GS Paper 3
Syllabus: Environmental Pollution and Degradation
Context: One of the most polluting sectors of India – coal-based thermal power generation – was found to be brazenly flouting emission norms.
Emission norms in place: The MoEFCC made it mandatory (in 2015) for thermal power plants to install a flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) system to remove sulphur dioxide from their exhaust.
Status of implementation:
- Poor implementation of the sulphur dioxide emissions regulations.
- For example,
- Only 5% of the country’s installed coal-based thermal power generation capacities had the FGD mechanism in place. (CSE)
- 17% of the overall coal power capacity was still at the very initial stages of compliance.
Regional data on implementation status:
- No plant in eastern India was found to be compliant with SO2 emissions norms.
- Maharashtra has the highest capacity to comply with the norms, followed by Gujarat, UP, Haryana and Tamil Nadu.
What do these results indicate?
- The sector has been unwilling to comply with the central government regulations. Even new projects are not compliant with the SO2 emissions norms.
- This is despite the fact that the norms have been diluted for several parameters and deadlines delayed since they were issued.
Reasons for the delayed implementation of the norms: The sector’s dependency on the external market for some FGD components, the novelty of the technology for the Indian market and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Impact of poor implementation:
- Sulphur dioxide released in the open (without desulphurisation) causes pollution.
- When sulphur dioxide combines with water and air, it forms sulfuric acid, which is the main component of acid rain.
- Acid rain can cause deforestation, acidify waterways to the detriment of aquatic life, and be detrimental to human health (skin cancer).
Challenges ahead: A total of 20 thermal plants are now being built with a combined capacity of 27.4 GW, which will likely be included in the national capacity by the end of 2027–2028.
- The latest National Electricity Plan (NEP) for 2022-32 has advocated for different standards for plants in different locations.
- The Government should not further extend the deadline for compliance.
- It should be mandatory for new units to install the FGD system, only then they can begin operations.