Indian coal plants unlikely to meet pollution norms: CSE

Smoke coming out of a coal power plant in Karnataka

A new study report by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) finds that almost 70 per cent of India’s coal-fired power plants will not meet revised emission standards that come into effect in two years.

The norms were set in December 2015 by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).

“Even after seven years since the notification and even after the agreed five-year extension given to this sector in 2017, most of the total installed coal-fired capacity will not be compliant with the crucial sulphur dioxide (SO2) standards by 2022,” says CSE director general Sunita Narain.

The study comes in the wake of the Government of India throwing open the coal mining sector to private sector majors, even as efforts are on globally to phase out the usage of the highly polluting energy source to control climate change.

“Given the thrust of the Indian government to expedite and enhance coal mining in the country, our study gains urgency,” CSE said.

“We cannot accept that we will continue to use coal without emission control. We want growth post lockdown, but it has to be a growth which comes with our right to clean air. This must be equally important,” the environmental NGO emphasized.

Narain says there is little information in the public domain about compliance levels for dust or other pollutants like NOx standards.

“Certainly, there is no direction to the thermal power plants that they must meet the crucial water standards, which would make this water-guzzling sector more responsible on its usage,” she says.

Coal-fired power plants are some of the most polluting industries in the country, estimated to account for over 60 per cent of the total particulate matter (PM) emissions from all industry, as well as 45 per cent of the SO2, 30 per cent of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and over 80 per cent of the mercury emissions.

The sector is responsible for 70 per cent of total freshwater withdrawal by all industries in the country, according to the NGO.

“Therefore, even as we continue using coal, India’s thermal power sector must clean up its act. This is absolutely non-negotiable,” adds Narain.

Nevertheless, coal is the mainstay of India’s power sector with 56 per cent of generation capacity being based on it. The share of actual power generated will be higher, as coal plants can run 24×7, unlike solar and hydro electric projects, which face fluctuations in their energy supply.

The CSE says that the 2015 standards can cut down emissions of particles by 35 per cent, SO2 by 80 per cent, and NOx by 42 per cent, while bringing down freshwater use.

The sector, however, has been far from forthcoming in accepting the norms, the environmental organization complains.


CSE has urged the environment ministry to issue directions and impose hefty fines on the plants which are not on the path to meeting the 2022 deadline.

“High penalties/closure notices should be issued for non-compliant Delhi-NCR airshed plants at least for the peak winter pollution months.
Take urgent decision regarding the older plants which cannot meet the already lax emission standards.

“These must be retired/refurbished to use alternative fuels or move towards using the plants for biomass gasification or ultra-modern municipal waste processing units.”

“We know that this sector, which provides energy to the country’s industry and households, is difficult to shut down,” says Narain.

“Therefore, there is insufficient deterrence which is clearly derailing the implementation efforts – as a result of which power plants continue to flout all directions. We are suggesting that there should be changes in the merit order dispatch system so that it provides an effective tool to incentivise the cleaner plants and reward the best performers, while also disincentivising units that do not adhere to standards.”