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Pollution due to coal-based thermal power generation in India

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Environmental Pollution and Degradation


Source: DTE

 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.


Way ahead:

  • 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.


Insta Links:

Flue Gas Desulphurisation