Flyash Utilisation in Jharkhand – New Modes, Persistent Environmental Concerns


When ash filled trucks pass through this road, the terraces get covered in a ‘1-inch’ layer of ash. We clean our homes in the morning, but by evening, the floors also get covered,” Virender Prasad said in his living room. He is a resident of Bazar Tand, a village less than 1 Km away from the ash pond of Bokaro Thermal Power Station (BTPS).

BTPS made headlines in September 2019 when its ash pond breached, flooding the surrounding villages. Over two years since, many including Virendar Prasad, are yet to be compensated, “I have not yet got monetary compensation. Around 5 acres of my land was flooded with slurry. Ash still has not been fully evacuated from it. After the breach, our rice crop was destroyed, and we have not been able to cultivate anything on that portion yet.”

Over 70% of electricity generated in India comes from coal-fired thermal power plants. One of the major by-products of coal combustion is fly ash, a toxic solid waste with a known history of causing environmental pollution and negative health impacts. Depending on the coal, flyash, also known as coal ash, may contain heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, and selenium, among others. It is a respirable toxin, with linkages to diseases like asthma and tuberculosis. 

The ash pond of state-owned Bokaro Power Supply Company Pvt. Ltd. collapsed in May this year, reportedly inundating an entire village of 130 people. In the last decade, India has seen at least 76 such ash-related disasters.  Additionally, pollution of air, water, and soil continuously impacts communities close to power plants. The quantity of ash generated annually is immense, and despite efforts by authorities spanning decades, “100% utilization” of flyash remains a pipedream.

Flyash Management – New Modes of Utilization

One of the primary legislations surrounding flyash management in the country is the Fly Ash Utilisation Notification (1999) issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEFCC). The latest amendment was issued on 31st December 2021. As part of ash management efforts, the MoEFCC and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) also introduced an Office Memorandum and Official Guidelines for the use of flyash in filling of abandoned mine voids, reclamation of lying areas, and as a soil conditioner in agriculture in August 2019.

Since around 2012, the MoEFCC’s Expert Appraisal Committee had predominantly prohibited these means of ash usage through conditions given in the Environmental Clearances (EC) of thermal power plants. The OM now directs that all existing conditions in ECs of thermal power plants that prohibit these uses should be replaced with conditions allowing them. The CPCB guidelines detail the required permissions and procedures to be followed when dumping fly ash in mine voids/low-lying areas.

By calling for a blanket reversal of all such EC conditions, the OM and guidelines are essentially promoting the use of flyash via these modes. The Flyash Notification 2021 also lists the use of flyash via low-lying area reclamation and filling of abandoned mine voids. However, questions of environmental safety, perception of communities living near thermal power plants and/or coal mines, and potential effectiveness of these modes of flyash utilization remain. Insights from a field visit to some sites of ash filling in mine voids and low-lying areas in Bokaro district, Jharkhand have been detailed here.

Bokaro Thermal Power Station – Excessive ash, lack of space

Owned by Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), BTPS ‘A’ has one unit of 500 MW capacity and BTPS ‘B’ had three units of 210 MW each. It is situated in Bokaro Thermal, Bokaro district, Jharkhand, on the banks of Konar River.

The BTPS ash pond is spread over 50 acres and has nearly exhausted its capacity. The Site-in-charge (SI) of BTPS’s ash pond said, “The ash pond is constructed to accommodate 20% of the ash being generated. The rest is supposed to be stored in dry form and sent elsewhere [for utilisation], so the pond is overfull. In January this year, the plant had to be shut because there was no space for the ash. If no mine voids are found, the plant will have to be shut again.”

According to the Central Electricity Authority’s (CEA) Daily Generation Reports, between March 2019 and March 2022, different units of BTPS have been reported as closed due to ‘ash handling system problems’ five times, sometimes for over a month.

In response to an RTI filed by the author in October last year, DVC authorities provided copies of letters sent by them to Central Coalfields Ltd. (CCL), urgently requesting the allotment of more abandoned coal mines in the Bokaro colliery for ash disposal. They specified that BTPS may not be able to run some units due to the non-availability of ash dumping sites.

Dumping of ash in mine voids threatens potential water sources

To manage the excessive quantities, BTPS has been dumping flyash in mine voids, two of these being the CCL-owned Kargali Opencast Project (OCP) and Bokaro OCP.

Quarry No. 1 of Kargali OCP is located in a populated part of Bermo town, with Damodar River less than 500 m* away. It has been abandoned for some years now and is filled with water. Local activists stated that one segment of this quarry has been filled with ash and soil, with vegetation growing on it. The remaining portion is currently being filled with flyash from BTPS. According to workers at the quarry, between 70-100 trucks of ash are emptied into this quarry during the first shift (6 AM – 2 PM) every day. Layers of soil are then placed on top, until more ash is dumped and the process continues.

Once mining operations have halted, groundwater tends to accumulate in mine pits, as the pumping out of water for mining purposes has stopped. As a result, quarries where mining is over, often act as reservoirs of large quantities of water. Though treatment would be required prior to human consumption, the large quantity provides potential for gainful water use.

A Central Groundwater Board report on the status of groundwater resources of Jharkhand identified coal mining as a major dewatering source in the state. Importantly, it also stated that out of 249 administrative blocks, Bermo block is one of three categorized as “over exploited”, the highest level of depletion. 

Ash filled trucks empty into abandoned Quarry 1, Kargali OCP

Local activist Gulab Chandra from the civil society group Damodar Bachao Abhiyan explained, “Bermo has one of the worst groundwater levels in the state. So, many people see the mine pit water as an important potential water source, and fear that filling up mine voids with ash could deprive them of a valuable resource. There is also the concern about contamination of the water due to flyash.”

Another abandoned quarry of Bokaro OCP phase II is located about 2 Km from Kargali OCP. A portion of this was ‘reclaimed’ using ash, and covered with a layer of soil. There is now a plantation of different trees on it, including amla. This is even though the CPCB guidelines state that fruit-bearing trees are to be avoided for plantation purposes on top of land reclaimed using ash.

Vegetation on top of ash reclaimed section of Bokaro OCP II

The filling stopped after 2014, following opposition from locals worried that a potential source of water would be lost. The quarry is now used for fishing purposes, a trend that can be seen in other districts of Jharkhand as well. However, Gulab Chandra mentioned that the fish from this waters gets sold at lesser rates than others in the market, for the reason that it is grown in a mine. Filling the voids with ash could not only pose a threat to health of people consuming such fish, but also potentially impact the livelihood opportunities that such a water source presents.

Ash Dumping in violation of CPCB guidelines

The CPCB guidelines mention that adequate drains are to be provided at mine void sites for preventing surface runoff and supernatant water from flowing into nearby areas – no such drains were visible at either Kargali OCP or Bokaro OCP phase II. Further, the guidelines also state that a ‘clearance of 500 m of safe distance’ needs to be maintained between water bodies and rivers in case of ash disposal in mine voids. Both the quarries visited by us are located less than 500 m away from Damodar River (distance measured using Google Earth).

In cases where MoEFCC previously allowed the dumping of ash in abandoned mine voids, specific environmental safeguards were required, such as an impermeable lining for preventing leaching of heavy metals from flyash into groundwater. The new CPCB guidelines however, make no mention of any mandatory liner/impermeable layer.

BTPS has been dumping ash in ‘low-lying’ areas as well. We visited one such large ash dumping site at a distance of about 0.5 Km from the Konar Dam reservoir boundary wall. The road to the site was lined with several small to medium dumps of flyash. These were uncovered and merely dumped in the open, around trees. Even if this was for use in filling at a later stage, the extent of flyash recklessly spread across the route is a cause of worry.

View of surrounding tree cover from atop large ash dump near Konar Dam
Open ash dumps without environmental safeguards near Konar Dam

Tenughat TPS – low-lying land reclamation or indiscriminate dumping?

Tenughat Thermal Power Station (TTPS), located in Lalpaniya, Bokaro district, is owned by the Jharkhand state government’s Tenughat Vidyut Nigam Limited. It has an installed capacity of 420 MW and is situated near its water source, the Tenughat reservoir.

Rehan used to live in Jala Gaon, where now stand the power plant’s smokestacks. In addition to issues of land acquisition, the pollution from the plant’s ash pond and ash dumps have long burdened the local people. “In summer a lot of flyash settles in nearby villages, even reached villages 3-4 Km away from the ash pond. In the monsoon, it mixes with the rainwater and flows into nearby fields as slurry. We are fed up with it,” Rehan said.

Located along railway tracks passing through Lalpaniya is Jhari Basti, a settlement surrounded by large ash dumps. Plant authorities have disposed flyash here over the years, with some dumps about 25-30 feet above ‘ground’ level. Old dumps covered with soil, and new dumps with flyash on top can be seen on either side of the tracks. These are less than 1 Km from the houses.

Ash from the ‘low-lying area reclamation’ dumps, settles on standing crop, adversely affecting the yields. It also settles on people’s homes, vehicles, and water storage containers. Rajesh Sahu, a resident of Jhari Basti said, “Previously ash has even deposited in the village well. Three buffalos have died after getting stuck in the ash slurry during monsoon time. The ash [from the dumps] has made our land banjar [non-cultivable]. We have not been able to successfully farm for three years now, since the dumping started.”

Ash dumped over years pollutes the air, fields, and homes of people

Satellite imagery over the last three years shows the expansion of two ash dumps in the locality. At least 12 families have been resisting the impact of pollution on their lives by writing to local authorities (SDO), but they have not received relief so far. The locals mentioned that at least 13 other such large ash dumps exist across the region.

The objective of ‘reclaiming’ low-lying land with any material, including flyash, is typically to bring an area in lower elevation up to the surrounding ground level. The dumps seen in Lalpaniya however, seem to tower above the surrounding homes and fields instead.

TTPS ‘Low-lying area’ ash dumps cause of long drawn pollution

The objective of ‘reclaiming’ low-lying land with any material, including flyash, is typically to bring an area in lower elevation up to the surrounding ground level. The dumps seen in Lalpaniya however, seem to tower above the surrounding homes and fields instead.

A sub-committee of the MoEFCC’s Expert Appraisal Committee visited the areas around Tenughat TPS in December 2017. The sub-committee’s report made note of multiple violations of environment clearance conditions by the power plant. The proposal for expansion of the plant was rejected basis these environmental concerns. Among others, multiple flyash related issues were noted – excessive dumping of flyash around plant areas, the exhausted capacity of ash pond, and visibility of ash dumps through satellite imagery as seen by the committee members. It noted “…This open dumping of flyash poses serious threat to the water reservoir as the runoff during monsoon will carry flyash and heavy metals and eventually joins the reservoir.”

Crucially, the report recommended that the dumps are to be removed immediately. From the situation at Lalpaniya, it is apparent this has not been implemented over four years since the submission of this report. No adequate environmental safeguards appear to be in place for preventing pollution via airborne ash, or ash slurry.

The CPCB guidelines state that ‘suitable’ methods should be adopted during excavation, transport and filling of ash in mine voids or low-lying areas. In the dumps seen at Lalpaniya, there appeared to be no safeguards such as drains to prevent runoff or water sprinkling to prevent fugitive emissions. At the ash pond of TTPS, ash being transported in uncovered trucks was also seen.

Data from the CEA’s Flyash Generation and Utilisation report for 2020-2021 states that Tenughat TPS ‘utilised’ 0.47 million tonnes of flyash, reporting a 92% use of all ash generated by the plant. The plant has reportedly utilised all of this ash for ‘low-lying area reclamation.’ The use of ash for this purpose is listed as an ‘eco-friendly’ mode in the Flyash Utilisation Notification 2021. The experiences of people living near these dumps and rampant pollution, however, suggest that the mode ought to be described rather differently.

New modes fraught with risks, scrutiny essential

The two modes – filling ash in low-lying areas and empty mine voids are receiving a renewed push, despite a cautious stance displayed by authorities in the past. As seen with the new Flyash Utilisation Notification 2021, the OM and guidelines seem to be another attempt of ensuring ‘100% utilisation’ of flyash. The issues in Bokaro and Lalpaniya highlight that environmental safety and prevention of pollution still remain gaps in the implementation of these modes of ash usage. Amidst discussions of ‘just transitions’ and moving away from fossil fuel based electricity generation, it is crucial to understand the ongoing and potential impacts of coal’s legacy of flyash.

– Some names of people have been changed
– The visit to Jharkhand was made in April 2022
– All photographs used here have been clicked by the author
– Read the full report published by Manthan Adhyayan Kendra here

Impacts on water: Quick look at the Coal Cycle


I have been attempting to understand coal-related issues for a few years now. For a meeting conducted recently, I was to prepare a brief note on our (Manthan’s) insights on some of the environmental impacts of coal-based electricity generation in India. I decided to share the note here, both to document the articulation of my understanding – anchored in the work that Manthan has done over the years – and to revive this blog with a post I believe could be useful for anyone interested in coal pollution in India.

The text of the note (with minor changes) is reproduced below.

Coal, Water, and Ash

The impacts of coal-based electricity generation on water are many. These can be seen at every stage of the coal cycle – from mining, washing, and transport of coal, to its burning in thermal power plants, and subsequent generation of coal ash. Listed here (in brief) are some insights on the same.

  • Excessive Water Usage
    Coal-fired thermal power plants (TPPs) require large amounts of water to operate, accounting for close to 70% of all water used for industrial purposes in India. Given this, TPPs can cause significant water stress in local areas, especially when present in clusters. For a detailed breakup of the various water uses by TPPs see this report by the Central Electricity Authority.
Singaji TPP and a polluted stream, Madhya Pradesh 2018 (Photo:Sehr)
  • Widespread Non – Compliance with Water Use Norms
    – In December 2015, The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) introduced, for the first time, limits on how much water a plant can use per unit of electricity generated, i.e., ‘specific water consumption’ limits. Information obtained previously under the Right to Information Act (2005) revealed that despite legally binding limits and a two-year deadline to meet them, only about 51% of TPPs in the country were actually in compliance with the law.
    – The same notification also introduced the mandate of ‘Zero Wastewater Discharge’ by TPPs, presumably in an attempt to mitigate some of the pollution impacts. Similar data revealed lax compliance, and information on compliance was scattered and inconsistent. The pollution control boards do not seem to have made complete monitoring information on these laws available in the public domain yet.
  •  Water Pollution, Depletion
     – The operation of coal mines and washeries massively affects local ecosystems and communities. Negative impacts on the quantity and quality of important water sources have been documented across the country. Depletion of or falling groundwater levels, and drying of surface water sources due to dewatering effect of coal mines is common. Discharge of pollutants and wastewater streams from mines and washeries, and widespread coal dust cause water contamination
    – From TPPs, contamination of surface and groundwater due to leaching and overflow of pollutants from ash ponds and ash dumps, and deliberate discharge of ash (slurry) into closest surface water systems has been common. Coal ash and coal dust also settles on domestic water storage containers, ponds etc.
    – Disruption of surface water such as nalas or streams by ‘diversion’ for mines and plants is also common, often causing them to dry up completely
    – In a study co-authored by Manthan (with Centre for Sustainable Development, Asar Social Impact Advisors Pvt. Ltd.) in November 2021, groundwater and surface water sampling in the vicinity of two state-owned TPPs in Maharashtra found that almost every water sample failed to pass Indian drinking water standards. It further found that the plants discharged effluents directly into local streams and rivers, and leakages from ash ponds all contaminated the surface and groundwater sources of the region. The presence of elements like antimony, aluminium, arsenic, boron, fluoride, iron, manganese, magnesium, mercury, molybdenum, lithium, lead and selenium was found at levels exceeding relevant water standards.

Lakhanpur Open Cast Coal Mine of Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd., Odisha 2019 (Photo: Sehr)
  • Coal Ash Pollution, Mismanagement
    – The coal ash (flyash and bottom ash) from TPPs also causes extensive country-wide pollution. It is known to contain toxic heavy metals, which pose threats to the health of people and the environment affected by them.
    – In addition to its toxic nature, the quantities of coal ash generated by plants annually is colossal. The lack of adequate ash disposal and management infrastructure has meant several accidents with long term consequences are frequent. A report co-authored by Manthan (with Asar Social Impact Advisors Pvt. Ltd., Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air on behalf of Flyash Watch Group) in July 2021 recorded the detailed status of eight coal ash accidents (ash pond breaches, deliberate discharge of ash into water bodies, pipeline leaks) that have occurred over the last two years. Subpar technical design and lackadaisical management of ash were found to be two important causes of the accidents. One such breach claimed six lives. Most of these accidents leave acres of farmland and homes covered in ash slurry, with delayed compensation and clean-up being the norm.
    – Ash affects entities in proximity to power plants in more ways than accidents. Airbourne flyash settles on fields and homes, and due to its particle size is a respirable toxin linked with breathing and other health issues. It also settles on water bodies, rendering many sources unfit for use. Further, ash settles on standing crops posing threats to health and livelihoods of farmers and communities. The mixing of ash with water for transport for disposal is another route of exposure – leaky pipelines, and indiscriminate dumping of slurry in rivers and streams is frequent. The large-scale dumping of ash in ‘mounds’ or for “reclamation” of low-lying areas are some examples of how power plant and government authorities both allow unchecked pollution in the name of ash ‘utilisation’. The possibility of leaching of heavy metals from (often unlined) ash ponds and dumps into groundwater is also a concern.
Close up of semi-dry ash slurry, Tenughat TPS ash pond, Jharkhand 2022 (Photo: Sehr)
  • Flyash Utilization Notification (FAN), December 2021
    The MoEFCC introduced the new FAN few months ago. It is the primary law pertaining to the roles and responsibilities for the management and utilization of ash. It also covers (rather inadequately) some of the environmental issues associated with ash. Though the notification introduces some positive additions, such as the mandate to utilize legacy ash, and the introduction of fines for defaulters, it fails to distinguish between ‘use’ and ‘disposal’ of ash, and provides loopholes for TPPs to avoid serious consequences in the way of fines/penalties. It also ambiguously categorizes several problematic uses of ash as ‘eco-friendly’, such as dumping in low-lying areas, thus providing the legal sanction for continued ash pollution. Detailed comments have been submitted by various groups (including Manthan) highlighting these and other issues with the new FAN.
  • Notification, Guidelines for the use of Flyash in Abandoned Mine Voids, Low Lying Areas
    In 2018 the MoEFCC introduced an OM pushing for the use of ash in abandoned coal mines and low-lying areas. It was introduced with guidelines issued by the Central Pollution Control Board detailing steps for the same, as well as a direction to allow the blanket reversal of all existing Environmental Clearance conditions presently prohibiting the use of ash via these two modes. An ongoing investigation by Manthan has revealed the lack of sufficient environmental safeguards, procedural gaps (of actual dumping of ash as well as obtaining clearances from authorities), possibly inadequate assessment of risks to environment from these modes, and other issues. These include but aren’t limited to – the potential for leaching of toxic heavy metals from ash-filled mine voids into groundwater, and the dumping of large quantities of ash in areas declared as ‘low-lying’ likely to contaminate soil and groundwater.
Piles of flyash for ‘reclamation’ of ‘abandoned’ mine void of CCL, Jharkhand 2022 (Photo: Sehr)

Gare Pelma II Environmental Clearance on hold due to submission of false, incomplete information by MAHAGENCO

The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) constituted by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) held its latest coal mining division meeting on 5th December, 2019. One of the items discussed in the EAC meeting was the application for Environmental Clearance for Gare Pelma Sector II coal mine by Maharashtra State Power Generation Company Ltd. (MAHAGENCO). The committee neither rejected nor recommended the proposal, for want of more information, and merely ‘decided to return the proposal in its present form, and has asked for clarification/inputs,’ on multiple fronts. The reason behind the decision however, is more grave than the committee’s grossly inadequate reaction will have one believe, i.e., submission of false, incorrect and incomplete data by the project proponent, MAHAGENCO.

False Information Submitted
Gare Pelma II coal block is a part of the Raigarh Coalfield situated in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh. The coal linkage is for captive use in certain units of MAHAGENCO’s Chandrapur, Koradi and Parli Thermal Power Plants located in Maharashtra. The Mine Developer and Operator is Adani Enterprises. The Gare Pelma II proposal discussed in the 5th December meeting of EAC was for seeking recommendation for obtaining environmental clearance (EC) from MoEFCC. EC is a pre-requisite for commencing operations for any industrial project. Prior to obtaining EC, project proponents are required to submit information pertaining to operation details and potential impacts on environment, including but not limited to a Form 1, sometimes Form 2*, an Environmental Impact Assessment Report, etc.

According to the EAC meeting minutes, ” 51.1.4 The EAC after deliberation observed that the project proponent in a haste of submission before validity of baseline data, submitted incomplete and incorrect Form#2 on the Ministry website for appraisal (PARIVESH). The EAC, during deliberations noted that the project details mentioned in the EIA report were not consistent with that presented during the meeting. EAC advised to the PP/Consultant that the EIA Report shall be made appropriately with the provisions of the EIA Notification, 2006 and various OM/Circulars issued by the Ministry from time to time. The EAC, after detailed deliberations decided to return the proposal in its present form, and has asked for clarification/inputs, in respect of the following:-

Over 20 different types of information has been sought by the committee. The list includes a revised Environmental Impact Assessment study to be submitted in line with the law, corrected Form#2, a month of baselines data as baseline data so submitted is almost three years old, study on impact of mining on hydrology of the region, carrying capacity study of the area due to presence of other mines in the region, social impact assessment for proposed displacement of people, etc.

MAHAGENCO not only submitted false data but also incomplete information. In addition to the information requested as mentioned above, the committee noted the following –

National Commission of Scheduled Tribes (NCST) vide letter dated 4th April, 2018
deferred the Public Hearing subject to compliance/completion of certain studies. Report
of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) health assessment and project of health of
people living in Tamnar Block is yet to competed.
Wild life conservation Plan is yet to be approved from concerned statutory authority.Project involves forest land of 214.869 ha for diversion of non-forestry activity.
Stage-1 FC for the said forest land has not yet granted

EIA Notification on Submission of False Information
The Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 details the legal framework related to process of obtaining Environmental Clearance from MoEFCC. Here is what it says about submission of false information,
8. Grant or Rejection of Prior Environmental Clearance (EC):
… (vi) Deliberate concealment and/or submission of false or misleading information or data which is material to screening or scoping or appraisal or decision on the application shall make the application liable for rejection, and cancellation of prior environmental clearance granted on that basis. Rejection of an application or cancellation of a prior environmental clearance already granted, on such ground, shall be decided by the regulatory authority, after giving a personal hearing to the applicant, and following the principles of natural justice. …

EAC Response – Inadequate, Abdication of Responsibility
The EAC is the primary body of experts entrusted with the responsibility of critically appraising and regulating industrial projects that impact the environment. In this case, the committee noted the numerous discrepancies, yet merely directed MAHAGENCO to re-submit required information. The meeting minutes state,
” …The proposal was therefore returned in present form as it is, for completing full details on Form#2 and other observations as given above. ” This author believes that the response of EAC is problematic for several reasons. Some of these have been detailed below.

  1. The committee neither recommended the project for obtaining EC, nor rejected it. As mentioned above, submission of false/misleading data makes the application liable for rejection. Submission of false information in Form#2, mismatching information in the EIA is non-compliance with law even prior to commencement of operations by Mahagenco. For a nodal appraisal/regulatory body to return the proposal without penalizing the defaulters in the least is simply not good enough.
  2. In line with the previous point, it is important to note that Environmental Clearances are accorded on the basis of information submitted by project proponents. Thus, submission of false data in Form #2 and discrepancies in information submitted in the EIA studies is likely to have a cascading effect on all decisions to be taken by relevant authorities related to the project. A Supreme Court judgement related to Mopa airport in Goa (CA No. 12251/2018 with CA No. 1053/2019) stresses on this point, among others. A quote from a blog post about the significance of this judgement, “Thus, non-disclosure or wrong disclosures in Form 1 “bypasses the authority of the EAC and SEAC to reject an application at the preliminary stage and cannot be countenanced.”” In this case, Form #2 plays a similar role for according EC. Similarly, a quote from the Mopa judgement shedding light on the problem with EIA discrepancy, “The submission urged by the appellants is that the purpose of the EIA report is to form an assessment of the state of environment as it exists in reality. The project proponent is duty bound to make a proper disclosure and the highest level of transparency is required… Accompanying Form 1 is a declaration of the project proponent that the EC will be liable to be rejected in the event of a suppression or mis-statement of material facts.” The same declaration is part of Form#2 as well.
  3. Authorities such as EAC and MoEFCC not only shoulder regulatory responsibilities, but also bear a moral responsibility toward the people and environment of the country. Returning a proposal ridden with fallacious information without any penalty/action to hold the defaulters responsible is, arguably, not in line with principles of natural justice. Such a decision questions the credibility of the EAC as a body truly concerned about the environment.
  4. It is also a dereliction of duty as there exist other courses of action that could have been taken by a body with as much authority as the EAC. For instance, this author believes that the EAC should have outright rejected the proposal, and MoEFCC could then proceed according to section (8) of EIA Notification 2006 which details course of action to be taken in case of submission of false information (excerpt above).

Alternative Scenarios
While highlighting the numerous issues associated with this EAC decision is important, this author would like to add that there do exist other possible outcomes.

  1. First, the fact remains that MoEFCC has the authority to reject the proposal regardless of what kind of recommendation EAC provides. As mentioned above, neither rejecting nor recommending for EC also still leaves MoEFCC with this option.
  2. With new information being submitted, one can argue that a new public hearing (another mandatory aspect of EC – EIA procedure) should be conducted on the basis of the new information, apart from just re-submitting specified information. People who stand to be directly affected by project operations (residents of Raigarh, in this case) have a chance to express concerns primarily at such public hearings. It is only logical to conduct fresh public hearings if new information related to projects is being submitted. (According to the meeting minutes, “Initially Public Hearing for this project was scheduled on 16th March, 2018, then on 26th May, 2019 and on 26th August, 2019. Public Hearing was finally conducted on 27th September, 2019.” It was postponed on account of protest by local villagers who stand to be affected directly by the mining activities proposed to take place; news reports also suggest that locals allege the public hearing finally conducted was staged).
  3. Even a bare minimum approach to carrying out its duties would have meant the EAC rejected the proposal, or imposed some penalty on the project proponent. This author believes rejection of current proposal would still leave MAHAGENCO with the option of applying again, but with all new information and up to date baselines data, instead of submission of specific components without any penalty.

One Project, Many Potential Impacts
Another thing to note here would be where the coal from Gare Pelma II is proposed to be used. The coal linkage is with specific units of Mahagenco’s Chandrapur, Koradi and Parli Thermal Power Plants. Chandrapur in Maharashtra is a critically polluted area, as identified by CPCB’s Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index. Koradi Thermal Power Plant is located near Nagpur and Koradi towns, as is Khaparkheda TPS, also owned by Mahagenco. The area is notorious for air and water pollution from thermal plants and industry, and Koradi has even been identified as a Sulfur Dioxide hotspot in the last year. The impacts of burning of coal mined from this part of Chhattisgarh are not limited to the mining lease area, they potentially extend to those areas where the use of coal will exacerbate prevailing pollution problems as well.
Lastly, a report authored by a committee constituted under an NGT order passed in the Shivpal Bhagat vs. Union of India & Others case (OA 104/2018) dated 11th October 2019 highlights one significant point, among others. The report highlights, “Based on evidence summarised above, the committee is of the opinion that the Tamnar-Gharghoda block region is close to exceeding its environmental carrying capacity.” The Gare Pelma coal mines are spread across Tamnar and Gharghoda blocks in Raigarh district. This is an environmentally stressed region being proposed to be opened up for further mining, for coal to be used in existing severely polluted areas of Maharashtra.

*Note: According to OM issued by MoEFCC on 20th April 2018, industries are to submit Form #2 in format given and in line with other provisions of EIA Notification.