CHENNAI: The Southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has issued notices to the Union government, Central Electricity Authority (CEA), Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the State-owned power company Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) India, following a petition filed ‑ demanding proper disposal of hazardous substances while decommissioning a plant.
The petitioner Dharmesh Shah, who is an environmental activist, has stated that there are lack of effective guidelines for scientific decommissioning of thermal power plants. This can lead to non-disposal of remaining fly ash and other hazardous substances used during operation.
The petitioner stated that in such a scenario, project owners often prioritize economic concerns over environment, leaving the plant sites environmentally unsafe. The power plant in question is located in Neyveli and has been operational since 1962.
Shah has also sought that the Central or State Pollution Control Boards to ensure that decommissioning is done in an internationally accepted, scientific manner, to prevent the contamination of water, air and soil. The petitioner also appealed to the court to direct the respondents to place the decommissioning process on record.
In response, the bench comprising Justice K Ramakrishan and expert member Saibal Dasgupta said, “We are satisfied that there arises a substantial question of environment – which requires to be addressed in a scientific manner after consultation with the official respondents – as it is required to have some guideline to be followed by the thermal power plants which wants to decommission,” the NGT said in its order.
The court has also ordered all the parties to file their responses by March 23. While the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016 make the occupier responsible for safe disposal of hazardous substances, no procedure has been notified for this. Further, management of hazardous substances does not find a mention in the decommissioning tender guidelines or contractor deliverables issued by plant operators. The application filed to the court demanded the proper disposal and site remediation costs be borne by NLC India, as per the “Polluters’ Pay” principle.
A 2020 report by the Health Energy Initiative, India found that plants in India did not follow any remediation or handling protocols to contain hazardous substances on power plant sites. The report points to the case of dismantling Bhatinda’s Guru Nanak Dev Thermal Power Plant, for which the proposal only refers to the financial aspects of auctioning scrap. As per the report, several decommissioning e-auction documents highlight a similar trend.
Toxic chemicals-asbestos, arsenic, lead and Polychlorinated Bisphenyls (PCBs)-linked to fatal diseases are commonly used in thermal power plants. Coal-ash, a byproduct of coal burning, is another toxic by-product, known to contaminate soil and water.