The National Green Tribunal (NGT), Pune, has directed power generation companies to strictly adhere to set norms of not using coal having more than 34 pc ash content, thus providing relief to lakhs of people living in the vicinity of such units.
The NGT also directed the regulating authority, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to upgrade its verification facilities and keep a strict watch on the power units on a monthly basis.
The verdict Saturday came on a petition by a social activist from Mahadula village near here, Ratnadeep Rangari, seeking directions to power units to follow norms and prevent Vidarbha from becoming a “gas chamber”, citing severe health problems already being caused to the people living close to it. The village is a site of a thermal power station operated by Maharashtra State Power Generation Company (Mahagenco).
The verdict is of great importance to Vidarbha that houses most coal-based private and government power units. The tribunal has directed the units to strictly follow norms set by two notifications by the MoEF dated January 2, 2014 and August 26, 2015.
The first seeks strict compliance by power units on using coal that has ash content of less than 34 pc.
Coal-based thermal power plants are single largest source of particulate emission besides greenhouse gases.
The important co-benefit of the initiative would be lesser GHG emissions i.e. lesser carbon footprint in thermal power generation, the NGT stated.
The second notification made it mandatory for State Pollution Control Board to include a condition specifying ash content in raw or blended or beneficiated coal to be supplied by the coal mine or company, as applicable, and used by thermal power plants, in the existing consent orders issued under Air (Control of pollution) Act, 1981 and in Environmental Clearance issued under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to thermal power plant and coal mine or company.
The NGT directed MoEF to co-ordinate with State Pollution Control Boards to ensure compliance of this direction and submit a compliance report by January 1, 2016.
MPCB had, in its affidavit, expressed helplessness to monitor quality of coal being supplied by coal companies and consumed by power companies. It only said that it has been repeatedly directing the two entities to ensure requisite quality of coal is used.
On this, the NGT directed SPCBs and CPCB to develop capacity for sampling and analysis of coal ash content at their respective laboratories as per Indian standards within six months and submit a compliance report by May 31, 2016.
The coal companies have claimed that they have been supplying quality coal and checks at power units prove their claim.
An RTI query by the petitioner revealed ash content at Mahagenco’s Khaparkheda, Bhusaval and Paras units in January 2014 were 46.80 pc, 49.75 pc and 43 pc, respectively.