Prakash Javadekar, Jairam Ramesh spar over notification on coal

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar defended his Ministry’s recent notification scrapping the mandatory requirement of supplying washed coal to all thermal units more than 500 km away from the coal mine. How is coal not dirty within 500 km, and how does it become dirty after 500 km, he wondered.

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He said this responding to a letter written by Congress leader and former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh. Mr. Ramesh had accused the Ministry of succumbing to the pressure of “politically powerful power producers.”

A war of words has erupted between the two over the notification issued on May 21, in which the Ministry amended the Environment Protection Act to drop the mandatory washing of coal supplied to thermal power plants.

This notification undid the government’s 2016 order, which made coal washing mandatory for supply to all thermal units more than 500 km from the mine as part of its climate-change commitments.

Pollution load

Mr. Ramesh, in his letter to Mr Javadekar dated 13th June, had said that the notification would “undo whatever limited progress” was made so far in reducing pollution load at coal-based power stations. Mr. Javadekar in his reply, accessed by The Hindu, said, “The fact that coal washing is not required till 500 km distance. How coal is not dirty within 500 kms, and how it becomes dirty after 500 kms?”

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Shooting off another e-mail to Mr. Javadekar, Mr. Ramesh explained that from January 2014 onwards, the Environment Ministry had been working towards “progressive reduction” of distance that unwashed coal would travel, keeping in view that ultimately all coals, irrespective of distance from supplying mines, will have to be washed and comply with less than 34 per cent ash limit.

He quoted four orders issued by the Environment Ministry since 2014 to this effect. “These stipulations were made by MoEFCC [Ministry of Environment, Forest and climate change] based on the recommendation of an Expert Committee constituted by MoEFCC and accepted by you in 2014. Now you are rejecting these very recommendations.”

The Minister responded by pushing the onus of washing coal on thermal power plants, rather than Coal India which is the monopoly producer of coal in India. In his reply to Mr. Ramesh, Mr. Javadekar said, “[power] plants are free to wash coal. It is not banned.”

The coal had to be washed at the coal mines by the coal company so that the benefit of reducing the amount of extraneous dirt could be accrued, Mr. Ramesh said in a rebuttal.

Economic efficiency

Rohit Chandra, a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, said that washing coal at the mine ensures economic efficiency, since you are not transporting non-combustible material over long distances adding to the transport costs.

And it made environmental sense too, reducing the fly ash content at the source itself. “So far, only 15 per cent of the coal produced in India was being washed at the source. With this order, it may further reduce. It’s a backward step,” he said.

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 5:17:50 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/prakash-javadekar-jairam-ramesh-spar-over-notification-on-coal/article31835636.ece

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