Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change
-- Do not extend the 2022 deadline vis-a-vis installation of FGDs and other compliance norms
-- Levy penalties on companies
Why is this important?
Update: August 20, 2020
Given the chances that most thermal power plants will miss the 2022 (extended) deadline, Minister of Power RK Singh has recommended that the deadline be extended by up to two years for over 300 such units. The recommendation was made in a letter to MoEF.
Out of a total of 448 units, the ministry is recommending 322 with a capacity worth one lakh megawatt (MW) for an extension, according to a report in the Indian Express. The ministry is “not touching” cases pending at the Supreme Court and instances where the Central Pollution Control Board has imposed penalties.
This is absolutely unacceptable. It has been nearly 5 years since the notification was first issued, with the first two-year deadline being extended to 2022. At this rate, this will become the norm. Instead, heavy penalties must be imposed on the plants failing to comply with the 2022 deadline and the MoEF should not show any mercy.
In 2015, the Environment Ministry put in place improved pollution norms for the thermal power industry which required all the thermal plants to become more water efficient and to further reduce the pollution they spew into the air. These included toxic pollutants like sulphur oxides, nitrous oxides, mercury, and particulate matter. These important rules were set to come into force in 2017, but this did not happen.
Instead, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) disregarded the Environment Ministry's rules and gave thermal power plants an extension. MoEFCC later told the Supreme Court that coal-based thermal plants will conform to emission norms by 2022.
Sulphur dioxides (SOx) and Nitrogen dioxides (NOx) are toxic gases hazardous when inhaled. Inhalation of these gases may cause or worsen respiratory diseases, such as asthma or bronchitis, or may also aggravate existing heart disease. The asthma cases in India are already on the rise -- doctors claim that they are now seeing a rise of 60-70 per cent in ailment cases related to pollution.
To meet the new pollution norms for SOx the plants are required to install a technology called, flue-gas desulfurization (FGD) which helps remove sulphur dioxide from the exhaust gases of fossil-fuel power plants. Even though the industry had a two year window period to install the required technology, most of the industry began arguing back with the government against the rules once they had been officially notified.
High levels of toxic air pollution are a problem plaguing most parts of India for several years now. And thermal power plants are a major contributor to SOx and NOx levels in the country. A study has found that coal-based thermal power plant clusters were responsible for more than 75% of total SO2 emissions in all 23 Indian states they analysed, and for more than 90% in 16 Indian states.
Over 300 thermal power plants being allowed to flout environmental rules for years on end sets a terrible precedent for India's efforts to mitigate air pollution levels across the country..