Pollution

How effective is NGT's Rs 79 cr fine on Singrauli mines, power cos?

The penalty has been levied for pollution caused in the area during the last two decades

 
By Soundaram Ramanathan
Last Updated: Friday 18 October 2019
Fire at an NTPC power plant in Singrauli. Photo: @chittu_baba / Twitter

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered coal mines as well as coal-based thermal power stations operating in the critically polluted Singrauli area of Madhya Pradesh to pay a fine of Rs 79 crore on October 11, 2019.

The order came in response to a petition filed by Anjani Jaiswal, a resident of Singrauli in May this year.

Jaiswal had pleaded directions from the NGT to recover compensation from industries in this area that has caused environmental damages over the last two decades and that the fine be used for restoration of the contaminated water bodies and air.

The NGT had formed a committee made up of officials from the pollution control boards of the Centre, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to look into the matter.

The committee had collected records of non-compliance of these industries on a daily basis for the last five years (since 2014) and had imposed Rs 30,000 per day as penalty for each non-compliant day.

“The committee checked the compliance of the industries in adhering to the ‘consent to establish’ and ‘consent to operate’ conditions by comparing it with inspection reports. Non-compliance days were noted and according to our guidelines, we have calculated the fine,” SK Paliwal, scientist, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), said.  Based on the report of the committee, the court ordered the penalty. 

The fine will be collected as part of the environmental compensation fund by the pollution control boards (60 per cent to the CPCB and 40 per cent to the state pollution boards) and will be used largely for restoration studies.

Is the compensation a clear deterrence?

Six companies, which operate eight power stations and thirteen mines, have to pay the penalty. The penalty is less than one per cent of the profit made by giant operators in the area — NTPC and NLC (see table).  

“The companies who are listed to be in violation are mostly government-run companies like NCL, UPRVUNL Ltd etc. Whether payment of penalty within the inter-departments would be a sufficient deterrent is a question,” pointed an expert.

“State-run utilities are not paid any money beyond fuel charges and it is deteriorating their performance. Long standing disputes on mine filling of ash between NCL and power stations remain unresolved. Without these roadblocks getting cleared, restoring the environment in Singrauli would be difficult,” he added.

Particulate matter in the ambient air of the region ranges 150—200 metric slug/cubic metres (norms less than 100), sulphur dioxide in the range 100-150 mug/cu.m (norms less than 80), and oxides of nitrogen in the range of 80-100 mug/cu.m (norms less than 80). Mercury and water pollution is prominent. The only water source in the area, the Rihand dam is, contaminated.

A comparison of environmental penalties and company profits

Sr.

No.

Companies

Environment Compensation penalty (In Rs cr)

Profit by the company (2018) (In Rs cr)

1.

NCL

35

4,111

2.

UPRVUNL

12.2

128.9

3.

NTPC

4.9

1,1750.0

4.

Reliance

3.7

1,034.8

5.

Lanco

0.2

2,260.8

6.

Essar

Rs 30,000

1,684.0

Source: Centre for Science and Environment, 2019

The capacity of coal power stations operating in Singrauli is 19 GW. Coal production of 100 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) is happening in the area. By selling power and coal, the area generates revenue of roughly over Rs 5,000 crore.

The three steps to avoid penalty

Vijay Kumar Tiwari, manager, environment, Lanco Anpara Power Ltd, listed three important measures to avoid further penalties for coal-based thermal power stations.

"We can avoid penalty by a) Ensuring operation of air pollution control equipment, b) Effective ash management systems and ash water recycling systems (AWRS), and c) Being a zero-discharge plant. Our plant had slight issues in AWRS. We have fixed them,” he said.

For local social workers and people, the compensation felt inadequate, given the scale of pollution in the area.

“The court should also ask the companies to pay compensation to the communities for the health and other material damage like reduced agricultural productivity in the area,” Jagat Narayan Vishwakarma, a social worker and reporter with the Hindi daily, Hindustan, said.

“Doing further studies on the pollution impact could not be significant. Different agencies are involved in enforcement in silos. Co-ordinated efforts and the involvement of the community is crucial to ameliorate the damages caused,” he added.

Priyavrat Bhati, advisor with Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment or CSE, felt the penalty was grossly inadequate.

“The legal provisions to assess penalty — Rs 30,000 per day for environmental damage — are grossly inadequate. The plants have been asked to pay only Rs 79 crore for enormous damage to air and water bodies over a period of two decades,” he said. According to the Section 15(1) of the Environment Protection Act, 1972, a maximum fine up to Rs 100,000 a day can be charged for non-compliance.

“We will challenge the report of the committee. We are looking into the possibility of filing an appeal petition at NGT or a higher court. They have ignored the pollution from private industries in the area. The compensation is not sufficient to restore the environment in the area,” Abhishek Chaubey, lawyer of the petitioner Jaiswal, who is an advocate at the Allahabad High Court, said.

“NEERI, in their assessment in 2017-18, had clearly indicated that over Rs 10,000 crore will be needed to decontaminate the Rihand reservoir. Hindalco’s aluminium and chemical industries in the area is a major polluter of the Rihand reservoir,” he added. 

With inputs from Shreya Verma

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :
Related Stories

India Environment Portal Resources :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.