CHENNAI: In what could be a serious violation of environmental laws, the 1,500 MW NTPC Tamil Nadu Energy Company Limited (NTECL) Vallur thermal power plant is constructing a new fly ash pond using up 190 acres of biologically productive and mangrove-rich wetlands of the Ennore Creek. Various documents accessed by activists indicate that the massive ash pond was being created without obtaining mandatory environmental clearance (EC) and Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ)clearance.
NTECL Vallur, which is a joint venture of NTPC Ltd and Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB), is located on Chennai’s outskirts in neighbouring Tiruvallur district. The plant has obtained environmental clearance (EC) for 500 MW unit-3 on June 3, 2009. The EC document says 140 acres land is required for ash pond, which will be located about 5 km from the main plant.However, the site where the new ash pond is coming up just abuts Vallur power plant and as per the approved Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) map, the area falls under CRZ-1 (No Development Zone).
The need and intent to change the location of ash pond has not been communicated to Union Environment Ministry. The latest monitoring report prepared by the ministry’s regional office in Chennai has exposed the illegality.The 30-page report, dated July 9, 2018, a copy of which is available with Express, says, “NTECL Vallur has given up 140 acres of land demarcated for the unit-3 ash disposal and using phase-1 ash pond without prior intimation and approval of ministry. The existing phase-1 ash pond is not lined with impervious lining,” Sundar Ramanathan, scientist ‘D’, said in the report.
The documentary evidence reveals that NTECL had change of plan in 2016 itself. On March 10, 2016, R Kannan, Joint Chief Environment Engineer of Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), during inspection while renewing the consent to operate (CTO), had found that 190 acres are to be converted into ash pond, which would destroy mangrove vegetation of about 90 acres. The official has asked NTECL to obtain required clearance from competent authority before starting the work.
For next one year, the work didn’t commence and curiously on July 12, 2017, TNPCB accorded No Objection Certificate (NOC) for new ash pond albeit with certain conditions and the first condition stated that NOC cannot be construed as a consent of authorisation of the board.
Pooja Kumar of Coastal Resource Centre, a NGO working for environment protection, has filed a series of RTI applications before NTPC, NTECL and Department of Environment, TNPCB and Environment Ministry seeking a copy of Environment Impact Assessment report of the plant to know the details of original 140 acres identified for the pond, but elicited negative response. NTPC has forwards the RTI applications to NTECL to respond, which on three occasions replied saying RTI Act, 2005 was not applicable to NTECL as it falls outside the purview of ‘public authorities’. Vikram Kapur, chairman cum managing director of TANGEDCO and one of the directors of Vallur plant, refused to comment saying the plant is run by NTPC. Meanwhile, A Udhayan, Director of Department of Environment, said he was not aware of the details of the case.