CHENNAI: The Centre is likely to ease environment clearance conditions to allow thermal power plants to achieve 100% utilisation of fly ash. The Hazardous Substance Management Division (HSMD) has made a representation to Thermal Sector of Impact Assessment (IA) Division of Union Environment Ministry, asking it to revisit conditions stipulated in the existing environment clearance of thermal power plants for fly ash utilisation and modify them in consonance with the Fly Ash Notification.
Though the notification, amended three times since 1999, enables the use of fly ash in farming and backfilling or stowing of low lying areas, the conditions stipulated in environment clearances, does not permit the use of ash in agricultural purposes, low lying areas and dumping in mine voids, HSMD said.
The matter had come up for discussion during the meeting of Expert Appraisal Committee, Thermal Power (EAC) in New Delhi on May 28. The committee after detailed deliberation recommended to amend conditions suitably in line with the fly ash notification, provided guidelines for safe disposal of ash are put into vogue.
Vimal Kumar, founder mission director of Fly Ash Mission and now honorary adviser at Centre for Fly Ash Research and Management (C-FARM), told Express that the fly ash notification was a Parliament approved gazetted notification and EAC undermines its provisions.
“Fly ash is neither hazardous or toxic. Yes, it contains all heavy metals and radioactive traces, but everything is below permissible limits. In 2016, the environment ministry has revised norms for fly ash usage and disposal, granting permission to use it for agriculture. The ministry has also made it mandatory for power plants to give fly ash free of cost to users within 300-km radius. Then, why should EAC have a different view? Our studies show the agriculture yield will increase by 10% if farmers mix fly ash in soil. It has capacity to hold more water,” he said.
However, environmental activists in Tamil Nadu are sceptical saying this will lead to indiscriminate dumping of fly ash like is the case in Ennore. Studies by National Green Tribunal (NGT) appointed committee shows water bodies in Ennore were highly polluted and fish samples found dangerous levels of heavy metals.
The EAC committee members also said studies indicate random fly ash disposal would pollute groundwater with heavy metals and radioactivity needs continuous monitoring.
“In absence of guidelines for disposal of fly ash in a safe and environment-friendly manner, the EAC has initially recommended for stipulating conditions in the environment clearances for not using fly ash in mine voids, low lying areas and agricultural areas. However, EAC has been considering the case to case basis. For agriculture and application to the soil, more studies are needed, otherwise the excessive application of fly ash to the soil would give detrimental results,” EAC chairman Navin Chandra said.