NGT order on Korba: Can it improve fly ash disposal, utilisation in India

CSE welcomes order, says it will enhance fly ash disposal and utilisation and also help in better ash management 

By Sowmiya Kannappan
Published: Wednesday 21 September 2022

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) noted September 19, 2022 that there was an urgent need to augment the utilisation and disposal of fly ash in Chhattisgarh. 

The NGT order was in response to an application filed April 25 regarding fly ash disposal by the management of Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd (BALCO) in Korba district. The application alleged that the fly ash disposal was in violation of rules and was causing adverse effects on human health and agriculture fields.

Fly ash has been a big menace for years now because it usually dumped illegally into water bodies. Also, the presence of fly ash in ambient air deteriorates air quality.

The under-utilisation of fly ash, a by-product, over the years has led to the accumulation of 1,670 million tonnes of it. This is according to the Summary of Ash Generation and Utilisation during 2020-2021 by the NGT-constituted joint committee on fly ash.

There has been a question mark over fly ash usage and compliance norms for a long time. Several incidents involving breaches in ash dykes have also been reported. These include:

  • North Chennai Power Station in Tami Nadu
  • The Sasan Power Plant, NTPC Vindhyachal and Essar Power Plant in Madhya Pradesh
  • NTPC Talcher in Odisha
  • Bokaro Power Plant in Jharkhand
  • Khaparkheda and Koradi Power Plants in Maharashtra

Sometimes, ash flooding has led to the loss of lives in nearby settlements as well.

The fly ash menace was discussed and a notification was drafted in 1999. The notification went through amendments in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2016 in order to achieve the target of 100 per cent fly ash utilisation. Last year, the fifth amendment to the notification was drafted.

Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) reported in 2021 that 40-50 per cent power plants in India were still in non-compliance of achieving 100 per cent fly ash utilisation 22 years since the 1999 notification was introduced. There are some plants that do not even utilise 30-40 per cent of their generated ash.

The situation in Chattisgarh is even more critical because Korba is the hub of coal thermal power plants containing 15 state, central and private-owned electricity generating plants.

Thus, generating approximately 9,000 megawatt of electricity leads to an average generation of 72,000 tonnes of fly ash daily. The rate of fly ash generation in general is much higher than the rate of disposal and utilisation.

CSE supports order

The NGT order of September 19 has taken note of several issues regarding environmental pollution in Korba. These are:

  1. Air and water pollution caused by BALCO which is deteriorating quality of the environment
  2. Insufficient capacity of fly ash management and old red mud ponds being used for ash disposal
  3. Illegal disposal of fly ash in Korba (14 locations) and nearby villages without following any procedures
  4. Impact of fly ash pollution on the health of residents and agricultural land
  5. Proper administrative procedures not being adopted for fly ash disposal with respect to permission, no objection certificate, land use, etc

The tribunal order outlined a series of suggestions to make fly ash disposal and utilisation effective, in light of these issues. 

It directed that awareness programmes needed to be organised for common people in Chhattisgarh about the utilisation of fly ash for its own use.

The court also directed that the state authority must also instruct all transporters to comply with guidelines issued by the central and state governments for safe transportation of fly ash and bottom ash.

Every fly ash transporter must write on their vehicles: ‘If any illegal dumping of fly ash by this vehicle is seen, please inform collector’, the tribunal said.

Strict action should be taken if any complaint regarding illegal disposal was received by the authorities, the court said.

The NGT order also stated that the Chhattisgarh government should promote off take of dry fly ash. Also, the thermal power plants (TPP) of Korba need to address the problem of transportation of fly ash in bulk in an economical and environment-friendly manner.

The court also suggested that TPPs supply pond ash for road construction projects and brick manufacturers located within a 300 km radius from Korba.

Improving awareness among the public on the illegal dumping and proper monitoring of fly ash transportation will enhance fly ash disposal and utilisation in Korba, according to CSE. If immediate action is taken whenever illegal activities on fly ash are reported, it will also help in better ash management in the district.

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