As per the existing policy framework, coal- and lignite-based power plants are required to ensure 100 per cent fly ash utilisation. In January 2016, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) had mandated the complete utilisation of fly ash generated by existing thermal power plants (TPPs) by end December 2017. However, the aggregate fly ash utilisation by TPPs stood at 67.13 per cent in 2017-18, and almost one-third of the fly ash remained unutilised.
A number of policy and regulatory measures have been taken to achieve the targeted level of ash utilisation. In November 2018, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued an order imposing penalties of up to Rs 50 million on TPPs that have not fully disposed of the fly ash generated from their operations. The tribunal also ordered the constitution of a committee to finalise the action plan for achieving 100 per cent fly ash utilisation.
The MoEFCC issued the first directive for promoting fly ash utilisation in September 1999. It was subsequently amended with notifications issued in 2003, 2009 and 2016. The ministry, vide a notification dated January 25, 2016, mandated the complete utilisation of fly ash generated at the existing TPPs by end December 2017. In addition, it was specified that power plant developers will bear the entire cost of ash transportation up to a radius of 100 km. For distances of more than 100 km and up to 300 km, the cost will be shared equally between the developer and the user/ construction agency. The notification also mandated the use of fly ash-based products for all government schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
Earlier, in 2009, the ministry had defined the timeline for achieving 100 per cent ash utilisation. The TPPs that were in operation before November 3, 2009 were required to achieve the fly ash utilisation target in five successive years (50 per cent in the first year, 60 per cent in the second year, 75 per cent in the third year, 90 per cent in the fourth year and 100 per cent in the fifth year). Meanwhile, TPPs commissioned after the notification were required to achieve the fly ash utilisation target of 50 per cent in the first year, 70 per cent in the second year, 90 per cent in the third year and 100 per cent in the fourth year from their date of commissioning.
In February 2019, the MoEFCC issued a draft amendment to the fly ash notification mandating that no new red clay brick kiln will be installed and operated within 300 km from a coal- or lignite-based TPP and the existing red clay brick kilns located within 300 km will be converted into fly ash-based bricks, blocks, or tiles within a year from the date of publication of the final notification.
In the 1999 notification, the MoEFCC had mandated that within a radius of 50 km from a TPP only fired clay bricks should be produced by mixing at least 25 per cent of fly ash. With each subsequent amendment, the radius around TPPs for which the norm is applicable was increased along with the percentage of fly ash used in each clay brick.
Recent NGT orders
The NGT, vide its order dated November 20, 2018, directed all TPPs that had failed to utilise 100 per cent fly ash by December 31, 2017 to deposit environmental damages. The tribunal imposed a penalty of Rs 10 million for TPPs with capacity up to 500 MW, Rs 30 million for capacity up to 1,000 MW, and Rs 50 million for capacity above 1,000 MW. The developers were directed to deposit the penalty with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) within one month, failing which an interest of 12 per cent per annum will be payable for the delayed period. Apart from this, the tribunal directed the constitution of a joint committee with representatives from the MoEFCC, CBCP and IIT Roorkee and any other member considered necessary by the MoEFCC to finalise the action plan for achieving 100 per cent fly ash utilisation, and ensuring scientific and environment- friendly ash disposal. Further, the committee will determine the amount of damages to be paid for the violation fly ash utilisation norm. This order was issued by the NGT following a petition by an individual regarding the non-implementation of the MoEFCC’s notification for proper fly ash utilisation.
Another key NGT order pertaining to fly ash utilisation at the North Chennai Thermal Power Station (NCTPS) was issued in May 2019. The tribunal mandated the constitution of a committee to prepare a blueprint for the restoration of the Ennore creek, which has been polluted by the illegal fly ash dumping from the NCTPS. The committee comprising members from the CPCB, IIT Madras and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board will inspect the present status of fly ash disposal at the plant and assess the damage caused to the environment and surrounding areas. The tribunal has passed several orders in the past directing Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Limited to remove the fly ash dumped into the waterbodies at Ennore and restore the place, but none of those directions were complied with.
In 2017, the NITI Aayog constituted a committee for minimising fly ash generation and promoting fly ash utilisation. As per the committee’s directions, each TPP needs to upload ash data on a web-based application for ash management launched by the power ministry. The data needs to be uploaded on a monthly basis latest by the 7th of every month. The mobile app for ash management, ASH TRACK, will help establish a link between fly ash users and power plant executives. The online repository of data on fly ash generated by TPPs provides information on the cumulative amount of fly ash available in ash ponds, the quantum of fly ash generated for the respective months and the number of ash ponds available.
In June 2018, NITI Aayog constituted a committee headed by the joint secretary, MoEFCC, to develop a focused strategy for optimum fly ash utilisation to manufacture end products. The committee deliberated on the existing guidelines, the transportation norms for fly ash, ash utilisation in the micro, small and medium enterprises, and incentives for 100 per cent utilisation, among other things. A draft committee report was circulated by the MoEFCC in October 2018.
Apart from this, the Power ministry has directed the states to prepare a roadmap to achieve the prescribed targets at the state power plants. The government has also reduced the goods & services tax on fly ash and its products to 5 per cent.
To conclude, proper fly ash disposal and utilisation is paramount in view of the growing environmental concerns associated with thermal power generation. Although there is a well-defined policy and regulatory framework for 100 per cent fly ash utilisation, TPPs have failed to achieve the targets. The imposition of penalty for non-compliance and greater acceptance of fly ash-based products in the market is likely to improve the ash utilisation level in the country.