3 power plants dumping fly ash without GPCB approval: CAG report

Three thermal power plants operated by Torrent Power, Adani Power and Tata Power dumped fly-ash (a by-product generated from coal burnt in a thermal plant) in low-lying areas without permission from the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB), stated a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) tabled in Gujarat Assembly Thursday.

The audit watchdog also pulled up GPCB for not taking any stringent action against the private electricity producers for dumping fly ash—a major pollutant that contains toxic and heavy metals. The dumping was carried out between 2014 and 2019 in contravention to the regulations of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

In the report titled “Performance Audit of Air Pollution Control by Government of Gujarat”, CAG pointed out that between 2014 and 2019, Torrent Power Ltd, Ahmedabad dumped 1.92 lakh metric tonnes of fly ash at four different sites, including farmlands near Gandhinagar city and Sabarmati riverbanks with the consent of the landowners.

“After being pointed out in audit, GPCB monitored these four sites in September 2019 and observed that at one of these sites, fly ash was dumped in adjoining land towards the riverbank without a protection wall and ash spread towards the riverbank due to rain. At two other sites, fly ash was dumped for levelling land. The remaining site was surrounded by residential and commercial areas and the dumped ash was not covered and levelled,” CAG pointed out adding that GPCB issued a show-cause notice only in January 2020 and no action was taken against the company till June 2021.

Similarly, CAG stated that Adani Power Ltd at Mundra utilised 15.42 lakh metric tonnes of fly ash for filling low-lying areas between 2014 and 2019 without the GPCB approval. The report also pointed out that Coastal Gujarat Power Ltd—a subsidiary of Tata Power in Mundra—dumped 0.79 lakh metric tonnes of fly ash within the plant premises without the GPCB nod. “GPCB had not taken stringent action against these thermal power plants for dumping of fly ash in low-lying areas without its permission,” CAG stated.

The auditor further said that Gujarat has 47 thermal power plants and most of the 35 power plants that are yet to install Flue-gas Desulphurisation technology (for cutting down emissions) in their plants and will subsequently miss the December 2022 deadline.

Pollution in Kutch

Pointing out that Kutch district has 14 coal-based thermal power units that account for 37 per cent (8,620 MW) of total installed capacity of thermal power stations in Gujarat, CAG said “air pollution has increased substantially” due to these power plants. Citing a study, the auditor stated, “Mundra is the worst NOx hotspot contributing hugely to air pollution.”

Non-compliance by govt depts

With regard to the use of fly ash in construction, CAG noted that state government departments were non-complaint with the directions issued by the Central government. “Fly ash was not being used in government-funded public works except those used in construction of Mahatma Mandir in 2014-16,” the report stated pointing out that the Roads and Building department of the state government has not been able to enforce the use of fly ash due to resistance from contractors.

While NHAI was using fly ash in road projects, R&B department had not made any provision for mandatory use of fly ash in their works, it added.

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