Mumbai: A unit of Chennai-based Sanmar Group, Chemplast Sanmar Ltd, could be penalized for starting work on a coal-based thermal power plant at Mettur in Tamil Nadu after getting permission to start a less-polluting sulphur-based fuel conversion plant.
The company has now been called before the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) for violating a number of environmental norms, including the Union government’s environment impact assessment (EIA) notification which seeks to measure the impact of a particular project on the surrounding environment.
The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) sent a show-cause notice to the maker of piping systems and polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, in December on the issue.
When Chemplast did not reply, the board issued a revocation order in January and asked the company to stop construction.
A final order from NEAA is expected by 10 May.
“The pollution control board had given consent to the Chemplast plant in Mettur, but later during our inspection, we found some irregularities and we revoked the approval given to them,” said a senior TNPCB official, who did not want to be named.
The state environment authority said in its show-cause notice: “During inspection it was found that the unit is establishing a thermal power plant inside the premises of Chemplast Sanmar Ltd, without obtaining environmental clearance from MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests) and without obtaining consent for establishment under the air Act, 1981, from TNPCB.”
Chemplast Sanmar managing director P.S. Jayaraman declined comment. “I cannot comment on the matter as the case is pending before the environment appellate authority,” he said.
Coal-based thermal power plants account for 21% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the world.
They fall under the government’s list of highly polluting industries because it affects the quality of both air and water in surrounding areas.
Chemplast Sanmar had in 2006 sought and won TNPCB’s approval for a 48.5MW sulphur-based fuel conversion plant to supply power to its five units in Mettur, which make PVC, cholormethane, silicon and cholroflurocarbon, or CFC. The cost was estimated at Rs45 crore.
However, with the rising cost of sulphur, Chemplast decided to build a thermal power plant instead.
Construction on the plant began in February 2007, but faced opposition from the local community. Following complaints, TNPCB inspected the Chemplast plant in December and found that the company was building a 50MW thermal power plant at an estimated cost of Rs230 crore.
Companies starting projects that will cost them Rs100 crore or more are required to hold a public hearing and complete an environment impact assessment to determine the environmental and social impact of the project.
TNPCB said in its notice that its inspection revealed that the company had undervalued the project while obtaining approval, and that this was in violation of the EIA notification as well as a Tamil Nadu government order that bans setting up of highly polluting industries within 5km of the Cauvery river.
“We already face pollution-related problems from industries in the area. This thermal plant will only add to the existing pollution,” said Bharathi K., an advocate and member of the Gonur West Agriculturists Development Union, a Mettur-based local farmers organization.
A report by activist group Indian People’s Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights (IPT) in 2005 found that indiscriminate disposal of hazardous industrial waste had resulted in a serious decline in environment and public health conditions in Mettur.
The IPT panel, headed by a retired judge of Madras high court, Akbar Basha Kadri, and another Chennai-based activist group Community Environmental Monitoring said in separate studies that Chemplast Sanmar’s factories were found discharging chemical effluents into the Cauvery river.