Clearance of OPG thermal power plant under scanner

Petitioner at green tribunal hearing alleges violation of clearance conditions, insufficient environmental impact assessments of OPG Power’s project in Gujarat

By Srestha Banerjee
Published: Saturday 06 July 2013

A two day-long hearing occurred at the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on July 3 and July 4, regarding amendment in conditions of the environmental clearance (EC) granted to OPG Power on June 11, 2010, by the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), Gujarat. The case filed by Husain Saleh Mahmad Usman Bhai Kara against SEIAA, Gujarat and OPG Power Gujarat Private Ltd has been lying with NGT since July 2012. The clearance is a roadblock for the operation of OPG’s 300 megawatt (MW) thermal power plant at Mundra near Bhadreshwar village, in the Kutch region of Gujarat.

The impugned order by SEIAA passed on May 15, 2012, amended conditions in the EC with respect to adoption of air cooling system instead of water cooling system for the exhaust steam cooling of the power plant. As suggested by the company, the proposal for change in the cooling system is to avoid use of forest land for laying pipelines, and to reduce the use of water. Dhiren Tewari of OPG Power said, “There was a lot of discontent on part of the fishing community on sea water use for the power plant, especially in terms of hot water discharge. Therefore the company has proposed the change in technology. The required water for the project will now be provided by Gujarat Water Infrastructure Limited for which permission has been obtained.”

The long drawn argument at NGT, however, not only brought into question the amendment in conditions of the EC, and appropriateness of the decision taken by the state authority, but also by large dealt with issues regarding the transparency and adequacy of information provided by the company during the entire process of authorization of the project at various levels.

A wet cooling system involves a mechanism where waste heat from the condenser circulating inside tubes is cooled by indirect contact with water at ambient temperature. In a dry cooling system, the waste heat is cooled in a system of finned tubes by supplying air by the means of industrial fans. The water requirement for the dry cooling system is thus much lower than a wet system. For a typical 2x500 MW capacity power plant, water requirement for wet cooling system is about 3,000 m3/hr while that for dry cooling system is 550 m3/hr. 

Confusion over classification

The proposal for change in technique for the cooling system was challenged by Raj Panjwani, counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant and the local fishing community in Kutch. According to him the proposal for change with respect to the cooling system should have a fresh EIA for evaluation, as it is not relevant to the current proposal. Panjwani said that as the production of the 300 MW unit has not started, the project should actually be treated as a new project under the provisions of EIA Notification 2006. An application for modification is only applicable on a project/ unit in existence.  

Panjwani further argued that a unit can only be considered to be an “existing” one when it has the “consent to operate” and not just the “consent to establish”. Consent to operate is issued by the state authority in the post construction phase. “Since the unit under contention has not received consent to operate, it cannot be considered to have come into existence,” he added. 

Professor A R Yousuf, expert member of the Tribunal, agreed on the project as not being considered an existing one, saying that the “project only exists on paper”.

Inadequate EIA, conscious violations

Inadequacies in the environment impact assessment report (EIA) were pointed out by the counsel of the applicant, alleging suppression of information. Panjwani said that the application for an expansion of the project was made on December 3, 2009, within seven months from the time of public hearing held on May, 2009, and much before environment clearance for the 300 MW project was granted by SEIAA. “Therefore the intention of expansion of the company was very clear from the beginning, and thus they should have considered the impact of the project in totality when preparing the EIA,” he added.

Kanchi Kohli of Kalpavriksh, who has been closely associated with the case from the beginning, said that the plan of the company for expansion to 2,300 MW capacity surfaced for public scrutiny when an RTI was filed. 

Violations in conditions of clearance by the company were also pointed out. Panjwani argued that the company had started construction in the area, prior to obtaining coastal regulation zone and forest clearance. He referred to a site visit report of a seven member committee comprising of officers from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, Gujarat State Environment Assessment Committee (SEAC)/SEIAA and Gujarat Pollution Control Board, that was carried out on April 10, 2012, following instructions of NGT. The site visit report noted that the company had started construction work without obtaining the required coastal regulation zone clearance or forest clearance. The construction was going on till a day before the site visit of the committee and foundation work for boilers and turbines were in progress. 

SEIAA questioned

The functioning of the SEIAA was also brought into question. It was argued by counsel of the appellant that the state authority has remained primarily concerned about the technology aspect, without pondering over the associated impacts. The counsel on behalf of the company OPG Power Ltd contended that such an accusation does not hold true; the deliberations during the meetings of SEIAA, and their requirement for documents from the company such as a report on air quality prior to amending the EC, clearly show that their decision was not arbitrary.

Hardik Shah, secretary of Gujarat SEIAA, also clarified the status of the Authority in his response on the matter. “SEIAA has amended conditions of the clearance in an appropriate manner upon reviewing all documents produced by the company. Additionally three independent experts were invited for appraisal of the proposal,” he said. “The discharge of high temperature water in the sea affecting marine life was a matter of agitation for the local fishing community, and through the change in technology the concern of the locals have been addressed,” added Shah.

The bench at the Tribunal chaired by Justice V R Kingaonkar, has now asked for clarification on matters of change in noise level due to installation of air technology, land required for such installation, transportation detail of coal from Mundra port to project site and reuse of water.  The company has been allowed to file a note on such issues within one week. Upon review of such materials, the case is now reserved for judgment on July 12.


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