Economic powerhouse, but pollution potential barely accounted for – CSE puts the spotlight on India’s small and medium-scale industries

CSE’s workshop on pollution control in India’s small and medium scale industries brings together key players, including pollution control boards, industry associations etc, suggests a roadmap for the sector 

SunitaNarain: “In today’s climate change-stressed world, it is all the more important that the sector works seriously towards transformationby switching to cleaner fuels, common combustion facilities and cleaner technologies, controlling fugitive emissions, and improving infrastructure facilities” 

New Delhi, May 27, 2022: The micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) sector of Indian industry accounts for close to 30 per cent of the country’s GDP. Despite such a substantial role played by the sector in India’s economy, its contribution to deteriorating air quality in cities and regions has rarely been assessed, analysed or highlighted. 

While data and estimates are extremely sketchy and missing, a 2011 (the then) Planning Commission report had pegged the industrial pollution load from MSMEs at 70 per cent of the total emissions from industries. 

Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) is one of the few bodies that have been studying the impacts on air quality that this sector exerts – and a grim picture has started taking shape. Said CSE director general Sunita Narain: “The most common catalysts contributing to industrial emissions in small and medium-scale industries is their continued reliance on coal as a fuel, old and obsolete technology, and poor infrastructure.” 

Narain was speaking at a day-long stakeholder’s workshop organised by CSE here today on ‘Pollution control strategies in small and medium-scale industries’. The event brought together officials from pollution control boards, industrial associations, MSME experts, representatives of NGOs, and consultants from across India to discuss the sector’s contribution to pollution and devise a roadmap to control emissions from it. 

Speaking at the event, Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director-research and advocacy, CSE said: “In several recent source apportionment studies, the small and medium-scale industrial sector is increasingly getting highlighted as a major contributor to air pollution. We have found that the sector suffers from a range of problems – from lack of credible data, use of polluting fuelsand inefficient small boilers to fugitive emissions and lack of cleaner technology.” 

Referring to CSE’s findings on this subject, Nivit Kumar Yadav, programme director, industrial pollution, CSE added: “CSE’s 2020 study  on Assessment of industrial air pollution in Delhi NCR  which covered the seven major industrial districts of Alwar, Bhiwadi, Ghaziabad, Gurugram, Faridabad, Panipat and Sonipat, estimated a coal usage of up to 1.4 million tonne by industries in these regions. The majority of these industries were small and medium-scale industries.” 

According to CSE, given the rampant mushrooming of this sector all over the country, these industries need a clear roadmap and enabling environment for a sustainable future by switching to cleaner fuels and common combustion facilities, transitioning to cleaner technologies, controlling fugitive emissions, and improving their infrastructure. 

Prashant Gargava, Central Pollution Control Board member secretary and one of the speakers at the workshop, stressed on the role that industry associations are expected to play in this situation. “We see a vital role of Industry associations in creating awareness on best available technologies amongst the industries for them to adopt it,” he said.  

The roadmap for a ‘greener’, cleaner MSME sector: Some suggestions 

  • A case for common boilers: Instead of using a large number of small boilers, industries in a cluster can install a common boiler, says Yadav (see CSE’s report on the subject). According to CSE’s report -- Replacement of small boilers with common steam boilers in industrial areas: A feasibility assessment – a 65 to 70 per cent reduction in industrial air pollution and 25 to 30 per cent reduction in coal consumption can be achieved by switching from individual boilers to a common boiler. 

According to Parth Kumar, programme manager, industrial pollution, CSE: “Common boilers can pave the way for reducing the regulatory burden on both industry as well as regulatory agencies, and simultaneously help in reducing local air pollution.” 

S Narayanan, member secretary, Haryana State Pollution Control Board, added a cautionary word: “We need to think about common boilers in the policy framework. An investment made today in common boilers should not go waste tomorrow because of some tweak in the law. “ 

  • Technology transition in brick kilns: In the brick kiln sector, technology transition fromFCBTK to zigzagcan play a significant role in reducing air pollution. Delhi-NCR is a case in point – coordinated efforts by agencies such as the CPCB and theerstwhile Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA)ensured that over 50 per cent of the brick kilns in the region shifted to the cleaner zigzag technology. Says Yadav: “Shifting to zigzag technology reduces coal consumption by 20-30 percent and increases the percentage of class I bricks by more than 80 per cent (see CSE’s report on brick kilns here:. 
  • Controlling fugitive emissions:CSE has studied the problem of fugitive emissions from industries – specifically, the mineral grinding sector in Rajasthan and the stone crusher sector in Delhi-NCR. It has found that a majority of the units are non-compliant with the guidelines set by respective state pollution control boards. CSE recommends that special zones should be demarcated for mineral grinding, stone crushers and other such fugitive dust-intensive industries. It also recommends necessary changes in the state guidelines which are currently not very comprehensive for such sectors – the effort should be to make them more detailed and implementable, says Yadav. 

CSE researchers point out that wet suppression systems have failed on the ground with respect to stone crushers – hence, dust extraction systems should be adopted by the sector (see CSE’s reports on the subject here:). 

  • Phasing out cupola-based furnaces: The foundry industry, another key constituent of the MSME sector, uses polluting and outdated coke-fuelled, cupola-based furnaces – CSE’s pilot study in the Vishwakarma industrial area in Jaipur recommends a phase-out plan for these furnaces (this study report will be available soon in the public domain). 

Said Narain: “The 73rd National Sample Survey (2015-16) tells us that India's MSME sector comprises 63 million units and has created 111 million jobs– a sector which has this kind of scale will naturally leave a huge environmental footprint. In CSE, our effort has been to explore the most feasible options for helping this sector work in a “greener”, cleaner way. Today’s workshop is a part of that effort – we are hoping it will help strike a consensus on the ways to move ahead in a coordinated manner.” 

For more on this and for interviews etc, please contact Sukanya Nair of The CSE Media Resource Centre:, 8816818864