Ashish Sharma, a 57-year-old man clad in a blue lungi sipped a glass of water sitting on the bed of LNJP Hospital, New Delhi. He has been suffering from acute asthma for the last 20 years. But the family found out about it just two weeks ago when they found blood in his cough.
The problem with Sanjana Yadav was more dangerous. This 13-year old girl, a resident of Badarpur, has asthma from her childhood. The doctors see these cases as regular diseases and none of the two illness here are uncommon.
But there is a link we have been ignoring for decades. In the Badarpur area of Delhi, many people suffer from such diseases and the residents who stay near the Badarpur Thermal Power Plant share more such stories.
The Center for Science and Environment published a detailed study known as “Heat in Power”. In a report published in the Business Standard, it was noted that the said study found Delhi-based NTPC’s Badarpur plant as one of the most polluting in the country. It said that the performance of NTPC, the largest coal-power producing company in India, was found to be below par. The report further noted that NTPC did not disclose its data, and hence was rated based on a primary survey and publicly available information. The six plants of NTPC that were rated received scores of 16-28%. The poorest of the lot was Delhi’s Badarpur plant.
As of December 7, more than 300 coal power plants across the country are still violating the emission standard norms notified by the MoEFCC in 2015. A group of doctors, lawyers, civil society organisations and residents have come together to point to new and alarming findings of increasing sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions in India since 2012. These norms were to come into effect by December 7, 2017. But despite being given two years to implement these norms, the Ministry of Power and Central Electricity Authority, along with the power industry, is attempting to push back the dates further by five to seven years (2022-2024) and also relaxing the water usage limits.
MoEFCC’s new norms limited emissions of particulate matter (PM), sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury and reduced water usage by coal-powered thermal power plants. These emissions are a key contributor to surging particulate matter levels in India, with the coal power sector being a key contributor to air pollution.
According to CPCB, if the new standards are implemented, it will cut down on approximately 40% of PM emissions and 48% of both nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide as a pollutant from the power generation sector.
Adding to his statement, emphasising the impact on public health due to emissions from sources like the coal-based power plants, the Indian Medical Association Chairman, Dr K K Agrawal said, “As a representative of the medical fraternity, I cannot emphasize enough the necessity of reducing emissions from thermal power plants. Smog is a complex mixture formed by various pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and dust particles, which interact with sunlight to form ground-level ozone, leading to the buildup of haze that hangs in industrial cities. This is a high-alert situation for not only Delhi but villages and towns near these plants as well, with children and older adults at high risk. Those with lung disorders and breathing issues are also highly vulnerable to the ill effects of this condition. Air pollution is responsible for premature deaths in Delhi and across the country. Its repercussions may not be immediately obvious but the long-term implications of air pollution are fatal.”
The above arguments make it clear that emissions by the thermal power plants in India is a great concern. Members of the civil society, activists and NGOs have written many letters to the governments regarding the problem. But the silence prevails. On this World Environment Day, we should all come together to break the silence on thermal power plants all over India.