The National Green Tribunal has directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to revise guidelines for setting up of thermal power projects by clearly demarcating the areas not conducive for projects.

The MoEF was asked to submit the revised guidelines, which should clearly indicate ‘Go’ as the area for a project and ‘No go’ as the place where a project cannot be undertaken, within three months.

The order came along with the tribunal’s decision that environment clearance to Nagarjuna Construction Company Ltd for first phase of proposed 2,640 MW coal-based thermal power plant in Andhra Pradesh’s Srikakulam district, shall remain suspended and the MoEF shall revisit the nod.

The Rs 14,000-crore thermal power project (TPP) was caught in controversy after protests by locals that led to death of three persons in police firing in July, 2010.

A bench of Tribunal headed by its Acting Chairperson A.S. Naidu said the guidelines relating to TPPs followed by MoEF were formulated “way back” in 1987 and should be updated.

“The changed scenario, scientific developments and change in technology mandates that the siting criteria as well as guidelines for setting up TPPs should be revised to bring it on a par with modern techniques to suit present environmental condition and to protect the ecologically sensitive areas.

“We, therefore, direct the MoEF to take cognisance of the present-day scenario and revise the siting criteria, guidelines for setting up of TPPs to match with the present day requirements as early as possible so as to avoid future controversies,” the bench, also comprising Dr G K Pandey as an expert member, said.

The Tribunal said the updated guidelines would avoid “unnecessary litigation” and would go a long way in providing proper selection of environmentally compatible sites.

“Further, the principles of sustainable development and precautionary principles mandate that the guidelines should clearly spell out ‘GO’ and ‘NO GO’ areas for locating thermal power plant so that environmental issues can be internalised right from the beginning of project formation stage,” the Tribunal said.

It noted that according to the 1987 guidelines, location of TPPs should be avoided within 25 km of outer peripheries of metropolitan cities, national parks and wild life sanctuaries and other eco-sensitive areas but they do not create any embargo with regard to setting up coal based power plant in or around wetlands.

The bench directed the MoEF to finalise and notify the important wetlands in the country as early as possible so that location of developmental projects in and around such ecologically-sensitive areas could be avoided in future.

The petitioner NGOs and project-hit Srikakulam natives had contended that the location of the site earmarked for the project, being a wetland, is not suitable for commercial use as it would affect the irrigation schemes of the area thereby causing scarcity of drinking water.

The bench directed that the environment clearance granted to the project which was kept in suspension by the MoEF through an order dated July 15, 2010, shall remain suspended till the directions issued by it are complied with.

The order came after the tribunal noted that public was deprived of relevant informations of different reports and other materials basing upon which the clearance was granted, and concluded that another opportunity should be given to the public for tendering their views on the basis of an updated EIA report.

“We, therefore, direct the MoEF to revisit the EIA report from the stage of public hearing,” the bench said.