Last week, the Chief Minister of Odisha launched a bold transparency initiative, the Star Rating Program (SRP) with the goal of reducing particulate matter emissions from large industrial plants in the state. This form of air pollution is deadly and it is estimated that Indian life expectancy would be about four years greater if the entire country met World Health Organization’s pollution norms.

The SRP puts information about the compliance of these plants to norms laid down by the pollution control board into the public domain in easily understandable terms. The industries covered are from large, high polluting sectors such as coal, power, steel, aluminum and cement. Maharashtra had launched a similar program last year, by using regulatory data from periodic manual inspections of industries. Where Odisha goes further is that the ratings are based on data received from continuous emissions monitors, installed in the smokestacks of the industries, which are relayed in real time to the regulators.

These two programs represent a new dawn of pollution control in India with the state governments embracing transparency and information disclosure as a regulatory tool. In fact, these can be considered watershed initiatives globally as both the Maharashtra and Odisha programs have features that are not present in other pollution transparency programs that exist in China, the United States, Canada and other places around the world.

In Maharashtra, the effects of the program on pollution emissions are being tested experimentally. In both programs, the ratings reflect how emissions compare with pollution norms, although in Odisha they also reflect whether readings are sent at a high enough frequency to the regulator. Three, four, and five stars are reserved for industries that comply with pollution norms, while plants that fail to meet them are relegated to the one- and two-star categories. Importantly, both programs rely on emissions readings overseen or directly collected by the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) and the Maharashtra State Pollution Control Board, rather than industry self-reports.

By putting these previous undisclosed pollution data into the public domain, state pollution control boards are holding the industries and themselves more accountable to the public. The ratings are available on the websites of the two pollution control boards…