Mumbai: The Tamil Nadu state environment appellate authority has ordered Chemplast Sanmar Ltd, a unit of the Chennai-based Sanmar Group, to stop construction of a coal-fired thermal power plant at Mettur for violating norms, and directed it to seek fresh approval from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB).
Chemplast, which makes piping systems and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) can appeal against the appellate authority’s order in the state high court.
If it decides to comply with the order, the company would have to seek approval from TNPCB after holding a public hearing and conducting an environment impact assessment, or EIA to determine the ecological and social effects of the project. The state environment authority would then refer the case to the Union environment ministry for approval.
Chemplast “is studying all the options that are available with it to restore the original consent given by TNPCB so that the construction activities in the co-generation plant could be completed and the power and steam generation using imported coal is commissioned,” P.S. Jayaraman, the company’s managing director, said in an email response.
Chemplast started work on the Rs230 crore, 50MW coal-based thermal plant in February 2007 to feed power to its five factories at Mettur, though it only had approval for a less-polluting 48.5MW sulphur-based fuel conversion plant estimated at Rs45 crore, as reported by Mint on 7 May.
The appellate authority’s order is unlikely to affect power supply to Chemplast’s five units because the company’s existing power plant is still operational.
Coal-fired thermal power plants account for more than 20% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the world and fall under the government’s list of highly polluting industries because it affects the quality of both air and water in surrounding areas.
Companies starting such projects estimated at Rs100 crore or more are required to hold a public hearing and complete an EIA. Chemplast had done neither.
In addition, it had violated another Tamil Nadu government order that bans setting up of highly polluting industries within 5km of the Cauvery river. Following complaints from the local community and an inspection, the state environment regulator in January ordered Chemplast to stop construction of the plant after the company failed to respond to a show-cause notice.
“The firm decided to manufacture caustic soda with membrane cell technology. In order to make this proposition commercially viable, it was thought to bring down the cost of power through fuel conversion,” said Jayaraman.
“Our project was approved by TNPCB, but in January we were suddenly informed that the consent was revoked.”
Chemplast filed an appeal with the environment appellate authority in February to vacate TNPCB order.
“The appellate authority’s order has far reaching implications,” said D. Naga Saila, an advocate who represented Mettur villagers in the litigation. “This is probably the first time when a big firm has been held accountable for violations of environmental norms,” he said.