Tata Power Company’s Rs. 1174 crore plan to switch from gas to coal in its unit number 6 at Trombay thermal power station (TPS), which ran into protests, has been deferred by the Reconstituted Expert Appraisal Committee on Environmental Impact Assessment of thermal power and coal mine projects in its meeting in May. However, the Committee is not in favour of a second public hearing even though the first one held in January was disrupted by political parties, according to the minutes of the meeting.
As part of its modernization plan, the company wants to use low sulphur imported coal instead of low sulphur heavy stock and low sulphur fuel oil. The Expert Appraisal Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) said prima facie it could not find much material evidence to suggest mala fide disregard for environmental conservation by the company. The Committee advised Tata “to bring all such material information in the public domain so that concerned citizens are informed of the reality rather than being made to flow with the perception of wrong doing allegations.” The Committee decided to defer the proposal and reconsider it after submission compliance to the observations made in the meeting.
A second public hearing may not be the right solution, it felt, as the chances of disruption by the same elements were inevitable. The Committee decided that the objections received in the Ministry shall be addressed by the company and its reply submitted, which seems to have been already done.
Observing that municipal councillors and MLAs were objecting to the proposal, despite the fact that the proposed modernization may be partially better off environmentally, the Committee decided that the issues raised and the objections need to be duly detailed out by the project proponent. Accordingly, it asked TPC to make a presentation in accordance with point-wise compliance of the terms of reference (TOR) issued on January 25, 2012, and additional TOR issued on August 24, 2012.
The Committee also mentioned a representation received from Mr. Debi Goenka from Conservation Action Trust (CAT), a copy of which was earlier furnished to TPC for its response. It advised TPC to forward its response to Mr. Goenka.
The minutes said the members had viewed video recordings of the public hearing and noted that people seemed be present with the premeditated intention of disrupting proceedings. Some political workers were shouting slogans to wind up the public hearing. The chairperson of the public hearing panel was seen requesting people to maintain calm and to allow the proceedings. After continuous slogan shouting the chairperson announced that all objections, suggestions, complaints and comments etc were being recorded and videography is being carried out and any person may raise issues and objections. Finally as the situation was not improving the public hearing was closed. However, the Committee noted that the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) received 505 objections but a larger representation of letters, 637, were in favour of the proposal.
Responding to concerns raised about pollution and transport of coal, TPC had clarified that no coal is being transported by trucks presently to the Trombay TPS. Coal is transported from a captive jetty by closed/pipe conveyor and the present system will be strengthened for better environment management. Ambient air is monitored regularly near the coal storage area, jetty and two other ambient air quality monitoring stations as well as by a third party (MoEF recognised laboratory). The emissions from Tata Power are well within the stipulated standards and there is no adverse impact of operations on ambient air quality in Mumbai region, the company submitted. It is also planning to set up an Environmental Cell comprising at least one expert in environmental science / engineering, occupational health and a social scientist, at the project site.
The Trombay TPS is in operation since 1956 and Units-1, 2 and 3 have been decommissioned in the early 1990s. Unit No.4 (150 MW) is based on gas which is kept as standby while Unit No.5 (500 MW) is coal based and is in operation since 1984. Unit No.6 (500MW) became operational in 1990. Unit No.7 (180 MW) is a combined cycle gas based, commissioned in 1993 and Unit no. 8 (250 MW) is coal based commissioned in 2009.
The company said that since 2008 it was pursuing gas allocation with the Ministry of Power but the ministry had advised developers against planning power projects based on domestic gas till 2015-2016. An area of 0.7177 ha of mangroves with 520 plants will be required to be cleared to help better cooling of sea water. The Committee recommended that over and above the alternative site identified for mangrove plantation, the company shall identify degraded mangrove sites within 10 km radius of the power station and regenerate the same and submit an action plan for this.
Meanwhile Mr. Goenka told The Hindu that the final Environmental Impact Assessment report does not address concerns raised in the public hearing and not a single person spoke in favour of the proposal at the hearing. “By saying more people are in favour is not the point, this is not a vote for or against the project,” he said. All this shows the malafide approach of the MoEF and the Committee has not bothered to raise enough questions about air quality, mangroves or coal transport. How can burning coal be more environmentally friendly than gas? he asked.
The public hearing is mandatory and does the Committee have a crystal ball to see that the next hearing will also be disrupted? he asked. There was enough police there to ensure a proper hearing but they did nothing. The dice is loaded in favour of the Tatas, he added.