By Ignatius Joseph:
A new study by Urban Emissions, commissioned by Conservation Action Trust and released in partnership with Greenpeace has estimated that in 2011-2012 upto 1,15,000 people died prematurely as a result of emissions from coal-fired power stations in India.
The report further reveals that apart from the premature deaths, there are millions of cases of asthma, respiratory distress and heart diseases attributable to emissions from coal power plants. It also estimated that the cumulative monetary cost of this health crisis is between Rs 16,000 to 23,000 crore annually. The study, titled Coal Kills, was based on a database of 111 coal power plants that generate 121 GW of power.
The study was conducted by Dr. Sarath Guttikunda and Puja Jawahar of Delhi-based, Urban Emissions. Dr. Guttikunda, TED Fellow and an adjunct faculty at the Desert Research Institute, Reno, USA said, “Thousands of lives can be saved every year if India tightens its particulate emissions standards, introduces emission limits for pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury and institutes mandatory monitoring of emissions at plant stacks, making the data publicly available in real time.”
The study also shows that death and disease is not evenly spread across the country. Due to power plant concentrations, wind patterns and population density, the Delhi-Haryana region and the Kolkata-West Bengal-Jharkhand region are the most severely hit, with an estimated 8,800 and 14,900 deaths in 2012. The Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh-Jharkhand-Odisha coal regions also figure high up in the list, with up to 11,000 deaths. Other regions recording high death rates include Mumbai and western Maharashtra, Eastern Andhra Pradesh and the Chandrapur-Nagpur region in Vidarbha.
Debi Goenka from Conservation Action Trust said, “Indian standards for coal power emissions are either absent or shamefully behind those of even China, let alone the EU or US. Does the Ministry of Environment consider Indian lives to be less valuable? We need to immediately tighten pollution norms for existing plants, phase out the old, inefficient ones and ensure that all proposed new plants have state of the art pollution control systems such as flue gas desulphurisers and strict controls on nitrogen oxide, mercury and particulate emissions.”
Apart from the health impacts of using coal to generate electricity, the whole coal industry is plagued with other serious issues. Coal mining is destroying forests in Central India and putting tigers, other wildlife and forest dependent communities at risk of losing their homes forever. A study released by Greenpeace India in 2012 determined that coal mining threatens over 1.1 million hectares of forest in just 13 coalfields, out of over 40 in Central India. Greenpeace India has been working on a campaign to save Central Indian forests from coal mining for the last three years.
In July 2012, a petition to the Prime Minister was created asking him to stop all new coal block allocations and forest clearances for coal mining. Over 9,00,000 people have signed this petition and supported this cause till date. For more information on this campaign, visit here.
Vinuta Gopal, Climate & Energy Campaigner, Greenpeace India says, “This is a wakeup call for our planners; the ongoing coal expansion is irrational and dangerous. Coal mining is destroying India’s forests, tribal communities and endangered species, and now we know the pollution it emits when burned is killing thousands. And at the end of it all, coal has failed to deliver energy security. We need a moratorium on new coal plants and ambitious policy incentives to unlock the huge potential India has in efficiency measures, wind and solar.”
India is the fifth largest electricity generator in the world and 66 % of this electricity comes from coal. If decentralised renewable energy like solar and wind power is given more priority than coal, a lot of these issues can be solved. If the adverse health impacts of burning coal can be reduced, our forests, wildlife and forest dependent communities will thrive and more people will have access to electricity.
The study, Coal Kills can be found here