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Chhattisgarh worst, but thermal power poisoning rest of India's future too

Avesh Tiwari | Updated on: 9 September 2015, 15:14 IST

Reason for concern

  • The Centre for Science and Environment undertook a Green Rating Project on thermal power plants
  • Forty-seven plants, accounting for half of India\'s total production, were studied
  • A plant following the best practices can get up to 80% rating. The overall score was 23%

Nub of the problem

  • Carbon Dioxide emissions are 14% higher than China
  • Overall, 55% of power plants violate the lenient pollution norms
  • The disposal of fly-ash, a residue of burning coal, is a major problem

Worst-affected region

  • Chhattisgarh\'s coal-rich Korba region is among the worst-affected areas in the country
  • Emissions from the 10 power plants in the area are making it almost uninhabitable
  • Two of the four plants studied in the region had efficiency scores of just 22% and 18%

Situated amidst the Satpura Hills, the Korba district of Chhattisgarh is home to a population roughly equal to the nation of Bahrain.

The region is known for its rich coal mines, including the Gevra area, which has one of the biggest coal mines in Asia.

This has made this area the power hub of Chhattisgarh, which prides itself as one of the power-surplus states in the country.

Out of the 8.5 gigawatts of electricity produced in the state, 6,000 MW comes from 10 thermal plants in Korba. One would assume this would have ushered in a new era of prosperity in the region. But one would be wrong.

Miserable living conditions

The Korba skyline is dotted with chimneys spewing dense smoke, which has made life miserable for people of the area.

Skin ailments, lung problems and asthma are on the rise among residents of villages like Churri, Lotlota, Char Bhhatti, Churri Kordh and Jamini Palli.

Livelihoods of locals have also taken a hit as the fertility of the land continuously decreases and water used for irrigation gets increasingly polluted.

The Centre for Science and Environment's (CSE) Green Rating Project puts Korba as the second most polluted district of the country.

The CSE's rating, the first-ever environmental rating of coal-based plants in India, ranked Chhattisgarh's power plants as the lowest in terms of safeguards against pollution.

Pollution-surplus state

Plants were rated on 60 parameters like coal and water use, plant efficiency, air and water pollution and ash management.

The two-year long research assessed four plants in Chhattisgarh, accounting for more than 60% of the current capacity in the state.

Two out of these, Lanco-Amarkantak and CSPGCL-Hasdeo, operate in Korba. The study found these plants performing poorly on all counts and were ranked at the 25th and 36th spots, with scores of 22% and 15% respectively.

No adequate measures have been put in place to control pollution from these plants, despite the fact that the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has classified Korba as critically polluted, the study claims.

In fact, the fly-ash emitted by these plants is increasing far more rapidly that thermal power plants in other states.

The limitations

Experts attribute this situation partly to the use of low-quality coal, in a bid to reduce the production cost.

"Government power plants have their limitations. They can only use coal that is provided to them. It is true that the pollution level from these plants has increased. However, we are trying bring it down," says Shailendra Dubey, president of the All India Power Engineers Federation.

Not only that, all these plants are operating at 60-70% capacity only. The same number of power plants can meet additional demand, if their efficiency is improved. This will reduce the need to build additional power plants.

Dismal ratings across the board

The Green Rating Project has presented a grim picture of India's thermal power sector.

It evaluated 47 plants across the country, producing around 50% of India's thermal power output. The overall score was a dismal 23%. A plant following all the best practices can get up to 80% as per the parameters of the study.

The power generation efficiency (32.8%) was found to be the lowest among major coal-based power producing countries. The average Carbon Dioxide emission was 14% higher than China's.

The top performing power plants were West Bengal's CESC-Budge Budge, followed by JSEWL-Toranagallu in Karnataka, Tata-Trombay and JSW-Ratnagiri (both in Maharashtra). The worst of the lot was Delhi's Badarpur plant.

A study has exposed the inefficiency of India's thermal power plants. The overall efficiency rating was 23%

The average water consumption of Indian thermal power plants (4 cubic metres/MWh) is about double the amount of average water consumed by Chinese power plants (2.5 cubic metres/MWh).

According to the study, around 55% of thermal power units were violating air pollution standards, which are already very lenient when compared to countries like China.

The problem of fly-ash

The study flags fly-ash disposal as one of the major problems of India's thermal power sector.

For example, more than one lakh metric tonnes of fly-ash is generated annually by thermal plants in Korba. Less than 50% of it is utilised.

The same goes for plants across India, which produce around 170 million tonnes of fly-ash every year. About 40-50% of this is dumped into poorly designed and maintained ash ponds.

The study estimates about a billion tonnes of this toxic ash lies dumped in these ponds, severely contaminating land, air and water. The annual production of this residual ash is likely to go up to 300 million tonnes per annum with in 6-7 years, according to the study.

The way forward

"Given the rapid increase in coal-based power projected by the government, stress on precious resources like water and coal will increase and air and water pollution will worsen, unless corrective measures are taken by the industry and policy-makers," says CSE director Sunita Narain.

So is there a way India can get out of this mess while meeting the energy demands? The Green Rating Project suggests several corrective measures in this regard. Some of these are:

  • Tightening norms for air pollution at par with the global standards.
  • Strengthening regulatory bodies, including giving them power to impose stiff penalties on the erring power plants.
  • Modifications in the ash policy to support its higher usage.
  • Closure of old, inefficient plants and introduction of innovative efficiency improvement schemes.
  • Increase in water tariff to curb excessive use by power plants.

The Union minister for environment, Prakash Javadekar, claims, "The government is serious about pollution from thermal power plants.

"The Central Pollution Control Board has set a deadline for setting up smokeless technology in them."

But the question remains: will the government put the money where its mouth is?

First published: 9 September 2015, 15:17 IST
Avesh Tiwari @PatrikaNews

Avesh Tiwari is a journalist with Rajasthan Patrika in Jaipur.