Environment ministry guidelines state that many of the adverse impacts of thermal plants can be foreseen and minimised through judicious siting, preventive and control measures and effective environmental management. The ministry has been trying to impose very strict emission controls and other standards to mitigate the environmental problems of power generation. But the MEF and the ministry of power don't see eye to eye.
The major points of contention are listed below.
Siting of projects
The MEF stipulates that thermal power stations should not be located within 25 km of the outer peripheries of metropolitan cities, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, important lakes, and coastal areas rich in coral formation; and not within 10 km of places of archaeological, historical, cultural, religious or tourist importance and defence installations. A 5-km buffer zone should be kept if the plant is near the coast, and the site should be 500 meters away from the flood plains of a river system.
The ministry of power argues that rigid adherence to these criteria would leave very few options for locating power projects. With the high population density in the country, they say suitable sites are increasingly difficult to find.
The MEF insists on a 100 per cent utilisation of flyash produced by coal-based thermal plants against present practices of dumping it.
The power ministry estimates only a 25 per cent flyash utilisation and argues that only small plants can ensure a higher percentage. It says costs of production and transportation also make flyash bricks uncompetitive.
The MEF says Flue gas desulphurisation is essential for Indian thermal plants because of the danger of high sulphur content and related pollution like acid rain.
The power ministry feels this should not be insisted upon at the project clearance stage without awaiting the results of the environmental impact assessment. NTPC argues that Indian coal has only 0.4 per cent sulphur content and a desulphurisation plant would account for 25 per cent of the capital cost of a power station.
The MEF insists that all major projects have rehabilitation packages for displaced people on the lines of the World Bank-funded Sardar Sarovar project.
The power ministry is of the opinion that this is unrealistic for most indigenously-funded projects. Compensation and rehabilitation measures have to be taken on a project-to-project basis. Making alternate land available on a large scale to oustees without creating more oustees is impossible. Kalpnath Rai, minister of state for power, says relief and rehabilitation package should be worked out with the state governments.
Catchment area treatment
MEF guidelines require extensive catchment area treatment and compensatory afforestation for forests submerged in hydro-electric projects.
The ministry of power contend that environmental degradation occurs in the catchment area of river basins because of population pressure, increased grazing and illicit deforestation and it would be "unrealistic" to burden hydel authorities with this cost. It insists that the catchment area treatment should "at most" be limited to the immediate vicinity of the reservoirs. It also argues that specialised agencies should undertake reclamation of degraded environment.
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