The Ministry must appoint fly ash monitoring committees
The Ministry must appoint fly ash monitoring committees

The Ministry must appoint fly ash monitoring committees

Soundaram Ramanthan
, Researcher, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE),

Soundaram Ramanthan, Researcher, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), speaks on the new environmental norms for curbing pollution from power plants, with specific focus on the treatment of fly ash.

The new environmental policy framework for power stations came into force from December 2015. What has been the response from the industry?
The industry is pushing back. Very less enthusiasm is seen among the power stations to implement the standards. An informal survey by CSE found that many power stations have little idea about the pollution control equipment needed by their plants to meet the new standards. Some are in early stages of hiring consultants or asking manufacturers for clarifications on how to undertake the process.

The success factor is the norm which aims to reduce air pollution in the power industry. Over 75 per cent of air pollution in India is due to industries, and air pollution due to coal-based power stations out of all the Indian industries is disproportionately large. Over 60 per cent particulate matter emission, 45 per cent sulphur dioxide, 30 per cent oxides of nitrogen and 80 per cent mercury emissions from the industrial sector are by coal-based power plants. Reducing the stack pollution load of coal-based thermal power stations would mean reducing about one-third of air pollution load in India.

However, money required for up gradation is a difficulty, given that state generation companies already have huge debts to repay. The coal cess should be diverted to ensure implementation of the norms. Also, in case of old power stations which have completed the useful life of 25 years, the remaining lifetime, efficiency, usefulness etc., should be assessed before more investments in pollution control.

Give us your views on the new fly ash transportation norms.
The new norm mandates power stations to transport fly ash free of cost, up to 100 km, for use in private projects and up to 300 km for use in government projects. According to CSE estimates, transport of fly ash up to 100 km by road costs around 4 paisa per kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity generated, compared to current ash-disposal costs of around 3 paisa/kWh. Therefore, the amendment will not have a material impact on a power plant´s costs; it will significantly benefit fly ash brick manufacturers since fly ash costs are a major portion of their total manufacturing costs.

In fact, fly ash brick makers end up paying a much higher amount to procure fly ash from traders since they are often unable to get it directly from power plants, so the benefit to them may be even higher. The time period given by the Environment Ministry to comply with these provisions is December 31, 2017. The success factor can be measured only by 2018.

The notification calls the Ministry to form a committee to ensure implementation of the provisions of the Act. However, such a monitoring committee has not been appointed so far.

Is the policy regulation sufficient to encourage the use of fly ash instead of clay bricks? What can be further done to reduce the production of clay bricks?
As a measure to increase demand for fly ash, the notification mandates use of fly ash bricks in all government projects where built-up area is over 1,000 sq ft. And all the cities having a million and above population will have to amend their by-laws to use fly ash bricks mandatorily. CSE welcomes this move of the Ministry and considers this the first encouraging step towards increasing fly ash utilisation. There are 53 urban centres having a million and over population in India and they are responsible for 25-40 per cent of the country´s total brick consumption, i.e., up to 80 billion bricks annually. If these cities, as expected, resort to use of fly ash bricks by amending by-laws, this can lead to a cumulative increase in fly ash use by 80 million tonnes. However, a concerted effort is required; authorities at the municipality level should come forward to ensure implementation.

Lack of implementation has been a major factor for failure in meeting the 100 per cent fly ash utilisation target. Therefore, the Ministry must appoint ´fly ash monitoring committees´ at the state and Central level, in compliance with the fly ash notification, 2009, and publish and put in the public domain - like on the Environment Ministry website - a monthly report of the activities of these committees. Four major end-use agencies - Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Urban Development and Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty - should be included in the Central monitoring committee.

Is the present policy strong enough in order to implement Continuous Emission Monitoring (CEM)?
Most of the industries which fall under the 17 ´red´ category have installed Continuous Emissions Monitoring System. However, we are lagging behind on certification systems. We still need systems in place to ensure certification of the device, accreditation of labs which manufacture the calibration gases and common data servers at the central level. Also, the policies and legislations must be modified to use data from CEMs for regulatory purposes including legal proceedings.

A few striking changes for thermal power plants which came into force from December 2015

  • New standards for plants that are commissioned after 2016 will cut down emissions of particulate matter by 25 per cent, sulphur dioxide (SO2) by 90 per cent, nitrogen oxide (NOx) by 70 per cent and mercury by 75 per cent, compared to existing state-of-the-art plants, with water use remaining the same.
  • Existing plants will need to meet tighter standards, and will have to ration their water use.
  • Cumulatively, freshwater withdrawal could decrease from around 22 billion cubic metres in 2012 to around 4.5 billion cubic metres in 2017, an 80 per cent dip.

Brief Intro:
Soundaram Ramanthan has been working with the Centre for Science and Environment for over four years as a researcher. She looks into policies related to sustainable industrialisation. She has had the opportunity to work with the coal mining and thermal power plant pollution issues at CSE. She was involved in CSE´s Singrauli mercury pollution study, Green Clearance Watch, which tracks the key sectoral developments including thermal power projects in India since 2007, coastal power research and India´s first environmental rating of coal-based power by CSE (called the "Heat on Power"). She holds a B. Tech degree in Energy and Environmental Engineering from the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and an M Tech in Energy and Environmental Management from IIT-Delhi.

About CSE
The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) is a public interest research and advocacy organisation based in New Delhi. CSE researches into, lobbies for and communicates the urgency of development that is both sustainable and equitable. The scenario today demands using knowledge to bring about change. In other words, working India´s democracy. This is what CSE aims to do.

The challenge, as CSE sees, is two-pronged. On the one hand, millions live within a biomass based subsistence economy, at the margins of survival. The environment is their only natural asset. But a degraded environment means stress on land, water and forest resources for survival. It means increasing destitution and poverty. Here, opportunity to bring about change is enormous. CSE calls this knowledge-based activism.

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