Govt’s Latest Amendment Gives Coal-Based Thermal Plants Complete License to Pollute: CSE

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has strongly criticised the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s (MoEF&CC) latest amendment to 2015 notification on stringent emission norms for India’s coal-based thermal power sector.

April 08, 2021. By Manu Tayal

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has strongly criticised the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s (MoEF&CC) latest amendment to 2015 notification on stringent emission norms for India’s coal-based thermal power sector.

According to CSE, “the new amendment will give these already polluting thermal power plants (TPPs) a license to pollute indefinitely.”

Norms to limit pollutants from TPPs were announced in 2015, and were expected to be adopted by 2017. But the industry managed to delay implementation to 2022.

It is 2021 now: with just a few months to go before the deadline, a mere one-third of the plants have taken any serious steps to comply with the norms.

Commenting on the development, Sunita Narain, director general of CSE, said “instead of working to ensure implementation, the ministry has chosen to extend the deadline further, allowing a majority of the plants to pollute for another three to four years. However, extension is not the only matter to be worried about. What makes this a fatally flawed notification is that the deterrence provided in it for non-compliance actually gives the polluters a license to pollute.”

TPPs are put in 3 categories – Category A includes TPPs in a 10-km radius of NCR or cities having a million-plus population as per the 2011 census; Category B includes TPPs in a 10-km radius of critically polluted areas and non-attainment cities; and the rest of the TPPs are in Category C. TPPs in Category A have to meet the deadline by 2022, those in Category B by 2023, and in Category C by 2024.

Old power stations are exempted from installing pollution control systems by submitting an undertaking to retire. Ideally, old plants in Category A are asked to retire by 2022 and the rest by 2025. Defaulting the deadlines attracts penalty.

But what makes the notification so flawed is the fact that it provides a penalty amount, which is much lower than what it would cost to install the pollution control equipment. CSE’s analysis shows that while installing the equipment for pollution control would cost between Rs 40-100 lakh/MW, the penalty that thermal power plants would have to pay to keep running without installing this equipment is roughly Rs 5-11 lakh/MW – this makes a complete mockery of the effort to control pollution.

“The new notification undermines all efforts to ‘clean’ up dirty coal power plants. It is clear that thermal power sector is a major contributor to India’s pollution challenge – from air to water – and this notification nullifies all the work that was being done to improve performance of the sector,” said Nivit Kumar Yadav, programme director, Industrial Pollution Unit, CSE.

The deadline for 2022 for coal-based thermal power plants to meet the new standard was fixed by the Supreme Court taking into account the limitations of thermal power plants and also their environmental and health impacts. 

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