Vol 2, May 2023 | Mine games

According to the Environmental clearance letter, a public hearing for the North Urimari project was conducted in 2004. People, however, have no memory of any public hearing conducted for the project. Photo of the North Urimari mine by Krithika A Dinesh.

Barka Sayal’s identity as a coal extraction zone, made easier with special government concessions, has started superseding its tribal and forest identity – and reflects a larger uncomfortable reality in India. Read more

According to the Environmental clearance letter, a public hearing for the North Urimari project was conducted in 2004. People, however, have no memory of any public hearing conducted for the project. Photo of the North Urimari mine by Krithika A Dinesh.

Changing rules, expanding mines, whose forest is it anyway?

Barka Sayal’s identity as a coal extraction zone, made easier with special government concessions, has started superseding its tribal and forest identity – and reflects a larger uncomfortable reality in India.

Hum yahan paida hue hain. Par ab hum hi bhulaye gaye hain, khadan wale roz naya khudai karte hain, phir un tak pahuchne ke liye naya rasta banate hain (I was born here. But now even I forget (the ways around here), everyday mine companies dig a new pit and then construct new paths to reach those pits)”, said Kaleshwar Majhi, as our car reversed from a path which according to him would have taken us to the new Potanga village but ended abruptly at a half-dug pit. Majhi is a resident of Urimari village which is hemmed in by three opencast coal mines: Urimari, and North Urimari open cast mine and Sayal D project. 

In his 78 years of life around the village, Majhi has witnessed the area transform. Barka Sayal network of coal mines is a small part of the South Karanpura coalfield that is mined by Central Coalfields Limited (CCL), a subsidiary of Coal India Limited, a national public sector undertaking. Today, the Barka Sayal area is witnessing a rapid transformation made easy by recent dilutions of environmental regulations.

In 2017, to address the ‘coal shortage’ within the country, the MoEFCC granted a special concession to coal mining projects, allowing existing coal mines to increase their output by 40% of their original capacity without a public hearing. Since no new land acquisition was involved the impact from the project on the population residing nearby was considered minimal and ‘manageable’. North Urimari mine, too, rode on this wave of concessions and corresponding coal expansions. It received multiple expansions without public hearing. However, the mine and its expansion has left a trail of impacts and risks for the tribals of the Barka Sayal region.  

Most of the Barka Sayal area comes under Ramgarh district with a small portion falling in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand. The area is inhabited by Oraon, Munda, Santhal tribes and Bhuiya and Ravidas communities. Majhi worked in the Birsa/Urimari mine till 2016. “Un dino mein sarkari Naukri milta tha, peediyon ke liye (in those days we would get government job for generations).” He was referring to an old scheme of the CCL under which one family member of an employee at the subsidiary would get the job after their retirement. 

The new mines don’t follow this scheme. In New Birsa/North Urimari, a CCL mine being run by BGR Mining on an outsourcing agreement since 2014, workers are hired on contract. Land owners were promised jobs in exchange for land they relinquished for the mine. However, the new contractual arrangements for the outsourced mine work have vanquished the little semblance of power the tribals felt in the initial years of mining in the region. The rush to extract coal at a lightning speed has resulted in shrunken space for them to engage with the mine company and/or the government.  

The latest example of this is the construction of Urimari railway siding. The siding is being built on the land falling in the mine lease area of CCL. The land, however, is awfully close to their homes—which were built afresh after they had to relinquish their agricultural farms and properties for the mine in 1990-91. Barka Sayal is a tribal-dominated area, but its identity as a coal extraction zone supersedes its tribal and forest identity. 

Mine expansion without compliance

Public hearing exemptions are usually granted to coal mine expansions on the basis of certain promises—no additional land acquisition, pollution load to stay within permissible limits, no additional coal transport through road and satisfactory compliance of the safeguards listed in the existing environmental clearance of the project. 

These conditions are often bypassed, and North Urimari is no different. The project received its first environmental clearance (EC) in 2006 for extracting three million tonnes per annum (MTPA) of coal. Between 2017 and 2021, the project requested capacity increase without public hearing multiple times, but in vain. Its poor compliance to the environmental clearance conditions such as maintenance of green belt along the boundary of the mine and benches to avoid sliding of overburden dumps, came in the way. 

Overburden of the North Urimari mine. Photo: Krithika A Dinesh

This changed in January 2022, when the project received the environmental clearance to expand to 3.6 MTPA (20% hike), the poor level of non-compliance notwithstanding. However, locals still complain of missing checks for dust pollution and contamination of water sources. “Jab hum halla karte hain ya jab koi bahar se aata hai toh paani chhidakte hain (when we agitate or when someone is visiting, only then they sprinkle water),” said Sanjay Tudu when asked about the operation of water sprinklers to control dust. 

We asked Ajay Singh, the General Manager (Mining) of Barka-Sayal region of the CCL over email about forest violation and complaints made by the locals. We are yet to get a response.

Non-compliance has been noted by the expert appraisal committee (EAC) responsible for appraising coal mining project proposals for environmental clearance as well.  “Further expansion in capacity will only be considered by EAC when at least 75% of EC conditions are complied fully...”, noted the committee while considering its request for 40% capacity increase. 

On ground, the non-compliance has serious impacts. “Dhaan ki baali dhool se dhaki rehti hai. Sinchai bhi kale paani se hoti hai (The spikes of paddy are covered with coal dust. Even the fields are irrigated with black water)”, Tudu lamented.

Application DateProposalOutcomeApproval Date
June 2018Application for revalidation of environmental clearance under EIA 2006Environmental clearance revalidatedNovember 2019
January 2022Application for expansion of the coal mine from 3 to 4.2 MTPA (40%)EC granted for expansion from 3 to 3.6 MTPA(20%)February 2022
November 2022Requested amendment of condition on railway siding-for completion by July 2023Amendment of EC grantedDecember 2022
January 2023Application for expansion of the coal mine from 3.6 to 4.2 MTPAEC granted for expansion from 3.6 to 4.2 MTPAFebruary 2023

According to the Environmental clearance letter, a public hearing for the project was conducted in 2004. People, however, have no memory of any public hearing conducted for the project. They remember something else instead.

Woh project ko Urimari ka naam de rahe the. Hum bole hamare area mein project aa raha hai toh hamari pehchaan par iska naam hona chahiye. Toh project ka naam Birsa project kiya. (They were going to name the project Urimari. We said if the project was coming in our area it should be named after our identity. Then the project was named Birsa),” said Majhi. He was right. Most of the sign boards, mine offices displayed the mine names Birsa and New Birsa. But what Majhi didn’t know is that in official records the two projects that locals know as Birsa and New Birsa were called Urimari and North Urimari projects. This little anecdote reflects how tribals are made to believe that they have a say in how their lands and forests are used. 

Ripple effects of increased coal production

Enhanced capacity of a coal mine also means increased transport, increased capacity for a coal handling plant, washery unit, and increase in holding capacity of a railway siding. Railways and conveyor belts are considered ‘environmentally friendly’ ways of coal transport. However, this is only partially true. Sidings are normally used for transport of various items such as food grains, sugar, paper, wood, fertilizers and minerals. 

Transport of minerals such as coal warrants certain precautionary measures to be taken. These measures can include: careful selection of the site of the siding, prevention of run-off outside the siding area, and air pollution prevention measures such as sprinkling of water, and covering the load. Acknowledging these impacts in 2015, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) came up with guidelines for railway sidings’ construction and operation. However, the guidelines are legally non-binding and poor compliance on the part of CCL fails to evoke confidence.

That aside, the project has also violated the Forest Conservation Act 1980, which requires the project proponents to obtain forest clearance prior to any non-forest use of forest land. Around 11.11 ha of forest land was required for the construction of North Urimari Railway Siding. The land fell under the mining leases of the three opencast mines belonging to CCL. 

While the construction of the siding is being reported to be going on speedily, the forest clearance is still pending

Between January 2022 and 2023, the CCL submitted before the EAC that siding work was completed up to 75% to 80%, while the process of obtaining the forest clearance is ongoing. A closer look into the application the CCL submitted seeking forest clearance reveal its admission that the construction of the railway siding was a ‘violation’ of the Forest Conservation Act. 

‘Violation’ projects are those which start with either the use of land, begin construction or operation of new or expansion projects before obtaining a clearance. Projects have been getting amnesty for initiating work without environmental clearances, coastal clearance as well as for forest clearances. In case of North Urimari, locals share that the company began construction of the railway siding without forest permission.

Railway siding construction area. Photo: Krithika A Dinesh

Forest Rights Act, a mere formality for forest diversion

The Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006 acknowledges the rights of traditional forest dwellers and those dependent on forests over this resource. Through an office memorandum in 2009, the erstwhile Ministry of Environment and Forests made it mandatory for ‘settlement’ of forest rights before diversion of forests. However, a letter from the concerned Gram Sabha confirming the completion of the FRA process and public consent for the project was required only before the final forest clearance. 

Forest clearance is granted in two stages: Stage I or in principle approval and Stage II or the final approval by which time all the conditions imposed at stage I need to be fulfilled. Compliance under FRA, however, is not part of the stage I clearance. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the nodal ministry for the Forest Rights Act, having noted the in-built conditions for fait accompli, warned the Environment Ministry, the nodal ministry for Forest Conservation Act, of this. 

It said, “while MoEFCC had maintained that it (FRA clearance) would be required to be obtained by project proponent at stage II of forest clearance, the view of MoTA is that this would prove to be fait accompli…it has been seen that many a times the project applies for FRA clearance only in the last minute where diversion of forest land is allowed before settling their rights…” It recommended that the proof of having initiated FRA clearance process should be produced at stage I FCA clearance. However, nothing changed in the forest clearance process. 

In their paper, ‘Manufacturing Consent: Mining, Bureaucratic Sabotage and the Forest Rights Act in India’, Chitrangada Choudhury and Aniket Aagha also argue that the power asymmetry in which the process of obtaining consent from the Gram Sabha operates doesn’t allow for any real decision-making on proposed forest diversions. North Urimari Railway siding is a case in point.

While CCL initiated the application for forest clearance in 2019, it was only in 2021, that the Gram Sabha was intimated of it. By August 2021, the identification and settlement of rights under the Forest Rights Act was already complete.  However locals viewed the process suspiciously. “2021 mein Urimari siding ka notice aaya tha. Jan sunvayi kiya par keval khanapoorti ki. Hum gaye the, kuch logon ne humein hastakshar karne ke liye dabav daala par vapis chale aaye (In 2021, the notice for Urimari siding came),” said Shankar Kumar Bhuiya while sharing his experience of the 2021 meeting of the Sub-division-level Forest Rights Committee. 

“A public hearing was organised but it was a mere checking of the box. We went there, some people pressured us to sign but we came back without signing),” 

The meeting was followed by an online meeting of the district level forests rights committee, which cleared the project. Bhuiya suspects that some members of the panchayat and forest rights committee are on the company’s side. In January this year, the circle officer organised a village assembly for final consent under the Forest Rights Act. Then and in April tribals put their demands in the form of a letter to the circle officer raising issues of unemployment and pollution from the upcoming siding. “The meeting went on amicably. Such meetings are presided by an officer of the company, most likely a tribal, to ensure a smooth conduct of the assembly.”, shared an activist from Jharkhand who didn’t want to be named.

Paving the road for predetermined outcomes

The Ministry of Tribal Affairs, in its note flagging concerns in the forest permission process, invoked the phrase ‘fait accompli’ to characterise its flaws. The assertion here is that the fate of projects is already decided before those that are affected by it hear about it, leaving them little option but to accept the development. In other words, the most affected entity is strong armed, and left with little choice but to accept its fate. 

North Urimari is a classic case of one diluted regulation aiding the other to weaken the rights of tribals and the right to a safe environment to those living near these projects. In this case the situation of fait accompli arises twice: one because of late initiation of the process of recognising forest rights for diversion. Second, when concession in one law is given subject to a condition that interferes with the objective assessment of a project under another law. The concession from conducting public hearings for mine expansion gave way to a railway siding, which became an accomplished reality for the tribals of Barka-Sayal. Realising that the railway siding was going to come regardless, the locals have shifted their demand from no railway siding near their homes to, no pollution and risk from the siding. “Hum bole ki siding idhar nahi banaiye, par who bolte hain ki siding unka zameen par aa raha hai. Toh ab hum pradushan aur high voltage ki taaron se bachna chahte hain (We asked them not to construct the siding here, they replied that the siding was coming on their land. So now we want to save ourselves from pollution and high voltage cables),” said Majhi. 

North Urimari, however, is hardly the only example of this. String by string, the legislative fabric of the FRA and FCA have been loosened to such an extent over past decades that they no longer possess the integrity to shield the rights of their primary constituents- tribal and forest-dependent communities and the forests themselves. Recent notifications from the government provide ample evidence that this process is likely to continue. ‘Coal shortages’ in recent years and an ambition for resource independence has pushed greater exemptions for use of forest lands for non-forestry purposes to unprecedented levels, including the expansion of road and railway lines. In fact, the latest list of coal mines to be put up for auction also contain blocks within dense forests. Coal is now likely to be joined by mining and transport operations for other minerals too in the fait accompli assault on tribal agency and environmental protection. Similar concerns also ring around the dilution of environmental and forest protection through proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation Act.

There is perhaps no better title than fait accompli for a historic retelling of the story of India’s forests and the communities tied to them. The cruel and seemingly endless joke is only punctuated by rare instances that pried open public conscience. India is now embarking on its “green growth” journey. While proclamations have revolved around how a new energy economy will propel India’s economic development and growth, neither agency of affected communities or environmental protection has yet made it to the talking points. The question needs to be asked. Will the “amrit kaal” and visions of “green growth” address and rectify historic injustices made under the garb of development? Or are forest-dependent communities staring at a reboot of systemic injustices, fated to accept the inevitable—fait accompli?

Additional inputs provided by Shreeshan Venkatesh.
This story has been supported by the International Centre for Not-for-profit Law as part of a 
study on public participation in environmental decisions.

In the last 10 years, the earliest arrival was on May 29 in 2018 and 2022 and the most delayed was on June 8, 2019. Photo: Arvind Jain_WikimediaCommons

Slight delay in Indian monsoon onset, likely to arrive over Kerala by June 4: IMD

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted a slight delay in monsoon onset over Kerala this year. In its forecast, the IMD said that the monsoon is expected to arrive on June 4, and its error margin is +/- 4 days. However, private forecaster Skymet Weather has predicted the date as June 7, with an error margin of +/- 3 days. Hot weather conditions will continue deep into June over central and northern parts of the country. In the last 10 years, the earliest arrival was on May 29 in 2018 and 2022 and the most delayed was on June 8, 2019.

Cyclone Mocha devastates Myanmar coast, India launches operation to provide humanitarian assistance 

Cyclone Mocha made landfall in Myanmar’s Rakhine State on May 14 with winds roaring as fast as 175 miles (280 kilometres) per hour, making it a category-five storm. The powerful cyclone hit the coastlines of Myanmar and Bangladesh with almost 5.4 million people estimated to have been in the path of the cyclone. Although it largely spared the Bangladesh coast and more than one million Rohingya refugees residing in camps around Cox’s Bazar – where it was expected to make landfall earlier – it left a devastating impact on western Rakhine state’s capital city Sittwe. Mocha has become the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the North Indian Ocean, including for all seasons and in both the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, since 1982. The Indian government launched Operation Karuna to provide humanitarian assistance to people in Myanmar. Four Indian Naval ships reached Yangon with relief materials.

At 1.5°C warming, extreme weather events may be permanent in 20 countries: Study

According to a new study, the world will see a disproportionate increase in extreme events even if global warming is curtailed at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Extreme wind events, heatwaves, droughts, and maximum one-day rainfall will likely become permanent in 20 countries. If the warming reaches 2 degrees Celsius, such events can become a regular occurrence for 37 countries and 85 countries can be impacted if it increases by 3 degrees Celsius. At the current level of warming, the frequency of heatwaves in mid and high-latitude and subtropical countries has more than doubled compared to preindustrial levels and has quadrupled in tropical countries. At 1.5 degree Celsius, the number of concurrent heat wave-drought events is estimated to increase by 4.5 times in tropical countries.

April heat waves in Asia were ’30 times more likely’ because of climate change: Study

A record-breaking humid heat wave hit large parts of South and Southeast Asia in April, especially India, Bangladesh, Laos and Thailand. It was made at least 30 times more likely by climate change, according to an international team of scientists. During April 17 and 20, large populations across Asia were exposed to a heat index of over 41 degrees Celsius and some areas, particularly in Laos recorded a heat index of over 54 degrees Celsius. 

30% of species could be abruptly lost at 2.5°C of warming: Study

A new study found that climate change is likely to abruptly push species over tipping points as their geographic ranges reach unforeseen temperatures. The new study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution analysed data of over 36,000 marine and terrestrial species of animals and seagrasses from every continent and ocean basin, alongside climate projections running up to 2100. According to the study, if the planet warms by 1.5°C, 15% of species they studied will be at risk of experiencing unfamiliarly hot temperatures across at least 30% of their existing geographic range in a single decade, but this doubles to 30% of species at 2.5°C of warming.

Smoke from Australia’s colossal bushfires may have triggered rare ‘triple dip’ La Niña

Australia’s 2019–2020 catastrophic bushfire season was exceptional in both its severity and particulate emissions as it burned down 20% of the country’s forests and affected 80% of its people. A recent study has found that the smoke from the summer fires may have resulted in the rare “triple dip” La Niña that lasted from 2020 to 2022. Smoke aerosols from the bushfires interacted with clouds to cool surface waters over the south-eastern subtropical Pacific Ocean, creating favourable conditions for a La Niña to form. The research is expected to provide an opportunity to improve ENSO forecasts. At present, there’s no forecasting system that actually considers wildfire emissions for seasonal predictions.

DRC Congo floods: More than 400 dead, thousands left homeless

More than 400 people have died after floods and landslides hit the Democratic Republic of Congo’s South Kivuprovince earlier this month. Heavy rainfalls on May 2 and 4 caused rivers to overflow and created mudslides that devastated the villages of Bushushu and Nyamukubi in South Kivu’s Kalehe territory. More than 5,000 persons are still missing, and about 1,200 houses have been damaged. In Nyamukubi, 70% of the local water infrastructures have been destroyed. Last year, in December, more than 120 people were killed after heavy rains caused severe flooding in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa. 

The G7 also committed to “a collective increase in offshore wind capacity of 150 GW by 2030, based on each country’s existing targets and a collective increase of solar PV to more than 1TW by 2030.” Photo: Republic of Korea/Flickr

G7 doubles down on its climate commitments at Japan summit

This year’s G7 summit, held in Japan, made some significant progress on tackling the climate crisis. Chief among them was providing more certainty on the phaseout of fossil fuels. Member countries “underlined their commitment” to phasing them out latest by 2050. THis is strong language signalling an increase in ambition on this front. The G7 also committed to “a collective increase in offshore wind capacity of 150 GW by 2030, based on each country’s existing targets and a collective increase of solar PV to more than 1TW by 2030.” This is more in line with the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) pathway to limit warming to 1.5°C. Leaders also committed to reducing additional plastic pollution to zero by 2040. This is significant because in 2019, plastics accounted for 3.4% of global emissions.

Biodiversity funds are hardly being used for conservation in India, finds analysis

Government funds allocated to State Biodiversity Boards are not being used for biodiversity conservation, a new analysis found. The funds themselves are meagre and not enough to meet the goals mentioned in the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2002, the analysis by Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), which is yet to be published, found. Only 0.44% of the total funds given to eight states in the past two years by the National Biodiversity Authority was used to conserve Biodiversity Heritage Sights, the study found.  

Wildlife board meeting lasts 5 mins; most projects on agenda cleared without discussion

The latest meeting of the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL) lasted just five minutes. During this meeting projects affecting protected areas, eco-sensitive zones, and tiger corridors were passed without any discussions. The proposals that were cleared include one for manganese mining in the Pench-NNTR corridor, which has a dense forest and a lift irrigation project in Jayakwadi Bird Sanctuary.

Sources who attended the meeting told TOI forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar cleared the agenda in the absence of SBWL chairman and Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde, who was attending other meetings. By the time Shinde arrived, all projects barring two had been cleared, the sources added. Mungantiwar told TOI the proposals were cleared without discussions because most of them were about laying optical fibre cables. 

EU Parliament votes in favour of stricter methane rules for oil, gas companies

The EU’s lawmakers voted in favour of tougher rules for Europe’s oil and gas companies in order to cut down their methane emissions. Tough negotiations are set to follow as there are some EU countries that are seeking more lenient rules for the greenhouse gas. The stricter rules will require oil and gas firms to check for and fix methane leaks in their above-ground infrastructure every two-three years. The regulations will most likely also cover other fossil fuels by 2026, especially to ensure fuel imports comply with the rules.   

2 mn people died due to climate change in 50 years, mostly in poor nations: UN

Extreme weather triggered by climate change led to 2 million deaths and economic damage of $4.3 trillion in the past 50 years, a UN report found. According to the World Meteorological Department (WMO), 11,778 weather disasters were reported between 1970 and 2021. The report found 90% of the deaths that occurred as a result of these disasters were in developing countries. The good news, however, is that early warning systems and improved disaster management have reduced the number of human casualties drastically, according to the report. 

EU passes deforestation law, $1.3 billion of India’s exports to get affected: Report

The recently implemented European Union Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) is likely to affect India’s annual exports of about $1.3 billion to the EU, according to the Global Trade Research Initiative (GTRI). Coffee, leather hides, skin, oil cake, paper, and wood furniture are among the Indian goods that would be impacted. The Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism and EUDR will cover around 1,200 Indian tariff lines (products), the  EU’s share of which in India’s total exports is 23.6%. According to the newly adopted EUDR, exporters to the EU must ensure that these products have been grown on the land which has not been deforested after December 31, 2020. 

Scientists attributed the high average of May 16 largely to high readings of May 15 when strong westerly winds brought dust from Rajasthan to the Capital, shrouding the city in a sepia-toned haze. Photo: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy_Flickr

‘Sepia-toned haze’: Delhi air quality index drops to worst since February 18

Delhi pollution levels on May 16, touched 336µg/m3 with low wind speed of 8-10 kmph as per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data. It is the worst that Delhi’s pollution levels have been since February 18, when the AQI reading was 371.

Scientists attributed the high average of May 16 largely to high readings of May 15 when strong westerly winds brought dust from Rajasthan to the Capital, shrouding the city in a sepia-toned haze. Delhi’s Particulate Matter 10 concentration was off the charts at 941 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) at 10 am, on May 15 with, before it dipped to around 300µg/m3 at 7 pm. 

Central Pollution Control Board data shows at midnight PM10 levels rose again 614µg/m3, before a gradual dip to 166µg/m3 micrograms at 1 pm on Wednesday. PM 10 – consisting of coarser dust particles currently plaguing the Capital — was the lead pollutant at all the weather stations, the HT reported.

Air pollution complaints rose 237% in a decade in Mumbai: Study 

Air pollution complaints rose four and a half times in just a decade in Mumbai according to a new research by NGO Praja, reported TOI. The report, titled ‘Status of Civic Issues in Mumbai, 2023’, said air pollution complaints increased 237% between 2013 and 2022. Thirty percent of the increase took place between 2015 and 2022. Between 2018 and 2022, the BMC’s complaint registers recorded 1,491 pollution related complaints, of which 1,075 were related to air pollution of Mumbai. The study adds that in 2021, total 424 pollution complaints were lodged, of which 343 were on air pollution, making it the highest in five years. In 2022, the CCRS system recorded 292 pollution complaints, of which 219 was about air pollution, reported the Indian Express.

The study pointed out that while the Mumbai Climate Action Plan (MCAP) released by BMC last year targeted interventions to improve the city’s air quality, the measures are not being implemented effectively. Experts praised MCAP as a good document brought out by the BMC, that provided a roadmap to move towards ensuring sustainable service deliveries and in turn improve the city’s climate conditions. But researchers said the BMC should have in the last one year considered to implement the many interventions that were suggested through it.

Air pollution increases risk of dementia, include brain health in net zero strategies: New report

Not just lungs, a new study has revealed that exposure to high levels of air pollution particularly in early life increases the risk of dementia syndrome and related disorders. The study found that the causal loop between poverty, living near an industrial air pollution source, and social inequalities across the life course impact cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disorders in older, urban populations.

The Guardian reported that policy and practice strategies have been proposed to address air pollution’s impact on public health more generally, their benefits for brain health, including dementia, remain undeveloped.  The new report calls for an audit of existing policies to fast-track actions that reduce our exposure to air pollution through our whole lives, including low-pollution school zones and the development of dementia-friendly communities. The report also calls for health, and specifically brain health, to be part of net zero strategies.

BP unit to pay record $40 million to settle US air pollution case 

The big oil company BP will pay a record-setting $40 million penalty for violating US emission laws at its Indiana-based oil refinery by failing to curb emissions of cancer-causing benzene and other harmful pollutants, Reuters reported. 

The oil giant will be required to make significant investments to curb benzene pollution at its 134 year old Whiting, Indiana refinery, which has a history of violating federal regulations.

The settlement between BP, the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency will also require the company to invest approximately $197 million in new technology and other capital improvements to reduce air pollution.

Those improvements are expected to reduce benzene by an estimated seven tons per year, other hazardous air pollutants (HAP) by 28 tons per year, and volatile organic compound emissions (VOC) by 372 tons per year, the report added. 

$77 billion a year: Cost of health impacts of air pollution caused by US oil and gas production?

A new study in the US has put a price tag on the human cost of air pollution caused by oil and natural gas production: roughly $77 billion nationwide every year, while also contributing to thousands of early deaths and health flare-ups, reported Axios.

The study published in the journal Environmental Research: Health.found that pollutants nitrogen oxide, fine particulate matter and ozone from U.S. oil and gas production contributed to 7,500 excess deaths, 410,000 asthma attacks, and 2,200 new cases of childhood asthma across the U.S. in 2016, per  published 

Nitrogen oxide was the largest contributor to the overall health impacts, followed by ozone and then fine particulate matter, according to researchers at Boston University School of Public Health, the University of North Carolina Institute for the Environment, PSE Healthy Energy and the Environmental Defense Fund.

The application fee has been set at ₹500 (~$6.08)/MW for the solar module manufacturers having a total installed production capacity less than or equal to 50 MW/year. Photo: University of Salford Press Office_Flickr

Govt cuts application fee by 80% to enlist in approved list of solar models and manufacturers

The Centre reduced the application fee for enlisting in the approved list of solar Models and Manufacturers by 80% compared to the previous fee. The validity of the list has also been increased from two to four years. This is expected to attract domestic photovoltaic module manufacturers and ramp up the production to cater to demand. 

The application fee has been set at ₹500 (~$6.08)/MW for the solar module manufacturers having a total installed production capacity less than or equal to 50 MW/year, Mercom reported. If the application consists of multiple models, an additional fee of 1% of the application fee for the first model for every additional model will be applicable.

For total installed capacity of more than 50 MW/year, an application fee of ₹1,000 (~$12.16)/MW of the total installed capacity of solar modules and cells will apply. For multiple models, the applicable fee will increase by 1% for every additional model. Further, if the applicant is already enlisted in the ALMM list, then the application fee for every new model will be 10% of the application fee for the first model and 1% of the application fee for every new model, Mercom report added. 

Govt to launch new scheme to promote distributed renewable energy equipment

The Centre plans to launch a new scheme to make distributed renewable energy equipment cheaper, power minister RK Singh said. “We need large-scale manufacturing and standardising of distributed applications of RE,” he said. India has a large programme on rooftop solar and solar irrigation, and now it will scale up programme for distributed renewable energy products. “If a family wants to own a solar dryer, they should be able to get financing from the banks—we will work towards it. Manufacturers and users of DRE for livelihoods are pioneers and now the government will scale it up to the next level,” he added.

According to government data in India, solar-powered pumps have the maximum deployment potential, followed by solar-powered vertical fodder growing units and solar dryers. Collectively, these four technologies alone can impact around 27 million livelihoods. 

IEEFA & JMK research: India could become the world’s second-largest solar photovoltaic manufacturer by 2026

india is set to become the second-largest PV manufacturing country after China, finds a new joint report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) and JMK Research & Analytics. In the next three years, India will produce 110 gigawatts (GW) of solar photovoltaic (PV) module capacity, the report said. 

According to the report, India’s cumulative module manufacturing nameplate capacity more than doubled from 18 GW in March 2022 to 38 GW in March 2023. The Centre’s production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme helped spur the growth of the entire PV manufacturing ecosystem in India, including the development of a market for PV ancillary components, such as glass, ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) and backsheets, said the report’s co-author Jyoti Gulia, Founder, JMK Research.

The PLI scheme is expected to increase 51.6 GW of module capacity and at least 27.4 GW of integrated “polysilicon-to-module” capacity in India in the next three to four years, the report said. The domestic content requirement (DCR) for solar power in projects such as the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha Evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (PM-KUSUM) Scheme and the Central Public Sector Undertaking (CPSU) Scheme also strengthened domestic manufacturing. 

One of the key steps taken by the government to boost demand for domestic solar PV modules was the introduction of the Approved List of Module Manufacturers (ALMM) in 2019. The report noted that even after applying higher basic customs duty (BCD) on imported modules, the cost differential compared to domestic modules is negligible.

EU to quantify carbon footprint of solar modules used in the region

The European Commission proposed a maximum limit of carbon footprint of solar modules to be used in Europe through a regulation termed as Ecodesign Directive, which is a method to quantify the carbon footprint of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules used and manufactured in the EU region. The Ecodesign Directive will ensure that the PV modules and related materials have been sourced, manufactured, used, and disposed of in an environmentally sensitive manner, reported Mercom.

The Commission wants to ensure that the newly installed photovoltaic modules used in the EU are affordable, competitive, and environmentally friendly. The new method will calculate the carbon footprint of PV modules in the manufacturing and shipping phases following a cradle-to-gate approach, which includes a lifecycle assessment hotspot analysis, which will be used to identify the areas with the most environmental impacts through the lifecycle of a PV module. The analysis will cover the usage of water and other resources used during the manufacturing and operational life of the modules.

Even though more models will now qualify for the subsidy, the amount per vehicle will fall, leading to higher prices for customers. Photo: Gnoeee_Wikimedia Commons

Government plans to raise outlay for e-2-wheelers under FAME-II, slash subsidy amount per vehicle

The heavy industries ministry intends to raise the outlay for e-two-wheelers under its flagship FAME-II scheme from the existing level of ₹2,000 crore and decrease the subsidy per vehicle. The current subsidy for electric two-wheelers is ₹15,000 per KW, but the ministry is planning to reduce it to ₹10,000 per KW. Additionally, it is anticipated that the maximum subsidy cap will decrease from the present 40% to 15% of MRP. As a result, even though more models will now qualify for the subsidy, the amount per vehicle will fall, leading to higher prices for customers. The Programme Implementation and Steering Committee (PISC), a panel with the authority to make adjustments to the ₹10,000 crore FAME-II Scheme, will receive a proposal in this regard. There is currently no plan to introduce FAME-III or to extend FAME-II past March 2024. 

More companies found violating FAME-II norm, to be debarred 

The government will send notifications to more businesses that have been found violating localisation regulations under the ₹10,000 crore FAME-II scheme. These companies will be debarred and any benefits they have already received during FY 2019-20 will be recovered, reported the Economic Times. According to sources, the government has issued notices to Okinawa Autotech and Hero Electric for debarment from the FAME-II Scheme, seeking the recovery of incentives claimed since FY 2019–20 after the two businesses were discovered to be breaking the scheme’s localisation requirements. Both companies have denied the allegations.

Also, the heavy industries ministry will resume disbursal of subsidies under the scheme. The Industrial Finance Corporation of India is processing the subsidy claims and subsidies disbursal under FAME-II to those whose names have been cleared after the probe will soon resume. 

Ola Electric announces it will refund charger cost to its electric scooter buyers

Ola Electric announced that it will reimburse its electric scooters buyers the cost of chargers. The business claimed in a statement posted on Twitter that despite efforts from special interest organisations, such as the recent narrative on charger pricing, the electric vehicle industry has had unparalleled growth in the past couple of years. “As a leader of the industry we remain committed to putting our customers first. Therefore, setting aside the technicalities and as an example for others to follow, we have decided to reimburse the charger monies to all eligible customers,” it stated. 

However, Ola did not provide information on how much it intended to refund. Earlier estimates put the cost at about ₹130 crore. The TVS Motor Company has also disclosed that it will offer consumers, who have paid more than the threshold limit established under the FAME plan, a goodwill benefit programme refund of about ₹20 crore.

Draft policy for regulating cab aggregators, delivery service providers in Delhi approved

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal approved the Motor Vehicle Aggregator Scheme 2023 to regulate cab aggregators and delivery service providers in the national capital, the Economic Times said. Mandatory panic buttons in taxis, integration with emergency response number ‘112’, and phase-wise transition to EVs are some of the highlights of the policy. The lieutenant governor has now received a draft of the plan. The transport department will next present it to the general public for input and criticisms before giving it its final form. The CM said that the scheme prioritises the safety of passengers, ensures timely grievance redressal and also promotes the use of electric vehicles, which will help reduce pollution levels in the city.

The scheme will be applicable to any person or organisation that utilises digital or electronic means to operate, board, or manage a fleet of motor vehicles for the transportation of passengers or to connect a driver offering to deliver or pick up a product, courier, package, or parcel with a seller, e-commerce entity, or consignor. 

The de-coaled lands will be put to environment-friendly use by filling them up with fly ash and creating forest cover, agricultural lands, solar plants and water bodies. Photo: Deepak~commonswiki_WikimediaCommons

India will shut 30 coal mines in the next 3-4 years, renewables to meet new demand

The ministry of coal secretary Amrit Lal Meena—on the sidelines of the third Energy Transitions Working Group meeting, a part of the G20 Summit—said around 30 coal mines will be closed over the next three to four years, paving the way for a greener future. The de-coaled lands will be put to environment friendly use by filling them up with fly ash and creating forest cover, agricultural lands, solar plants and water bodies. Coal India and other government agencies that deal in coal mining are set to achieve a net zero target of 5,200 solar power production by 2026. At present, 50 lakh people are directly dependent on coal mining. Keeping that in mind, just transition has to address the challenge. Recently, the Union Ministry of Power’s Central Electricity Authority (CEA) offered updated projections on what India’s energy mix for the power sector could look like in 2030. India generated 73% of its power from coal in 2022-23. The CEA expects this to go down to 55% by 2030. A greater share in the electricity mix will be held by renewable sources, whose generation is expected to rise to 31% in 2030 from 12% at present. 

Vietnam approves $135 billion plan to slash coal-powered production by 2030

Vietnam approved a long-anticipated $135 billion plan to slash coal-fired electricity generation by 2030. According to the new plan, titled Power Development Plan 8, only coal power projects that have already been approved and those under construction can proceed. Coal will represent 20% of Vietnam’s energy mix by the end of the decade, down from 50% at present. The Southeast Asian country has the world’s third-largest pipeline of new coal power projects after India and China.

Italian energy group faces lawsuit for contributing to climate change

Leading environmental groups Greenpeace and ReCommon launched a lawsuit against Italian energy group Eni—dealing with fossil fuels—over its contribution to climate change. According to a report in Reuters, the lawsuit was filed “to force a rethink of Eni’s business strategy and stir the Italian government and CDP into playing a stronger role in ensuring that ENI complies with the Paris Agreement (on climate change) and respects human rights.” The Italian economy ministry and Italian state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) jointly control the company with a stake of around 30%.

TotalEnergies sues Greenpeace over claim it ‘underreports’ GHG in emissions report

French oil giant TotalEnergies has sued Greenpeace for a symbolic 1 euro over the environmental group’s claims that the company was likely underreporting its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Greenpeace in a November report claimed that TotalEnergies’ carbon emissions in 2019 “could be almost four times higher” than what was reported.