NAGPUR : After missing the pollution control deadline for the second time, the deadly coal-fired plants across the country continue to operate “in violation of the Centre’s promises made in the Supreme Court”, say experts.
In a notification issued by the Union environment ministry in December 2015, all coal-fired power plants were first directed to install pollution-control technologies by December 2017. The plants failed to do so.
The deadline was then extended to December 2019 after the ministry of power and central electricity authority (CEA) submitted a new phasing plan in the Supreme Court in 2018. Power plants with a total capacity of 16.41 (GW) were to retrofit flu-gas desulphurization (FGD), a technology to control toxic sulphur dioxide emissions.
The ministry submission came during a hearing related to extension of deadline for implementing emission standards as part of the MC Mehta case.
However, the designated power plants situated in Delhi-NCR, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu have once again failed in adhering to the extended deadline submitted in the apex court.
During conversations with TOI, CPCB top officials stated that the board was yet to decide the next course of action. “The power plants are at different stages of installing FGDs. Some have initiated the bidding process, some haven’t while some have already awarded the bid. Hence, we are deliberating on the kind of actions that should be taken against different plants,” an official said.
Since the first week of January, TOI has been enquiring with the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MOEFCC) and CPCB about the progress made on FGDs. But, every time, the officials gave a statement that the decision was yet to be taken.
Meanwhile, the offending plants continue to run. On December 31, at 11.55pm, the Nabha Power Limited plant in Rajpura, Punjab, had shut down its operations citing “pollution problems”. However, it soon started its operations.
Objecting against the operation of plants post the deadline, environment and legal experts demanded that they should be shut down. Sunil Dahiya, analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), said that the environment ministry and CPCB must penalize the polluters too.
“This will set a strong precedent for other power plants. This is the second instance that these plants have missed the deadline to install pollution control devices,” said Dahiya.
Dahiya added that their functioning and emissions of SO2 beyond permissible levels is a clear violation of law as well as phasing timeline submitted by CEA and power ministry in the Supreme Court.
Noted environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta highlighted how not even a single power plant in the country had complied with the earlier deadline of December 2017. “The timeline was extended but in vain. As per CPCB’s own directions, plants which do not comply will have to shut down, in addition to the penal action against them. Even the outer deadline of 2022 for compliance is unlikely to be met given the slow pace at which the compliance is taking place,” he said, adding that this will be in complete violation of the undertaking given by the power companies to the court.
The state pollution control boards should prosecute the directors of all the companies who are operating their power plants without installing the FGDs and other requisite pollution control equipment, stated environment expert Debi Goenka. “These plants should be shut down until they comply with the regulations and meet the standards. Given the low PLFs, shutting down non-compliant units would not create too much of a crisis, but would certainly help save thousands of lives,” said Goenka.