Flexible intent: Just a fraction of thermal power plants in India adhere to new emission standards despite the extension of the original deadline in 2017 by five years | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

India’s top power generator, NTPC, rejects foreign tech to cut toxic emissions, experts blame power lobby

Documents show that India’s top electricity generator, state-owned NTPC, has rejected the emissions-cutting technology of GE and other foreign firms for its coal-fired plants, blocking an estimated $2 billion worth of installations. According to a presentation submitted by the NTPC to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) last month, pilot tests following talks with major international firms failed to meet key emissions parameters.  GE and Yara representatives, however, rejected NTPC’s claims, saying their technologies were proven worldwide.

India may be reeling under some of the world’s worst air pollution levels, but the country has already pushed back a deadline to cut emission levels to up to 2022, thanks to extensive lobbying by power producers, who cited high costs and technical difficulties. Starting now in December 2019, over half of coal-fired plants in India would miss a phased deadline to cut emissions of lung diseases-causing sulphur oxide. NTPC generates a quarter of India’s electricity. 

A Greenpeace India analysis, meanwhile, found that just 0.8% of India’s total power capacity has been fit with flu-gas desulfurizer (FGD) technology and only 22% of the 1,66,472 MW capacity has been tendered for it. Experts and activists allege that “powerful lobbies” are behind the lethargic implementation of the new emission norms with 98% of governmental and 96% of private thermal power plants yet to implement FGDs.

More plans? India to set up CNG plants, buy crop residue from farmers to run them

Buying post-harvest crop residue from farmers annually, and turning it into biogas, giving farmers 100,000 machines annually to get rid of crop stubble – these are some of the plans India is considering to help cut toxic air pollution. India is planning to set up over 100 biogas plants and provide thousands of farmers with machines to dispose of crop stubble. Reuters reported that the state-supported Indian Oil Corp Ltd will invite private companies to apply to set up 140 biogas plants that will use rice stubble as feed stock. Stubble burning after the harvests have caused massive periodic air pollution issues as mechanised harvesters leave more stubble than crop removed by hand. Experts are skeptical of the efficacy of the plans, saying Centre will have to engage with farmers with consistency, and people should not expect results next year. 

Over 260 Bihar farmers denied benefits over stubble burning 

The Bihar government blocked applications of over 260 farmers seeking state benefits as they burnt crop residue despite a state ban. The government said it was the first such decision to warn farmers not to burn crop residue as it adds to air pollution. The farmers will not be able to avail different schemes of the department through Direct Benefit Transfer. The maximum number of farmers booked for burning crops are from Bihar’s rice bowl districts of Rohtas and Kaimur. The others were from Bhojpur, Buxar, Nalanda, Patna and Gaya. During the first two weeks of December, Bihar’s capital Patna remained India’s most polluted city. Bihar’s farmers get subsidised power supply at the cost of Rs0.75 per unit. They also get a subsidy of Rs60 per litre of diesel, DTE reported. 

Experts shred Mumbai Clean Air Plan as “incoherent” 

The Mumbai Clean Air Plan, submitted by Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), was junked by leading pollution experts, who called it a cut-and-paste job “without reference” and coherence. The experts on transport recommended that the plan should have been built on Mumbai’s existing mobility infrastructure and should have cut down private transport growth. They also said the plan doesn’t talk about options like walking and cycling to move away from diesel vehicles. The panel on air quality data said Continuous Emission Monitoring System data should be made public so industries can be held accountable. Experts studying industry pollution pointed out that the plan is silent about pollution in Mahul, and the fact that 22% industrial emissions are from the Tata Power Plant. Experts said the plan also doesn’t fix responsibility for bulk emissions from construction and demolition work.

Parliament panel: Vehicles carrying goods from other states worsening Delhi air pollution

It was a hugely toxic start to the fortnight for Delhi. Nine out of 35 monitoring stations recorded “severe” level of air pollution on December 10. The average level of deadly PM2.5 particles, was (212.1 ug/m3) over three times the Indian safe limit (60ug/m3). The WHO safe limit is 25 ug/m3. The latest report presented in Parliament revealed how traffic carrying goods from neighbouring states was worsening the air in Delhi more than ever.  Every fifth freight carrier (21.35% of the total) that entered the city in 2018 did so only to reach some other destination, said The Management of Worsening Traffic Situation in Delhi, a report tabled in Parliament. According to Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), half of the over 12 lakh vehicles on Delhi’s roads daily  in 2018 were from other states — up from 10 lakh and nearly 5 lakh respectively in 2009.

U-turn: Maruti quitting diesel? Not just yet

Maruti has given up plans to let go of diesel vehicles because its rivals Hyundai, M&M and Tata Motors continue to sell the same. Maruti will stop selling diesel cars ahead of April 1 deadline to meet new emission norms, but plans to re-enter the market in 2021, ET reported. Maruti has begun work on a 1.5-litre diesel engine that meets BS-VI standards.