Starting September 2020, the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB), Odisha will begin guiding the Odisha Star Rating Program to the next level, as researchers from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago in India (EPIC India) and the Tata Centre for Development at UChicago (TCD) transition out of the program. The research team worked closely with officials of the SPCB Odisha for over three years to conceptualize, design, and deliver the program in its nascent years.
The Star Rating Program launched by Shri Naveen Patnaik, Honorable Chief Minister of Odisha, in September 2018 remains a ‘first-of-its-kind’ program, using Continuous Emissions Monitoring Systems (CEMS) data to rate industries from 1-star to 5-stars based on their emissions (i.e. from the least compliant to the most compliant). Industry ratings are presented to the public on a website available at www.ospcb.info . At the launch of the program, Shri Patnaik said, “The Star Rating Program will help the public to find out whether industries in their vicinity are fair in their environmental compliance and encourage public participation.”
In 2018, nearly 20 industries were enrolled as a part of the program, and over time that number grew to 124, despite enrollment being voluntary.
Recalling the initial days of the journey, Debidutta Biswal, former Member Secretary, SPCB Odisha, said, “One of the main challenges was to convince industries to come on board. We had to do a lot of hand-holding. EPIC was of great help because it completely anchored this program. From calibration and validation of CEMS data to capacity building of scientists and engineers, EPIC assisted SPCB to ensure responsible industrialization so that people have better air to breathe.”
From a compliance standpoint, the program has seen some progress over the past two years. Dr. AK Swar, Chief Environmental Engineer, SPCB Odisha, commented, “Real-time data received from industries generate ratings and these ratings are monthly updated and can be accessed by the public. There has been a remarkable increase in qualitative data available on our website.”
The program is also beginning to help industries improve their environmental performance. Saroj Kumar Banerjee, Chief of Environment, Tata Steel BSL Limited, said, “We initially started with one star because our pollution data was not good. Recently, we received a four-star rating. We are trying our best to contribute towards achieving cleaner air in the state.”
For the last two years, the program has also deployed a systematic outreach campaign to increase citizen engagement. Through multiple awareness workshops in different parts of the state and social media campaigns, thousands of people were informed about the program. The program has thus far been mentioned over 200 times in the national and regional press.
Speaking more on the evolution of the program and the completion of EPIC India’s involvement in the program, Dr. Ken Lee, Executive Director of EPIC India said, “What began as a simple effort to assist the SPCB, Odisha to streamline its data collection evolved into the Odisha Star Rating Program. We hope that this program, which was achieved through an exciting and productive partnership between the SPCB, Odisha, and EPIC India, will inspire similar data transparency and information disclosure initiatives across the country. Odisha’s leadership and commitment to implementing this project has been unparalleled, and we are grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside Odisha to bring this program to life.”
EPIC India’s experience in Odisha also underscored some key lessons for SPCBs looking to establish information transparency programs of their own in the future. For instance, SPCBs will need to strengthen their institutional capacities—both in terms of manpower and technical knowledge—in order to launch similar innovative programs. In addition, since emissions data is collected on-site, new solutions and approaches—at times tailored to the local context—will be needed in order to ensure that the emissions data is both accurate and reliably available. Finally, public awareness and participation must be cultivated and harnessed to maintain political support for information transparency programs and to maximize the likelihood that public disclosure will lead to measurable improvements in environmental performance. All of these and much more were also captured in a report titled Lessons from the Implementation of the Odisha Star Rating Program.