Units ordered to deposit penalties by June 5; Central Pollution Control Board may pursue closure orders
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) sent penalty notices to 35 non-compliant electricity generators in 15 coal-fired thermal power stations, on May 8, 2020. The units — that have a total capacity of 14,670 megawatts (MW) — were ordered to deposit Rs 18 lakh per month for six months by June 5 to CPCB for non-compliance.
The plants were supposed to have been retrofitted with pollution control equipment by December 31, 2019 to meet new standards announced in 2015.
The CPCB had issued show-cause notices to the plants on January 31 and demanded their reaction within 15 days. The chairman of the CPCB — not satisfied with the response — ordered plants to pay compensation on May 8.
The board has two options in this case: To either issue a closure order or issue penalty, according to DD Basu, advisor for Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment and a former scientist at CPCB.
A closure order would have been challenged at the court, with there being a large probability of a stay on such an order because of the need for electricity, Basu said.
“In case of a penalty, the company can go to court. Public litigation petitions can be filed to increase the penalty and prod action,” he added.
None of the power stations, however, have paid their penalties to date.
“It’s a tough order. We haven’t been generating much power for the last six months either. The business is starved of cash. It would be difficult to pay the fine,” said a senior official of Punjab State Power Corporation Ltd, a recipient of the order.
Ten of the 15 power stations that were given notices are located in the National Capital Region (Delhi-NCR) air shed. Most of these stations in the Delhi-NCR air shed — except Dadri and Harduaganj — had very less or no electricity generation in the past two months.
Source: Monthly reports, Central Electricity Authority, 2020
The remaining five stations are located near cities in southern states, including Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. These stations generated more or less similar amounts of electricity each month.
An expert working with industry association said plants — like one in Dadri — may as well pay penalties rather than investing and upgrading themselves and putting in effort to meet the new norms.
“Just thinking aloud, for a plant like Dadri which is 920 MW, the annual fine announced by CPCB is about Rs four crore. Considering upgradation cost of pollution control technology is about Rs 50 lakh per MW, the total cost of upgradation is Rs 460 crore,” the expert said.
Individually, each station — depending on the number of units — has to pay Rs one to four crore by June.
Plant-wise penalty breakup
Source: Central Pollution Control Board, 2020
Another expert felt the penalty on power stations should be revised.
Unit numbers alone should not be the criteria for penalty. Size, scale of pollution and current status of upgradation should be factored, according to the expert. “At-least Rs 40-60 lakh penalty per month should be levied on each non-compliant unit,” the expert said.
Compliance status of the plants will be reviewed, warned CPCB chairman Ravi S Prasad in the order from May 8.
Further directions — including closure of the units — may be issued if needed, according to the order.
“Plants, therefore, have to ensure compliance of directions, failing which action as deemed fit would be taken,” the order said. CPCB, in a February 26 order, issued closure notice to seven generating units of power stations Harduaganj TPS, Kothagudem TPS and Chandrapura TPS that failed to meet the deadline and were old and inefficient.
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