The Union environment ministry is considering a request by the power ministry to defer the deadline for thermal power plants to meet air pollution norms by 2022 by two more years. Thermal power plants are one of the largest sources of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter (PM) pollution in India.
It had notified superior emission standards for thermal power plants in December 2015 for implementation by end of 2017. The deadline was delayed to 2022 nationwide because of resistance from the thermal power industry. The environment ministry agreed to extend the deadline to 2022 and approached the Supreme Court which also ordered an extension.
But now the power ministry has approached the environment ministry again saying the economic slowdown linked to Covid-19 and India’s Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (self-reliant India campaign) is making it difficult for them to source flue gas desulphurization (FGD) systems, which help control SO2 emissions from thermal power plants. “Power ministry has approached us. They are finding it difficult to meet the 2022 deadline both because of Covid- 19 and curbs on imports from China. We are considering the matter. We may have to give the thermal power plants time to deliver on the deadline,” said RP Gupta, secretary, environment ministry.
Power ministry officials said nearly 300 thermal power plants out of 441 are to award bids for FGD. “One of the main problems is that FGD, which is an aggregated unit, is manufactured in China and hence has to be imported from there. Since we have curbs on importing Chinese equipment it is a difficult situation,” said a senior power ministry official, who did not want to be named. “Since the matter is sub-judice, we either need to get an extension from the Supreme Court or the environment ministry will have to amend its notification of 2015.”
The Supreme Court in its June 19 order rejected a request by power producers to extend a deadline to install equipment to cut emissions by two years to 2024.
“It is not just power plants. All sectors are trying to delay standards and deadlines now. But you cannot delay environmental regulation which has huge public health implications. Globally, there is a move towards green recovery. We need a clear fiscal policy for implementation of the norms within the deadline,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment.
According to a Centre for Science and Environment assessment, the implementation of the emission norms can cut down emissions of PM by 35%, SO2 by 80%, and NOx by 42%. They can also bring down freshwater use by the industry.
The National Green Tribunal, in an order on a case related to the implementation of the National Clean Air Programme on August 21, said 175 air quality monitoring stations need to be completed within the next six months. It has also directed state pollution control boards to conduct carrying capacity and source apportionment studies by the state pollution control boards utilising the ‘environmental compensation’ fund of the pollution control boards.