Five years after the government, in laying down its climate-change targets, committed to have mandatory coal washing, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has done away with it.
In a gazette notification on Thursday, the ministry amended the Environment Protection Act to drop mandatorily washing coal for supply to thermal power plants.
“Use of coal by Thermal Power Plants, without stipulations as regards ash content or distance shall be permitted,” said the gazette notification.
Business Standard has reviewed the gazette notification. In 2015, as part of its climate-change commitments, the government had made coal washing mandatory for supply to all thermal units more than 500 km from the coal mine.
This was in keeping with India’s stand to not reduce coal consumption but rather focus on emission control.
The ministry, in its guidelines issued the same year, said “power stations located 500-750 km, 750-1,000 km would be supplied coal with ash content not exceeding 34 per cent on a quarterly average basis w.e.f January 01, 2016”. It asked the coal companies to supply washed/blended or beneficiated coal.
The move to abolish coal washing has come barely 15 days after the ministry issued a draft note for stakeholders to submit their views on this.
The gazette notification cited the ministry, which said speedy legislative action was needed in wake of the pandemic. “(The) ministry has represented that in view of the existing unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic …, it is desirable to issue the notification at the earliest,” said the notification.
The ministry is of the view that the requirement of maintaining an average ash content of 34 per cent prompts industries to import, resulting in an outflow of foreign exchange.
The ministry in a separate policy proposal has asked the thermal power sector to source coal domestically.
This paper had reported the ministry had proposed doing away with coal washing because it did not bring down the ash content in coal.
According to industry calculations, washing improves the quality of coal by reducing ash content to 33-34 per cent from the earlier 40-45 in average Indian coal.
The ministry has instead directed thermal power plants to install the technology for handling ash content.
Earlier the ministry had advocated pollution-control technologies such as Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD) at the end of power generation units. Several industry executives had contested it, saying it was not an alternative to coal washing.
FGD at thermal stations is mandatory under the new emission control norms, 2015. A report by the Centre for Science & Environment (CSE) recently said 70 per cent of India’s coal-powered capacity would miss the FGD deadline of 2022.
The coal-washing industry is up in arms against the notification. Several representatives said the ministry did not acknowledge their response to the earlier draft note contesting the decision.
“As stakeholders in the coal washing industry, we had submitted our contentions to the MoEFFC. Neither physical nor emailed copies of our views were acknowledged by the ministry,” said an executive not wanting to be named.
The thermal power would also be mandated to comply with ash utilisation notifications issued by the ministry and also install appropriate technology solutions to optimise water consumption for ash management,” said the gazette.
During 2019-20 (first half), of 105 coal based units monitored by the government, only 39 had 100 per cent ash utilisation at their end, according to data by Central Electricity Authority. Medical councils globally consider fly ash as a health hazard leading to severe lung and breathing diseases.