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Photo: Ramesh Pathania/ Mint
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/ Mint

NTPC violating green norms for transport of coal, says panel

NTPC asked to look for alternatives instead of merely sprinkling water on coal to prevent dust from blowing out of open wagons

New Delhi: An expert panel of the environment ministry has found state-run power utility NTPC Ltd guilty of violating green norms by hauling coal in open rail wagons from its mine in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, to its Sipat super thermal power plant in the state.

It has asked the company to look for alternatives instead of merely sprinkling water on coal to prevent dust from blowing out of open wagons.

“Since water shortage in the area is acute, particularly in dry months, and it is just not available even for irrigation in adequate amounts, PP (project proponent, i.e., NTPC) should study alternative methodologies/technologies being utilised, including abroad, to prevent coal dust blowing from moving open wagons carrying coal..." the expert appraisal committee (EAC) on environmental impact assessment of thermal power and coal mining projects said in its latest meeting on 31 March.

The EAC’s order comes in the wake of the power utility citing “technological constraints in loading and unloading coal" from closed wagons.

The committee has also asked NTPC to study the impact of ferrying coal in open wagons on ecology and the health of people living in close vicinity of railway tracks and submit a report within a year.

“The PP (NTPC) shall carry out ambient air quality monitoring as well as short and long-term health survey of people in villages/habitations within one km on either side of the railway track stretching from source to TPP (thermal power plant)," the EAC said, adding that such studies should be carried out every six months and the report be submitted to the ministry.

To be sure, when the Sipat project won environment clearance in 2002, the ministry had stipulated the use of closed wagons for transporting coal from the mine to the power plant.

However, on NTPC’s request, the ministry, in September 2014, allowed the firm to transport coal in open wagons for a year, with the condition that NTPC would come up with a plan to transport coal in a cleaner way.

“The EAC condition for carrying coal in closed wagons had been stipulated as far back as in April 2002. NTPC, however, has been carrying coal all these years, and is continuing to carry coal even now, in open wagons. This was thus a violation of the EAC condition... NTPC had been asked (in September 2014) to submit the action plan within one year but NTPC had done so only in March 2016, thus again being in violation of the EAC condition of September 2014," noted the minutes of the EAC’s meeting.

Besides, NTPC’s plan for a cleaner way of transporting coal did not provide a solution and instead suggested ways to control dust and suggested corrective actions in case of failure, the committee observed.

The EAC also deferred a decision on NTPC’s demand to continue transporting coal by open wagons to the Sipat plant till there is a solution.

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