THE Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has bent backward to commission the 1,200 MW thermal plant in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, promoted by the Jindal group.
The ministry has agreed to let the plant function without the flue gas desulfurization (FGD) unit needed to remove sulphur dioxide (SO2) from the flue gas emitted by burning coal. The company, JSW Energy Limited, has been given three years to install the unit.
JSW had approached the ministry on June 21 seeking permission to operate the plant without the FGD unit costing Rs 527 crore. The ministry agreed and ordered the constitution of a supervisory panel to monitor SO2 levels. The panel, headed by P Pujari, horticulture professor at Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth, will identify mango orchards for installing SO2 monitoring stations. Their data will be uploaded on JSW’s website. The plant in Jaigad tehsil is surrounded by alphonso mango orchards.
Farmers and activists have opposed the project from the outset. “At least 900 hectares (ha) near the plant are under mango cultivation. The quality of alphonso mangoes here is very high and they are exported to developed countries that have strict quality certification,” said Vivek Bhide, a mango orchard owner in Malgund near Jaigad. “If the plant is commissioned, we will face difficulties in getting export certification,” he added.
The Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth has been studying the possible impact of the project on alphonso mangoes in the area for the Jindals for a year. Pujari said the report cannot be made public till it is completed. Asked about the commissioning of the plant without the FGD unit, Pujari said the ministry’s permission is conditional. He said the plant’s impact on mango orchards would be known only when monitoring begins. JSW spokesperson Rouhan Sharma refused to comment.
Experts said the emissions will affect the orchards. “Mango flowers are very delicate. They can get charred by air laden with SO2. The emissions can also cause acid rain; even acidic dew drops can affect the flowers,” said P R Arun, an environmental consultant in Mumbai. The Delhi High Court had earlier asked the ministry’s expert appraisal committee to re-examine the project’s environmental clearance. The committee while favouring the plant’s commissioning had said the emissions would benefit the mango orchards (see “Coal emissions nourish trees’, Down To Earth, February 28, 2010).
“It took us almost 10 years to get an FGD unit installed at the 500 MW Dahanu thermal power station in Thane district despite a Supreme Court order,” said Michelle Chawla of Tamarind Tree, a non-profit in Dahanu. “Even after the unit was installed, there is no study on its effectiveness,” she said.
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