“Completely meeting requirements of revised environmental norms by December 2017 may not be feasible,” admits the office of Ravindra Kumar Verma, chief of CEA.
Faced with the fact that almost none of the over 400 thermal power plants across the country has complied with new emission norms notified more than a year ago, the Government is learnt to have decided to relax the December 2017 deadline — and even dilute the standards it had set.
It was in December 2015 that the Environment Ministry laid down, for the first time, emission norms for Nitrogen and Sulphur oxides (NOx and SOx) for thermal plants. It also fixed stricter limits for particulate matter (PM) emission and consumption of water.
Short of a year to the deadline, none of the units has fully complied.
“Completely meeting requirements of revised environmental norms by December 2017 may not be feasible,” admits the office of Ravindra Kumar Verma, chief of the Central Electricity Authority (CEA).
Asked why, it said that the power utilities have demanded “relaxation of standards” due to technological issues, huge civil work, very high capital cost and non-availability of space in existing plants to accommodate green technologies.
This non-compliance flies in the face of the Clean Coal Policy declared in India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution towards climate justice in October 2015 and the claims made in last week’s Budget to promote clean energy by adding 20 GW of solar power capacity.
The non-compliance shouldn’t come as a surprise.
For, right from the draft stage to the post-notification phase, the move to raise the bar faced stiff resistance from within the government and the industry.
In June 2015, the biggest player in the sector, National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), in its comment to the Environment ministry wrote that the proposed norms were “much more stringent than (those) prescribed by World Bank and even. China in some parameters.”
The same month, in a separate response to the said draft, the Union Power Ministry attached a table listing emission norms for thermal plants in China to argue that India’s were tougher.
On paper, the Chinese standards attached with the Power Ministry’s response were indeed a lot more generous than those proposed for India. The catch: this was data from four years earlier and China had long revised and upgraded these standards to levels far more stringent than those notified by India in 2015.
Three months after the Environment Ministry notified the standards in December 2015, NTPC sought relaxation despite the fact that its objections to the draft emission standards were set aside by the Environment Ministry before notification. But the maharatna company refused to give in.
When asked to explain the non-compliance, an NTPC spokesperson said that the “CEA is preparing a phasing plan for implementation of new environmental plan. (which) is expected by March 2017” and that “NTPC shall formalise the action plan. subsequent to phasing plan by CEA and revision in the new norms” (as applicable).”
The Environment Ministry itself is to blame as well.
It did not specify the new standards on a number of occasions while appraising or issuing clearances to thermal plants post-notification.
For example, environmental clearances given to NTPC’s Ramagundam plant in January 2016 and to KU Thermal Power Private Ltd’s super critical project in Tamil Nadu in March 2016 said emissions standards for particulate matter should not exceed 50 mg/Nm3 (normal cubic metre) even though the plants were to be commissioned in 2018 and were required to limit emission to 30 mg/Nm3.
Asked to explain this, the Ministry told the National Green Tribunal that the terms were “inadvertently not amended” while issuing the approved clearance.
Myopic RP lacks solutions to tackle climate change
Paul Fernandes| TNN | Updated: Jan 24, 2017, 03.01 PM IST
Goa, like other coastal states, will be vulnerable to the impact of sea level rise and other future events in the sensitive Indonesian region. The state's coast was affected by cyclonic storms in Arabian sea in the past, with cyclone Phyan in November 2009 being one of them.
The rapid urbanization and decrease in green cover due to construction and other activities are worrying environmentalists and others. "More tall buildings, increasing concretization and paving of open spaces, felling of trees and other factors will affect the state," Goa Bachao Abhiyan (GBA) convener, Sabina Martins, says.
Scientists from the National Institute of Oceanographcy (NIO) have noticed impacts of a sudden surge of sea levels at high tidethough some were localized phenomenonin the recent past. "Rising sea levels affect areas near the sea and rivers the most. The government should carry out studies to assess this threat," Siddharth Karapurkar, a member of the NGO Federation of Rainbow Warriors (FoRW), says.
Vijay Pinjarkar| TNN | Updated: Jan 21, 2017, 10.16 AM IST
NAGPUR: The new Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) on coal mining & thermal power, which was constituted recently, is on a clearance spree of projects for dirty energy.
New EACs under the Union Ministry for Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) were constituted in December 2016 under the chairmanship of Dr Navin Chandra, former director of CSIR-Advanced Materials and Processes Research Institute (AMPRI). As soon as they were constituted, EAC (coal) met on December 27, and EAC (thermal) on December 28. Without sharing agenda with members 15 days before the meeting, the environment ministry seems to be rushing to clear projects.
For example, EAC for thermal power projects in its first meeting okayed 15 of 18 proposals it considered. Only two projects got deferred, one of which was due to the absence of project proponent. The new EAC for coal mining and coal washery projects considered 10 proposals, of which seven were cleared and only three got deferred.
Of the seven cleared proposals, two are from Maharashtra for expansion of coal mining. These include expansion of Western Coalfields Limited (WCL) Gokul open cast mine project from 1.0 MTPA to 1.875 MTPA on an area of 756.92 hectares in Piraya village in Umrer near Nagpur. Another WCL project is expansion of New Majri underground to open cast mine from 0.8 MTPA to 1.2 MTPA on an area of 479.16 hectares in Chandrapur district, which is already critically polluted.
Delhi-based EIA Resource & Response Centre (ERC), which keeps track of EIA processes, did a rapid analysis of last three meetings by earlier EAC (coal mining & thermal power) and found that 25 projects were appraised, of which 17 projects were deferred or rejected due to various reasons like poor quality of public hearing conducted, absence of public hearing, absence of adequate and authentic information on the ground of ecological consideration like presence of elephant corridor within 10km radius and in some cases due to involvement of forest land conversions. One project was cancelled due to an NGT order against it.
It is interesting to note that new EAC has discarded all arguments against dirty energy. For example, minutes for one cleared proposals highlighted the benefits stating, "Development of Gokul mines in Umrer has resulted in improvement in physical and social infrastructure, increase in employment potential, contribution to the exchequer, meeting energy requirement and post-mining enhancement of green cover."
Written by Jay Mazoomdaar | New Delhi | Updated: January 20, 2017 10:30 am
In its first two years, the Narendra Modi government cleared over 2,000 projects involving investment worth Rs 10 lakh crore.
Don’t delay project clearances by repeatedly asking for different studies. That was Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave’s message to non-official expert members of the ministry’s appraisal committees. He urged them to work hard to clear the bulk of pending processes over the next three months.
Around 40 expert members from all over the country were invited to an “interaction and lunch” which was followed by a closed-door meeting with the minister at the ministry headquarters on January 5.
In his 45-minute address — according to two expert members present at the meeting — the minister spoke of the vision and contribution of his party and the government while charting the course they should follow while appraising project proposals. Key directions included:
* Ensure zero-corruption in the appraisal process.
* Clear projects fast. Don’t hold back development.
* Don’t compromise on ease of doing business, the key goal of the government.
* Work as a team towards that goal or resign right away.
* Be wary of NGOs funded by foreign interests that don’t want India to develop.
Reached for comments, Dave told The Indian Express he wanted non-official expert members to be more active in ensuring that environmental protection and development go hand in hand.
“They should always put their opinion on record. But we can’t sit on projects for years and keep asking for XYZ studies. Yeh nahin chalega (this won’t do). The culture of delay must change. Genuine projects must be cleared within a fixed deadline,” he said.
In its first two years, the Narendra Modi government cleared over 2,000 projects involving investment worth Rs 10 lakh crore. In May 2016, Dave’s predecessor Prakash Javadekar had said that the average waiting period for project approval had been brought down to 190 days from 600 days during the UPA regime and the aim now was to reduce it further to 100 days.
At the January 5 meeting, Dave raised several questions to make his point. “He asked if we should bother about cutting trees when soldiers were dying on the border. Or about putting speed breakers on highways to save animals when CRPF jawans were getting injured in blasts in Chhattisgarh. He talked about activists who sip bottled water while lecturing on rivers while villagers go without water for 250-300 days a year,” said an expert member present at the meeting.
Another expert member said: “We are in these committees as subject experts to offer our independent opinion on technical issues. We are scientists, not rubber stamps. Also, I don’t think it was an occasion for the minister to talk about his party. We don’t need to prove our patriotism by blindly clearing projects,” he said.
Asked if he served an ultimatum, Dave said he was “probably misunderstood” by some of the expert members. “I spoke about strategic projects like border roads that take supplies to our forces. I stressed on zero-tolerance to corruption, particularly in the wake of demonetisation. I did not ask anyone to resign. I said mann pe bojh rakh ke kaam mat kijiye (don’t work with a burden on your mind),” he said.
Before Dave made his speech, the ministry held a brief presentation and listed the number of projects cleared by different expert committees in the past to evaluate their performance. The minister’s speech was followed by an appeal by Environment Secretary Ajay Narayan Jha, urging experts to come up with suggestions for speeding up the clearance process.
The committee emphasised that relevant ministries scrutinised every aspect of a project and proposed it for final appraisal only when all details were in place.
Blaming public representations for making “sweeping statements” and having “an anti-development attitude”, the expert appraisal committee (EAC) on river valley and hydel projects of the Ministry of Environment has decided “not to take any cognizance of such representations” received by its members. In its December 30 meeting, the committee concluded that once a project proposal reaches the EAC for appraisal, it has crossed the stage of public consultation and “the EAC should not go back in time, and should not reopen it, by entertaining unsubstantiated representations received from the people”.
In case of any clarification regarding action taken on such representations under the RTI Act, the EAC prescribed that a standard reply — “action has been taken in accordance with the decisions taken in the 1st meeting of the EAC for River Valley and HEP on 30.12.2016” — should suffice.
“It was also felt that many of the objections raised are repetitive. Many such kind of representations have an anti-development attitude so that the projects are kept on hold or delayed. This has financial implications to the developers in particular and to the nation in general,” the EAC noted.
The committee emphasised that relevant ministries scrutinised every aspect of a project and proposed it for final appraisal only when all details were in place. If not satisfied that public consultation had been completed properly, the EAC said it could ask the project promoter to do the needful. The committee also made allowance for representations with “new points” and “grave consequences” on which comments from project proponents could be sought.
Environmental activists, however, pointed out the impracticality of the contention that representations should be restricted to the 30-day public consultation window.
“Public hearing is limited to only the state where a project is located. But many projects impact larger populations. For example, downstream impact of hydel projects in Arunachal Pradesh on Assam. Moreover, public hearings are seldom publicised widely or conducted fairly. If a submission has no merit, the EAC can record it as such but there is no justification for barring it altogether,” said Neeraj Wagholikar of Pune-based Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group.
Environmental lawyer Ritwik Dutta argued that expert appraisal committees rarely scrutinise proceedings of public hearings. “The EIA notification of 2006 requires that public hearings be video recorded. The purpose is that the members of the EAC view the video and form an opinion. But there is hardly any time for that in the rapid appraisal mode necessary for bulk clearance of projects,” he said.
In the landmark November 2009 judgment in Utkarsh Mandal vs Union Of India, the Delhi High Court observed: “The unseemly rush to grant environmental clearances should not be at the cost of the environment itself. The spirit of the EAC has to be respected. We do not see how more than five applications for EIA clearance can be taken up for consideration at a single meeting of the EAC. This is another matter which deserves serious consideration at the hands of MoEF.”
The EAC considered 13 projects in its December 30 meeting and cleared eight of them.