Extending emission-compliance deadline for thermal power plants & low default-fines go against India’s green action vision
Net-zero targets announced by leading economies of the world has upped the ante for India, one of the largest absolute greenhouse gas emitters, on similar climate action. Indeed, it was expected that climate crusader & US special envoy John Kerry, on a visit to India, would urge the leadership at the Centre on this; however, Kerry has clarified that though India pledging a ‘net-zero’ commitment was not an “absolute requirement”, the country was doing all that it could to get there. Contrast Kerry’s faith with the fact that, on April 1, the government notified the Environment Protection (Amendment) Rules that push the deadline for GHG-emitting coal-fired thermal power plants (TPPs) on compliance with the emission norms. The norms were announced in 2015, with a 2017 adoption projected at the time. But, litigatory interventions meant the deadline got pushed several times, getting set at 2022 in the last such instance. With mere months to the deadline and only a third of the TPPs having undertaken meaningful steps for compliance, the government has again pushed the deadline—to 2024-2025 in some cases. As per the new amended Rules, TPPs will be classified as Category A (within a 10-km radius of NCR or cities with a 1-million-plus population), Category B (within 10-km radius of critically polluted areas and ‘non-attainment’ cities as defined by the Central Pollution Control Board) and Category C (comprising remaining TPPs). While Category A TPPs, both retiring and non-retiring, have a end-2022 deadline, non-retiring Category B TPPs have been allowed time till end-2023 and non-retiring Category C ones, till 2024; retiring B&C TPPs must comply by end-2025—if a TPP gives an undertaking to retire before the applicable deadline is up, then it is exempted from compliance.
Repeated extension of the deadline is indeed a major issue—compliance has been pushed back by two-three years for nearly three-quarters of the TPPs (Category B & C) in India. It isn’t hard to imagine the implications for India’s emissions, considering 75% of the Category C TPPs are state-government- and private-owned generation companies that, as per the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), haven’t made enough efforts to cut down emissions. In a perverse way, the relaxation gives the worst offenders a longer reprieve period. But much worse is the paltry penalty that the government has fixed for deadline-default. CSE’s analysis pegs this at `5-11 lakh per MW. In contrast, the cost of installing the emission-control equipment that is needed for compliance with the emission norms is Rs 40-100 lakh. As a result, at least for a few years after the deadline, it is more cost-effective to bear the penalty than install pollution-control equipment/technology. Those with the longest relief period (Category C) will pay the lowest penalty sums as per the prescription of the amended Rules, and the more inefficient plants—penalty is tied to generation, and smaller plants with lower load-running (meaning more pollution) will be charged a lower penalty—will face a lower punitive burden.
Coal accounts for 56% of India’s power generation capacity—and over 78% of its power supply. It already accounts for 60% of industrial particulate matter pollution and 45% of SO2 pollution. Thus, the imperative for cleaner generation is quite clear. As per rough estimates, the 2015 norms can reduce PM emissions by 35%, SO2 emissions by 80%, and NOx emissions by 42%. But, if the government continues to shrug responsibility—many of the TPPs are Centre- and state-owned—ambitious emission reduction goals will remain tall talk.