IMA sues Aamir Khan

I recently came across a news item in The Hindu which stated, “The Indian Medical Association (IMA)…demanded an immediate apology from actor Aamir Khan, accusing him of having defamed the medical profession in the 27th May episode of his TV show Satyamev Jayate, and warned him of legal action if he didn't do so. IMA secretary general Dr DR Rai told journalists: ‘Every profession has its black sheep. …But it can safely be claimed that the white sheep will always outnumber the black ones in every field. …It was extremely wrong on the part of a responsible citizen of the country and a public figure like Aamir Khan, whom most of the citizens of the country might even consider as their role model, to put the rotten eggs over the good ones,’ he said.” (IMA demands apology from Aamir)

There is an interesting parallel here and associations, irrespective of the industry, seem to be more oriented to claiming that the black sheep (in their industry) are far and few. Folks, you may remember that in June 2010, about three months before the height of the Indian microfinance crisis (October 2010 onwards), the then chairman of MFIN said almost the same thing and I reproduce his quote:

“Unfortunately, recent headlines have focused on some aberrations in microfinance that have then spread misconceptions about the industry as a whole…We want to emphasize that the sector should be judged by its median and best and not by the black sheep that damage our cause and the cause of the people we wish to serve. Every industry has its bad apples and we are committed to expose and expel them.” (MFIs as engines of inclusive growth by Vijay Mahajan, The Economic Times, 28 June 2010).

What happened thereafter is well known and it is another matter that neither MFIN nor other actors in the Indian microfinance industry did little to stop the black sheep—some of whom were members of MFIN. Part of the reason as to why the Indian microfinance industry and MFIN were unable to act on the black sheep was perhaps because of the fact that some of the so-called black sheep MFIs were themselves part of the overall governance structure at MFIN. Therefore, it became slowly clear that huge conflicts of interest prevented the association from acting in public interest and in accordance with its original mission. I wonder if such a situation prevails at the Indian Medical Association as well.

That apart, I am really looking forward to the day when the IMA will sue Aamir Khan and I hope that they do so immediately. I am sure that given the disenchantment with the medical profession in India over the last few years, many Indians (myself included) would be willing to implead themselves into the case and provide tangible evidence in support of Aamir Khan’s views.

Without question, there have been many good doctors who have provided yeoman services to this country.I do not think anyone is disputing that. However, what needs to be squarely recognized is the fact that medical malpractices and corruption cases are indeed increasing by the day. I report a few such instances here:

Instance # 1: A 30 year old acquaintance underwent spinal surgery to remove a disc. During the operation, his nerves were damaged. In spite of additional surgeries done by the hospital, he could not be cured and he now lives with acute back pain.

Instance # 2: In another instance concerning a friend’s 52-year old mother, during a back surgery, the spinal canal was supposedly accidentally punctured and the patient suffered a serious disability and now lives with long-term pain.

Instance # 3: A maid servant, working in a friend’s house, aged about 57 years, had complained of muscular type of pain. On her way back home, she went in search of a doctor. She saw a clinic and entered by mistake—as she could not read/write she did not realize it was a dental clinic. When she walked out she was poorer by almost Rs912 (almost 20% of her salary)—which had been taken by the clinic for a whole range of unnecessary tests and medicines that in no way would have alleviated her original (muscular) pain.

Instance # 4: A friend’s uncle (about 79 years) was admitted to a large private hospital a couple of years ago with gall bladder related problems. According to the family, negligence in treatment, unhygienic conditions and lack of standard care during the 1st three weeks of hospitalization led to respiratory complications and the patient had to be put on a ventilator. After a harrowing five months, by when the family had to cough up close to Rs1 crore for hospital and other medical expenses, the man finally breathed his last.

These instances are but a tip of the iceberg. India is replete with examples of medical malpractices and related corruption. From wrong diagnosis to unnecessary and repeat tests/procedures to inadequate/wrong treatments, poor standard of overall care, gross negligence and the like, medical malpractices indeed appear to be burgeoning over the last few years. We certainly need to take stock and set the record straight. And that is why it would be great if the IMA sues Aamir Khan as then, the people of India, who have been traumatized by the medical malpractices and corruption could step forward to recount their own stories and happenings in a telling manner.

Without question, the commercialization of medicine (without necessary checks and balances) has perhaps resulted in medical ills, frauds and malpractices being perpetuated on the people. Therefore, it is time to build safeguards including the creation of an effective and easily accessible network of medical ombudsman who can take strong, severe and swift action against the (errant) black sheep in the Indian medical fraternity.

(Ramesh Arunachalam has over two decades of strong grass-roots and institutional experience in rural finance, MSME development, agriculture and rural livelihood systems, rural and urban development and urban poverty alleviation across Asia, Africa, North America and Europe. He has worked with national and state governments and multilateral agencies. His book—Indian Microfinance, The Way Forward, is the first authentic compendium on the history of microfinance in India and its possible future.)


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