In its latest assessment, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said a large number of coal-fired power plants in India continue to be “lax” and “laid back” when it comes to getting ready to meet the deadline.
In 2015, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) had notified emission norms for four pollutants in the coal-based thermal power sector, which are particulate matter (PM), sulphur dioxide (SO2), oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and mercury.
The deadline for meeting the norms was set for 2019, which was later extended till 2022 under pressure from the industry, the CSE said.
“2022 is going to be their deadline for meeting environmental norms, but a new and updated assessment by the CSE finds that a very large number of coal-fired power plants in India continue to be completely lax and laid back when it comes to getting ready to meet the deadline.
“In fact, at the rate that they are going, 65 per cent of them may not be able to comply even by this extended deadline,” said Nivit Kumar Yadav, senior programme manager of CSE’s industrial pollution team.
The norms categorise power plants into three groups â€“ units installed before 2004, between 2004 and 2016, and to be commissioned after 2016.
Different emission and water discharge standards have been specified for each category.
“Power stations installed before 2004 have to meet lenient PM and NOx norms which are 100 milligrams per cubic metre (mg/Nm3) and 600 mg/Nm3, respectively. Mercury standards do not apply to this category.
“Plants commissioned between January 1, 2004 and 2016 have to meet slightly tighter norms of 50 mg/Nm3Â for PM, 450 mg/Nm3 for NOx, and 0.03mg/Nm3 for mercury,” the CSE said.
Sulphur dioxide norms for both the categories are based on the unit size, it said, adding that units of a size larger than 500 megawatts (MW) will need to meet 200 mg/Nm3 and those smaller, 600 mg/Nm3.
New power stations (commissioned post-January 1, 2017) have to meet PM norms of 30 mg/Nm3, SO2Â and NOxnorms of 100 mg/Nm3, mercury norm of 0.03 mg/Nm3.
“Units commissioned after January 1, 2017 have to meet the most stringent standards. Older and smaller units have to comply with relatively lenient norms compared to newer and bigger units â€“ the rationale was the age of the plant and the need to retire these facilities, which meant that investment in improvement could be avoided,” the CSE said.
In May this year, CSE’s Director General Sunita Narain had said coal-fired power plants are some of the most polluting industries in the country.
“They account for over 60 per cent of the total PM emissions from all industry, as well as 45 per cent of the SO2, 30 per cent of NOxÂ and over 80 per cent of the mercury emissions. Therefore, even as we continue using coal, India’s thermal power sector must clean up its act. This is absolutely non-negotiable,” Narain had said.Â
The latest CSE assessment, which has noted the progress till August 2020, said only 56 per cent of the total capacity complies with the new PM norms and a mere 35 per cent are in compliance with theÂ SO2Â norms.
“This is just a 3 per cent increase in compliance for PM norms and 5 per cent for SO2Â norms when compared to October last year,” it said.
Soundaram Ramanathan, deputy programme manager, industrial pollution unit, CSE, said centre-owned plants appear to be leading in the implementation of SO2 norms, followed by privately-owned ones but the “state-owned units have made no progress.”
He, however, pointed out that one of the obstacles that any assessment of the sector may face is lack of data.
“For instance, the new assessment has not managed to find out the state ofÂ compliance with the norms for mercury and specific water consumption, or a complete scenario of the level of compliance for PM and NOx, because there is no information about them in the public domain, Ramanathan said.