Is Rs 5-crore penalty on fly ash polluters really enough?

The NGT penalty, when compare with the profit coal power plants make, doesn’t look very effective

By Soundaram Ramanathan
Published: Wednesday 28 November 2018

A file photo of fly ash released into the Renuka river by a coal-based thermal power plant at Obra in Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh. Credit: Meeta AhlawatThe National Green Tribunal thinks it has done its bit by imposing a penalty of up to Rs 5 crore on coal power plants that have not completely utilised or disposed the fly ash they generated. But, is that enough? Considering the profits these plants make, this fine may feel like a pinch to few plants and the bigger players may not even experience that, says a quick analysis done by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based non-profit.

Ash particles are typically less than 20 micrometer in size and pose significant risks of respiratory diseases when inhaled. India has over 1 billion tonne of ash lying unutilised and 35 per cent of which belongs to NTPC Ltd – India’s largest power generating company.

Here is a list drawn by the CSE that shows the profit or loss coal power plants made in 2015 against the penalty the NGT may impose on them based they levy a penalty of Rs 5 crore for 500 MW.

Company Capacity in MW 2015 profit/loss (in Rs crores) NGT penalty (in Rs crores)
NTPC Ltd. 35,175 10,291 351.8
Maharashtra State Power Generation Company Ltd 10,605 436 106.1
Adani Power Ltd 9,240 595 92.4
Uttar Pradesh RajyaVidyutUtpadan Nigam Ltd 5,933 16 59.3
Rajasthan RajyaVidyutUtpadan Nigam Ltd 5,190 -302 51.9
Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Ltd 3,970 158 39.7
Reliance Power Ltd. 3,960 25 39.6
West Bengal Power Development Corporation Ltd 3,860 23 38.6
Tamil Nadu Electricity Board 3,570 -12,757 35.7
Neyveli Lignite Corporation Ltd 3,240 1,580 32.4
C.E.S.C Ltd 2,560 698 25.6
GMR Energy Ltd 2,420 -2,733 24.2
Sterlite Energy Ltd 2,400 84 24.0
Jindal Steel and Power Ltd 2,200 1,292 22.0
Lalitpur Power Generation Company Ltd 1,980 -1,097 19.8
Tata Power 1,567.5 1,010 15.7
Nelcast Energy Corporation Ltd 1,320 22 13.2
Jaiprakash Power Ventures Ltd 1,320 137 13.2
Diliigent Power Pvt. Ltd 1,260 317 12.6
LancoAnpara Power Ltd 1,200 -672 12.0
Essar Power 1,200 -459 12.0
Maithon Power Ltd 1,050 211 10.5
Hinduja National Power Corporation Limited (Hinduja Ventures) 1,040 93 10.4
NLC Tamil Nadu Power Ltd 1,000 1,580 10.0
KSK Energy 675 6 6.8
Reliance 600 25 6.0
EMCO Energy Ltd. (GMR Group) 570 -371 5.7
GVK Coal (Tokisud) Company Private Limited 540 1,136 5.4
Gujarat Industries Power Company Ltd 500 126 5.0
NTPC-SAIL Power Company Ltd 500 227 5.0
Reliance Infrastructure Ltd 500 1,533 5.0
Odisha Power Generation Corporation Ltd 420 151 4.2
Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation Ltd 250 500 2.5

Ash is the mineral matter left after combustion of coal and a major portion of ash generated by burning coal in a power plant is carried off with flue gases (hence the term fly ash), and can be filtered using electrostatic precipitators. Although ash is an excellent construction material, poor practices lead to a large portion of it being dumped in shabbily maintained ash ponds which often pollute surface and groundwater. The coal variety available in India has up to 50 per cent ash content.

The NGT’s move could be an effective stick to curb fly ash pollution. The Indian government has been trying to reduce fly ash pollution for the last 25 years, but has had very little success. Various negotiations were held and relaxations were given to accommodate the interest and challenges the coal-based thermal power stations faced so they could utilise 100 per cent fly ash. A very lax timeline of 10 years was made for the plants to comply with and it has already been revised thrice.

Despite all this, majority of power plants have been completely ignorant to the fly ash issue.

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