Nagpur: The National Green Tribunal has taken serious note of alarming pollution caused by thermal power plants in Vidarbha using inferior quality coal, in violation of Ministry of Environment and Forests’ norms.

A division bench of NGT, Western Zone bench, Pune comprising Justice V R Kingaonkar (judicial member) and Ajay A Deshpande (expert member) on Tuesday issued a notice to Maharashtra chief secretary, state energy department, environment department, Union Power and Coal Ministries, MoEF, MPCB, Coal India Limited and its subsidiary Western Coalfields and state run power utility Maharashtra State Power Generation Company Limited (MahaGenco) seeking a reply by March 19.

A PIL in this regard had been filed by Ratnadeep Rangari, a social worker and resident of Mahadula village near here charging coal and power utilities with flouting MoEF norms, polluting the air, poisoning the water and reducing Vidarbha to a gas chamber by not using clean coal technology.

This has put lives of about 20 million Vidarbhites in danger, the petition stated while urging NGT to direct coal and power utilities to follow MoEF notification and all other regulatory and supervisory institutions to ensure its compliance.

Quoting various news items, expert reports of Greenpeace, Prayas and parliamentary standing panel reports directing coal and power utilities to reduce pollution by adopting clean technology,  the petitioner cited expert opinion which blamed use of inferior coal for over one lakh premature deaths in coal bearing areas and in vicinity of power generating units.

As on date, coal-fired power plants run by MahaGenco are located at Khaparkheda, Koradi (both in Nagpur district), Chandrapur, Paras (Akola) in Vidarbha while various private players have proposed thermal power plants in Vidarbha with total estimated production level of 41,195 MW, which is tremendously high, the petition said.

The 132 plants will need around 1 lakh acre farm land and 3,600 cubic mm water, with which over 5.5 lakh hectare land can be irrigated. The proposed power plants will burn 18 lakh tonne coal per day turning “Vidarbha into an ash dump.” It will also lead to rise in temperatures by 3 to 4 degrees, the petition said.

Temperature in several key cities of Vidarbha region in normal course touches 48 degrees Celsius in peak summer. The entire Vidarbha region is on the brink of a disaster in waiting due to this grim scenario, petitioner’s counsel Arpit Ratan contended before NGT.

People in and around thermal power plants have always complained of massive black clouds, respiratory diseases and even spurt in cases of cancer, stated the petitioner, who himself resides in the vicinity of a power plant.

Citing latest notification issued by MoEF on January 2, 2014, the petitioner’s counsel told NGT that now coal and power utilities have been directed not to supply and use coal containing more than 34 per cent ash.

The MoEF notification has made it mandatory that “coal based thermal power plants shall be supplied with and shall use raw, or blended coal with ash content not exceeding 34 per cent,” the petitioner said.

The Central Pollution Control Board and MoEF have time and again directed all thermal plants across the country to utilise only clean technology to reduce pollution, the petitioner stated citing various reports.

MPCB had even issued show cause notice to various units of MahaGenco for using inferior quality of coal with high fly ash content and for exceeding air pollution levels. But barring this paper action, precious little has been done to save ecology and adopt cleaner technology, the petitioner claimed.

Blaming respondent authorities for leaving people of Vidarbha in a lurch and for abandoning a legally binding process of clean coal technology, the petitioner urged NGT not to allow these coal and power utilities to abandon coal benefication technology mandated as per law, and their petty disputes with private entities should not be accepted as an excuse to allow subversion of environmental law.

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