Polluting coal power plants may get blanket 20-year extension of compliance deadlines 

Only 5% Category C plants in compliance with emission norms at present

By Anubha Aggarwal
Published: Thursday 26 May 2022

The Union Ministry of Power (MoP) May 3 has again sought an extension — of 20 years from the original — for 398 thermal power plants to meet emission norms. The blanket extension on these Category C plants will be irrespective of their status of compliance.

The original deadline of 2017 was set seven years ago by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) for the units, which account for 78 per cent of the country’s coal-fired thermal power capacity. It was revised to 2024 on March 31, 2021. 

The power ministry cited the following reasons for the extension: 

  • Phased manufacturing programme for flue gas desulfurisation (FGD) to encourage ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’. FGD is an equipment to remove SO2 emissions from the plants
  • High cost of FGD due to demand-supply gap and escalated prices of FGD to Rs 1.14 crore from 0.39 crore per unit of generation
  • COVID-19 disrupted planning, tendering and implementation of FGD
  • Import constraints for FGD components such as borosilicates, absorber lining due to geopolitical conditions

Chain of events for implementation


Source: CSE

At present only 5 per cent of the capacity in Category C is in compliance with emission norms, showed an analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based non-profit. 

The assessment is based on Central Electricity Authority’s (CEA) updates of the status of installation of FGD in coal-fired thermal power plants. 

Another 40 per cent has awarded the bid for installation of FGD.

These plants do not need an extension in deadline as both technical and commercial bids have been finalised for them, and are likely to comply with the current 2024 deadline. 

Another 29 per cent capacity in Category C has opened bids for FGD and will likely meet the deadline if work goes as planned. The remaining 26 per cent is at a nascent stage of compliance and in all likelihood will miss the 2024 deadline. 

Compliance status of Category C plants


Source: CSE

This implies that the extension, if implemented, will once again stall the work progress in 95 per cent of the capacity in Category C for the next several years. 

The coal power plants are categorised based on their aerial distance from the million-plus population cities, non-attainment cities, critically polluted area and Delhi-National Capital Region region.

Category Criteria Deadline for compliance
A Within 10 km radius of the National Capital Region (NCR) or cities having million-plus population 2022
B Within 10 km radius of critically polluted areas or non-attainment cities 2023
C Remaining  plants 2024

Apart from the plants in Category C, CSE also analysed the compliance status for the plants in Category A and Category B, the compliance deadlines for which are 2022 and 2023 respectively. 

These plants are either within a 10-kilometre radius of Delhi-NCR / metropolitan city or a critically polluted area. 

Over half (54 per cent) plants in Category A are not likely to meet the December 2022 deadline and only 13 per cent of it has complied with the norms till date, showed the CSE analysis. 

Compliance status of Category A plants

Source: CSE

In the case of Category B plants, 61 per cent capacity is likely to miss the deadline and only 8 per cent ‘claims to be compliant’ so far. Around 30 per cent capacity in this category has been awarded and may meet the stipulated deadline. 

Compliance status of Category B plants


Source: CSE

Pandemic easy-out

COVID-19 has become an easy option to justify sidestepping environmental concerns. The pace of industrial operation has picked up in the country since the COVID-19-induced lockdowns were relaxed. But coal-fired thermal power plants seem to be stuck in the vicious cycle only when it comes to implementation of emission norms. 

For years, the power plants have filed petitions in court, MoP have written to MoEF&CC, CEA published research papers requesting and justifying relaxation in deadlines, relaxation in norms and exemption of the plants from meeting norms altogether.

 Nivit Kumar Yadav, programme director, industrial pollution department, CSE, said:  

MoP was in consensus with the MoEF&CC’s March 31, 2021 notification proposing disaggregated deadlines for coal fired thermal power plants. In fact, the list of plants categorisation was made in consultation with MoP and the plants. 

There is a penalty clause in the March 2021 notification by MoEF&CC that allows non-compliant plants to pay penalties and keep running, he added. “What is the point of making provision for penalties if these deadlines are not meant to be adhered to in the first place?”

Any thermal power plant not able to meet the 2024 deadline should be closed down, the expert insisted. MoEF&CC, for once, should safeguard the interest of the environment and not favour the polluters and continuous violators, he added. 

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