India Collectively: Laws delayed are laws denied

Efforts to rein in large emissions of pollution, and to scale back volumes of water consumed by coal-based thermal energy crops have been thwarted by infinite delays in implementing the laws that have been to take impact final 12 months. Shripad Dharmadhikary experiences.

01 October 2018

It’s properly recognised that justice delayed is justice denied. This adage is equally related to laws for shielding the atmosphere and human well being, the place it’s changing into more and more clear that ‘implementation delayed is implementation denied’, and the place delays change into a handy manner of violating or circumventing the regulation and its protections for the atmosphere. That is as soon as once more introduced house by what is going on with the laws to regulate emissions and water consumption of coal-based thermal energy crops.

The Laws of December 2015

Coal-based energy era is the most important supply of electrical energy within the nation. For the 12 months 2017-2018, coal and lignite-based crops generated an awesome 82% of all electrical energy generated within the nation. Nevertheless, burning coal to generate energy ends in large portions of pollution, and makes use of enormous volumes of water. In line with a report by the Atmosphere Air pollution (Prevention and Management) Authority for NCR (EPCA), “thermal energy crops in India are answerable for 70 per cent of the overall freshwater withdrawal by all industries; over 60 per cent of the particulate matter emissions; 50 per cent of SO2, NOx emissions and greater than 80 per cent of mercury emissions.”

Emissions from a brilliant thermal energy station. Pic: Wikimedia commons

In recognition of the big emissions and water use of thermal energy crops and their well being impacts, and as a result of steady strain from environmental activists, the Ministry of Atmosphere, Forests and Local weather Change (MoEFCC) notified for the primary time, in December 2015,  requirements for emission of sulphur di-oxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), mercury (Hg), and norms for consumption of water by thermal energy crops. Additional, the requirements for emission of particulate matter (PM) have been made extra stringent. Considerably lenient requirements have been notified for energy crops put in earlier than 2016, and extra stringent necessities have been mandated for crops to return on-line after January 2017. A interval of two years, till December 2017, was given for all crops to adjust to the laws. Vegetation to be put in after January 2017 needed to comply on commissioning.

When applied, these new requirements have been estimated to usher in vital advantages. As per the Central Air pollution Management Board (CPCB), the advantages included “discount in PM, SO2 and oxides of nitrogen by about 40%, 48% and 48% respectively…discount of mercury emissions by 60% … and discount of water consumption by about 40%.” The brand new norms have been welcomed by environmental activists, public well being professionals and communities dwelling within the neighborhood of energy crops as first step in decreasing the well being and livelihood impacts of energy crops.

Stall, Delay, Dilute

Nevertheless, the sense of satisfaction was short-lived, because it quickly turned obvious that neither the business nor the Ministry of Energy (MoP) was actually thinking about implementing the brand new requirements. Undoubtedly, implementation of the notification was a fancy course of because it concerned retrofitting lots of the crops with extra gear to satisfy the requirements; arranging for added finance for a similar at a time when non-preforming property (NPAs) together with energy sector NPAs have been constraining financial institution lending; a shutdown of crops for a brief interval through the retrofit and managing the staggering of such shutdowns in order that the nation didn’t face energy scarcity; tariff setting course of to permit the prices of assembly the laws to be recovered, and so forth.

Such a scenario wanted fast motion by particular person energy crops, in addition to some coordination by the Central Electrical energy Authority (CEA), the Ministry of Energy (MoP) and the central and state electrical energy regulatory commissions (ERCs). Nevertheless, as a substitute of getting all the way down to planning the actions to satisfy the norms, many of the business began clamouring for  delaying, stalling and even diluting the requirements. Paperwork obtained by a number of folks below the Proper to Info Act and reviewed by this writer have been revealing.

Instantly after the notification was issued, a number of industries and business associations wrote to the MoEFCC / CPCB elevating a number of considerations. These considerations included requirements being too stringent, value of assembly the requirements being very excessive, impossibility of implementing the requirements in a few of the older crops as a result of lack of area, exempting under-construction and older plant from these requirements, some expertise not confirmed in India, not sufficient suppliers to satisfy the gear wanted for retrofitting so many crops at a time, and the necessity for extra time to implement the norms.

By mid-February 2016, MoEFCC/CPCB had thought-about these considerations and objections and categorically said that besides exempting coastal energy crops based mostly on sea water cooling from the water use  norms, no different modifications have been crucial within the notified norms, nor have been any deadlines required to be modified. Apparently, all these objections had additionally been raised by the business when the draft of the notification had been put out by the MoEFCC in June 2015. Even at that stage, MoEFCC/ CPCB has examined all of the objections and issued the notification in December 2015.

Thus, it was clear that these objections had been examined twice, as soon as on the draft notification stage and second after the ultimate notification had been issued, and at each instances, MoEFCC was clear that the objections weren’t well-founded. In reality, CPCB additionally supplied to supply help to business if wanted; nevertheless, it emphasised that the business wanted to indicate proof of intent to implement the norms. Particularly, in context of objections raised by NTPC, the CPCB said: “MoEFCC might be approached for technological resolution not for rest of restrict … Energy firms ought to include motion plan and agency schedule and in any other case two years’ time is ample if well timed motion is initiated by the facility firms. Even when extra time interval is required MoEFCC might contemplate the identical based mostly on bodily and monetary dedication by the Energy firms”. (Emphasis added)

The intention and dedication of the facility firms to implement the brand new norms might have been simply confirmed based mostly on whether or not they had proven the “bodily and monetary dedication” talked about by CPCB. This might have within the type of the a number of interim steps crucial for implementation like assessments of the measures essential to implement the brand new requirements, detailed designing for the gear and retrofits wanted, budgeting for a similar, approaching the electrical energy regulatory commissions with such plans and budgets to hunt restoration of the prices via tariffs, issuance of tenders and so forth.

Sadly, barring a number of remoted initiatives, many of the initiatives didn’t take any of the above steps even because the deadline to satisfy the norms got here to an finish in Dec 2017, indicating a transparent lack of significant motion (and intent) to implement the brand new norms. The CEA and MoP took some steps to coordinate the actions of the facility firms, however the tempo and route of this didn’t encourage optimism, and in any case, the primary intent gave the impression to be on scheduling the roll-out of the measures as this may contain some momentary plant shut downs. In impact, digital inaction on assembly the deadline led to 2 full years being wasted.

A tolerant regulatory regime

Presumably, all this was inspired by a perception that laws in India needn’t be taken significantly, and stalling implementation would all the time be rewarded with extensions of timelines and even dilutions of norms. MoEFCC’s personal lax perspective in that it didn’t trouble about monitoring the interim steps that should be taken to satisfy the deadline would have strengthened this sense. 

It was solely on 21 September 2016 that the CEA and MoP constituted a committee to organize an motion plan for implementation of the norms. On 30 June 2017, simply six months earlier than the top of the deadline for implementation, Secretary MoP wrote to MoEFCC, giving a “plan” which mentioned that SO2 emission norms could be met via set up of Flue Fuel Desulphurisation (FGD) items for all crops that wanted them, within the subsequent 7 years! The identical time interval was prompt from compliance to PM norms in addition to NOx norms. The MoEFCC determined that this was too lengthy, and decreased the time interval to five years.  Primarily based on this, CPCB issued instructions to all energy crops in Dec 2017 permitting this rest.

There was no penalty levied on any energy plant for not assembly the deadline as per extant laws. Inaction on the norms for 2 years was rewarded with a 5-year extension. Not solely that, whereas the laws have been notified via a gazette notification, the comfort of the time restrict was achieved via a mere letter or route. The brand new “plan” to realize compliance by 2022 had primarily the dates for every plant to satisfy the FGD set up however had no interim milestones, no point out of any penalties for defaulting on interim milestones, and no particular and credible mentoring mechanism.

The dearth of interim milestones and penalties for lacking them was a vital omission given the expertise that the sooner two years have been wasted by the business with just about no steps being taken; absence of interim monitoring can result in a scenario the place on the finish of the deadline one is confronted with a fait accompli of emission targets not being met, and there’s toddler can do besides lengthen the deadline, and let communities bear the hardships of continued air pollution. Then again, interim milestones and their monitoring can be certain that well timed steps are being taken and to usher in well timed course correction in case they don’t seem to be met.

As per the CPCB’s December 2017 letter, the prolonged timeline for assembly the water norms was to be “finalised in session with the crops”. This seems to be a considerably irregular as a result of on one hand, this was a blanket extension of the deadline; and on the opposite as a result of this may contain whole discretion within the palms of the CPCB leaving room for suspicion of adjusting timelines for extraneous concerns. Furthermore, in contrast to for emissions the place at the least some causes (although largely untenable) had been put ahead to justify the extensions, in case of water norms no such arguments have been supplied as to why an extension is critical, nor any standards given by which extension may very well be allowed and its extent decided.

Shifting the Supreme Court docket for extension

Towards this background, in November 2017, in an unrelated case within the Supreme Court docket pertaining to air high quality within the Nationwide Capital Area, the amicus curiae moved an software asking the Court docket to ” … direct the implementation of the 2015 emission requirements for energy crops as per schedule i.e. by December 2017″. This introduced the emissions’ notification squarely within the purview of the Supreme Court docket.

Sadly, as a substitute of utilizing the event to make sure higher implementation of the norms, the case is getting used for pushing the reasons for extending the deadlines and diluting the norms. Provided that some points of the matter are technical in nature, the Supreme Court docket just isn’t the perfect positioned establishment to evaluate whether or not these extensions and dilutions are justified. The MoEFCC, which notified the requirements and timelines within the first place and therefore might have introduced justifications for them, has just about stepped apart and the matter is being led within the Court docket by the MoP.

On one hand, the MoP has projected itself a coordinating ministry, and has been taking part in the position of an advocate for the pursuits of the facility firms. The MoP has argued for diluting the NOx norms, exempting a number of crops from the SO2 norms, and generally pushing the case for extensions of timelines for all thermal energy crops.  On the similar time, when the time got here for taking accountability for guaranteeing implementation, MoP has mentioned it may take accountability just for the NTPC and DVC initiatives (which can be below its management) and for the remainder, it’s a matter between the MoEFCC and the person initiatives.

Water drawing canal of a coal thermal energy plant. Pic: Shripad Dharmadhikary

As of now, the matter appears to have been decreased to solely massive crops (capability higher that 500 MW), and that too solely these that are in densely populated areas or in critically polluted areas. This involves about 57,000 MW, which is nearly 30% of the put in capability of coal based mostly energy era within the nation. It’s hoped that this focus within the Court docket doesn’t consequence within the exclusion of the remainder of the facility initiatives, as a result of the unique notification (which continues to be in pressure as a regulation) is supposed to use to all operational energy crops. Final however not the least, the requirements for the water consumption and nil waste water discharge, that are additionally part of the notification, appear to have been utterly ignored, each, within the courtroom dialogue and in any other case.

Within the courtroom, neither the MoP nor the MoEFCC has deemed it match to even discuss – not to mention defend – the pursuits of the folks affected by the air pollution, particularly the communities dwelling within the neighborhood of those initiatives. Nor have they talked in regards to the environmental and social prices of the dilutions and extensions.

Function of MoEFCC

In the complete matter, critical questions have risen across the MoEFCC and the position it has performed. All paperwork accessible present that objections had been raised by business when the draft of the emission and water use norms was first put out, and the objections had been firmly overruled by the MoEFCC. That MoEFCC rejected all these objections was clear from the truth that the ultimate notification was just about the identical because the draft and it retained the time line of two 12 months for implementation. The business once more raised the identical objections after the ultimate notifications, which have been rejected as soon as once more by the MoEFCC. The MoEFCC categorically reiterated that there isn’t any want for any dilution within the norms, and that two years are ample for his or her implementation.

So it’s not clear why MoEFCC just isn’t defending the requirements or the timeline now. Does it imply that MoEFCC had not utilized its thoughts when making ready the draft and when it reviewed the objections earlier? Or does it imply that now it’s being steamrolled by business and MoP in permitting unwarranted dilutions to the norms and pointless extensions? Both manner MoEFCC doesn’t come out wanting good.

One other query is why the MoEFCC has not been monitoring the interim milestones for rolling out the implementation of the norms, when it is aware of that not doing so had the danger of getting a fait accompli of violations on its palms. Lastly, the silence of MoEFCC within the Supreme Court docket, significantly in not defending its authentic notification in addition to not speaking in regards to the extreme well being and ecological impacts of diluting or taking longer time for implementation of the emission and water requirements can also be questionable. If MoEFCC doesn’t defend the atmosphere, who will? Isn’t this a gross abdication of its accountability?


As all the time then, the accountability of defending the atmosphere and the affected communities has fallen on civil society, the Courts, and a few of the amicus curiae. As of now, the results of this course of is the extreme narrowing of the scope of the unique notification, the push for dilution of a number of elements and the undue extension of deadlines for implementation. And other people proceed to endure the impacts of extreme emissions and the excessive water utilization of thermal energy crops. One can solely hope that the Supreme Court docket’s intervention and powerful actions by civil society and affected communities will assist result in efficient implementation of the notification and extra usually, higher regulation of the environmental and social impacts of the thermal energy initiatives.

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