“My situation is like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. This city has given me a decent livelihood but made my life miserable with dust, smoke, and polluted air,” says Sanatan Das of Rourkela, a city in western Odisha. Rourkela is one of six cities in Odisha that have failed to maintain the national ambient air quality standards set by India’s Central Pollution Control Board.

Sanatan’s story is one that residents of other cities in Odisha can relate to. The air quality in cities such as Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Balasore, Anugul, and Talcher has deteriorated over the last several years. According to the Air Quality Life Index, residents of Odisha could live up to 3 years longer if the World Health Organisation’s PM2.5 guidelines were met.

To ensure cleaner air and improved environmental performance of industries, the Government of Odisha took a path-breaking step and launched Odisha Star Rating, a public disclosure program in September 2018. The program uses continuous emissions monitoring systems (CEMS) to categorize industries from 1-star to 5-star, i.e. from the least compliant to the most compliant.

Launching the program, Shri Naveen Patnaik, Honourable Chief Minister of Odisha had said, “The Star Rating program will help the public to find out whether industries in their vicinity are fair in their environmental compliance and empower them to strengthen regulations through public participation.” This pioneering step by the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) is the first in India to utilize CEMS data captured in real time from major industrial plants.

“By incorporating real-time information on emissions, this program marks the Odisha Government as a global leader in pollution regulation’’, says Michael Greenstone, Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and Director of the Energy Policy Institute University of Chicago (EPIC) and the Tata Centre for Development at UChicago (TCD). Researchers from EPIC India and TCD are working closely with OSPCB to implement this program.

Commenting on how such public disclosure programs can initiate citizen engagement, Dr. Joginder Pattjoshi, an environmentalist and former Head of the Department, Environmental Law, at Sambalpur University, says, “Public disclosure is the first step towards transparency and enhanced performance. When locals are aware of the emission data of the industries in their area, it puts pressure on industries to behave sensibly.’’

Both citizens and industries have acknowledged the usefulness of the program which has expanded considerably since its launch. Between September 2018 to July 2019, the number of industries enrolled in the program has increased from 20 to 109. The program is encouraging participating industries to improve operational efficiency by adopting new technology and upgrading their emission control devices. A. K. Panigrahi, Senior Environment Officer at Tata Sponge Iron Ltd, Keonjhar, says, “The program not only helps us in improving our own performance but also creates healthy competition resulting in better overall environmental performance.’’ Citizens can access updated information on industry performance on the program webpage (https://ospcb.info/).

Stressing on how transparency is an important tool for effective governance, Debidutta Biswal, Member Secretary, OSPCB, says, “The public should feel that, as a regulatory authority, we are not hiding anything from them. Residents should know what is the emission of an industry which is in their backyard. I definitely hope that this program will lead to cleaner air for the people of Odisha.”