Coal Production in India: Supply of Washed Coal
Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Changehad dropped the requirement of supply washed coal to thermal units over 500 km from mine.
• The “washing coal” requirement was introduced in 1997 and promised the use of cleaner coal in power production. It was India’s only legitimate justification to extend the life of coal as a development fuel despite the climate crisis.
• In 2014 only coal with less than 34 % ash content could use in Thermal Power Plants (TPP) above 100 MW beyond 500 km of coal mine or if they are in urban areas.
• In 2014, as part of its climate change commitments, the government had made coal washing mandatory for supply to all thermal units beyond 500 kms from the coal mine. This was done in line with India's stand in climate change negotiations – not to reduce coal consumption and rather focus on emission control.
• NITI Aayog has stated that all new coal plants need to use super critical technology and washed coal.
This move pushes the burden of pollution reduction to TPPs when they have shown no intention to comply with existing environmental laws so far.
Between the government’s permissiveness on coal use and TPPs impunity to flout pollution norms, coal washeries were the only bridge to address coal efficiency and air, land, and water pollution by coal power.
Fly ash is the worst form of waste generated by dirty coal in TPPs. It is produced and collected in towering, open landfills called ash ponds.
Besides the creation of poisonous landfills in the ground, the burning of poor-quality coal increases carbon emissions and resulted into air pollution, a danger for public health.
There is enough evidence to show that fly ash management by TPPs has failed.
Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha that have large agglomerations of coal mines and power plants will become inhabitable after burning of bad coal. While more casualties and diseasesis a not so distinct possibility.
The spread of unmanaged fly ash will turn these rice growing regions into wastelands.
The ministry’s justification for allowing the use of high-ash coal is two-fold. The economic debacle caused by the COVID-19 lockdown is its first pretext. In its interest to generate new private investments in coal, the government would like to liberate the coal mining and thermal power sectors from the costs of washing and transporting washed coal. But experts state that the cost of washed coal does not add even 10% to the cost of electricity.
The ministry also states that coal washeries cause pollution. However, this problem is not unique to washeries alone and applies to the entire supply chain that supports India’s economy. In the latest notification, the government makes coal washeries the only culprit of the problems that plague coal use and shifts the burden of managing pollution from the use of coal to TPPs.
These coal and pollution management policies that fail by design is an attack on the right to food, work, and life of people in the coal regions. India’s entire coal network is ultimately set up to meet the expectations of a growing consumeristic society addicted to cheap power.
While economic reforms at this crucial time should have focused on reducing coal and extractive minerals in the power sector and in the economy altogether, the government has shown that it continues to support mining and coal use. The new notification’s permission to use low grade coal in power generation is dangerous and discriminatory. By denying the rogue coal power plants to bypass washeries, the environment ministry has put on the line the lives of the poorest people residing in the country’s coal enclaves. But after all this acknowledges of the importance of coal washeries.
• Indian coal is known to contain 30-50% ash, meaning that for every two units of coal burned, one unit of ash could be produced.
• So, a manufacturing or power producing unit has to burn more coal and in turn generate not only ash but also noxious gases, particulate matter and carbon emissions.
• Coal washeries are units that reduce the ash content in coal through a mix of segregation, blending and washing techniques.
• These technologies are meant to allow the conservation and optimal use of coal reserves by improving the quality and efficiency of low grade, high ash Indian coal.