Pollution

Fly Ash Management and Utilisation Mission: Will it boost handling, disposal of by-product

The NGT’s order to establish a fly ash mission comes after at least 8 cases where remedial action and relief were sought from it against violations by coal thermal power plants

 
By Anubha Aggarwal
Published: Thursday 27 January 2022
Six people died as a result of a breach in the fly ash dyke of Reliance’s Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project in Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh on April 10, 2020.
Six people died as a result of a breach in the fly ash dyke of Reliance’s Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project in Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh on April 10, 2020. Six people died as a result of a breach in the fly ash dyke of Reliance’s Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project in Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh on April 10, 2020.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the constitution of a ‘Fly Ash Management and Utilisation Mission’ in its order dated January 18, 2022. The Mission’s primary goal will be to ‘coordinate and monitor issues relating to the handling and disposal of fly ash and associated issues.’

The Mission is to be jointly headed by the secretaries, of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC), Union Ministry of Coal and Power and the chief secretaries of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

The secretary of MoEF&CC will be the nodal agency for coordination and compliance. The Mission may also monitor scientific management and utilisation of fly ash by power projects outside Singrauli and Sonbhadra, in coordination with chief secretaries of concerned states.

The NGT’s order comes after at least eight cases where remedial action and relief were sought from the Principal Bench against violations by coal thermal power plants.

These cases dealt with:

  • The mandate for scientific management and utilisation of fly ash.
  • The draining of industrial effluents and fly ash in the Rihand Reservoir.
  • The breach in the fly ash pond of the Sasan Ultra Mega Power Plant resulting in the deaths of six persons including an eight-year-old boy washed away in fly ash slurry.
  • The serious gaps in storing of fly ash in ponds and dykes and associated failure to prevent unintentional and undesirable emissions from it.  

Fly ash is an unwanted unburnt residue of coal combustion in a coal thermal power plant. It is emitted along with flue gases during the burning of coal in a furnace and collected using the electrostatic precipitators.

The fly ash collected with the help of precipitators is converted into a wet slurry to minimise fugitive dust emissions. It is then transported to the scientifically designed ash ponds through slurry pipes lines.

Gross under-utilisation of this by-product over the years has led to the accumulation of 1,670 million tonnes of fly ash according to the Summary of Ash Generation and Utilisation during 2020-2021 by the Joint Committee earlier constituted by the NGT.     

Value addition

There are some overlaps and distinctions in the responsibilities allocated to the committees under the Fly Ash Notification, 2021 and the Fly Ash Management and Utilisation Mission as directed by the NGT.

The new fly ash notification of December 2021, has made provision for the ‘enforcement, monitoring, audit and reporting’ of the progress of fly ash utilisation and implementation of the clauses of the notification by coal thermal power plants and user agencies.

The Notification holds the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and State Pollution Control Boards (SPCB) / Pollution Control Committees (PCC) responsible for monitoring the effective implementation of mandates under it.

However, along with these statutory regulators, the Mission also extends the responsibility of fly ash management to the chief secretaries of the states. 

The Notification mandates the individual thermal power plant to upload monthly information regarding ash generation and utilisation on its web portal.

The Mission as directed by the NGT, on the other hand, will make the roadmaps and progress in fly ash utilisation available for all thermal power plants and their clusters, on the MoEF&CC website on a quarterly basis for the knowledge of all stakeholders.

This indeed should be helpful as this will act as a one-step platform for all information regarding fly ash management.

Some other provisions under the Mission and the Fly Ash Notification, 2021

Sr No Provisions Fly Ash Notification, 2021 Fly Ash Management and Utiliwation Mission
1 Monitoring of timely fly ash utilisation + +
2 Developing roadmap for utilisation and disposal of entire legacy fly ash for all the power plants located in clusters or standalone - +
3 Work on upscaling fly ash utilisation — tagging user agencies / recommend ash utilisation avenues + +
4 Third Party compliance audit for ash disposal by the thermal power plants  + -
6 Safety audits of the ash dykes + +
7 On-site and off-site crisis management plans with regard to fly ash ponds and dykes - +
8 Guideline for ‘siting, design and engineering standards for the location, disposal, maintenance and regulation of ash ponds’ - +
9 The ‘victims’ of the environmental damage such as ash dyke breach from coal power plants may also approach the Mission for statutory compensation - +
*(+): Provision present

*(-): Provision absent

A strong hand

The order by the NGT takes note of the ‘unscientific handling and storage’ of the fly ash by coal thermal power stations. The Fly Ash Management and Utilisation Mission is expected to streamline the fly ash management process.

The Mission will hold its first meeting within one month to assess the fly ash management situation in coal power plants and to prepare action plans to build road maps for ash utilisation by individual plants. These meetings shall be conducted each month, for a year.


Read:

The resolutions of the Mission and quarterly progress will also be placed on the website of MoEF&CC for the knowledge of the stakeholders.

Ashwani Dubey, advocate-on-record in the Supreme Court and main petitioner in the matter, told Down To Earth:

We have seen courts order the formation of committees earlier too under the chairmanship of environmental secretaries. But unfortunately, these committees have not been effective in dealing with the fly ash pollution and little to no progress has been made on that front. The plant owners in these regions have continued with blatant violation of environmental laws and yet, these company COOs have not been subjected to criminal prosecution by officials.

He added that, “We are hopeful and optimistic that the new Mission to be formed under the NGT order will help our cause and bring justice in the system.”

Dubey noted that for the Mission to reach its objective, it was crucial that the responsible officials were also held accountable and prosecuted for any mismanagement in the implementation of the tasks assigned under the Mission. 

The NGT’s order is the latest in a series of orders passed by it within a week where it strongly criticised the impact of fly ash on ambient air, groundwater, agriculture and human heath.

In one such order regarding the fly ash dyke breach from Reliance’s Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project, the NGT increased the compensation from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 15 lakh for the familyies of the people who died in the incident.

Also, a recent report filed by an NGT-constituted Joint Committee revealed that the fly ash from the Panipat Thermal Power plant had resulted in a very high concentration of heavy metals such as zinc, chromium, etc in the crops grown in the area.

In case of pollution from Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station in Maharashtra, the NGT ruled that since the project was the largest in Maharashtra and had an annual income of Rs 20,000 crore, there was no financial crunch that was holding it from complying with emission norms.

 The NGT, therefore, levied a fine of Rs 5 crore on the plant as compensation for environmental damage.

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