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Nearly 218 people die each year in Delhi from thermal power plant fumes: Study

To arrive at the estimates of annual deaths caused by power plant pollution, researchers took the actual emissions from these 12 power plants in 2018 and assessed their impact on a city’s population.
Vehicles on city roads on a cloudy day near Rajghat Thermal Power Plant in New Delhi, India, on Friday, August 21, 2020.(Hindustan Times)
Updated on Mar 23, 2021 08:02 AM IST
BySoumya Pillai, New Delhi

Every year, nearly 218 people die in Delhi from exposure to a toxic cocktail of fumes from the 12 thermal power plants located in a 300km radius of the national capital, an estimate by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) showed.

Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at CREA and the primary author of ”Health and economic impacts of unabated coal power generation in Delhi-NCR”, said the study estimated that the operation of the 12 power plants around the capital resulted in 218 deaths annually in Delhi, and 682 across Delhi-NCR, and more than 4,800 deaths across the country at 55% plant load factor—the ratio of average power generated by the plant to the maximum power that could have been generated in a given time—and more than 8,200 deaths at 100% PLF.

“The installation of emission control technologies would prevent 62% of these deaths across the country, which would translate to around 2,976 to 5,084 lives saved annually,” Dahiya said.

To arrive at the estimates of annual deaths caused by power plant pollution, researchers took the actual emissions from these 12 power plants in 2018 and assessed their impact on a city’s population. Meteorological conditions were also taken into consideration, CREA said.

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The findings also highlighted that pollution from the 12 plants had economic impacts far beyond Delhi-NCR. The state-wise distribution of economic impacts of power plant operation in Delhi-NCR suggests that the highest cost burden was faced by Uttar Pradesh ( 2,301 crore) followed by Rajasthan ( 1,125 crore), Madhya Pradesh ( 1,100 crore), Haryana ( 395 crore), Gujarat ( 362 crore), Delhi ( 292 crore) and Punjab ( 242 crore).

Experts pointed out that while pollution had become a conversation starter in the national capital, which forced governments to act on controlling various pollution sources, there was still a lack of awareness about how exposure to power plant emissions impacts health.

The Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC), in 2015, had notified emission norms for particulate matter (PM), sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, which had to be complied with by power stations in 2017.

However, the industry pushed back and committed before the Supreme Court that it will comply with norms by 2022. In January this year, the power ministry asked the environment ministry to dilute norms for SO2 emissions from coal-fired thermal power plants citing “unachievable deadlines and unnecessary norms”. There was also a proposal to extend the deadline for complying with the emission norms from 2022 to 2024.

A recent compliance report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) showed that out of the 12 power plants located around Delhi, SO2 control technology was available only in two plants. It was observed that in six of these power plants, work on the control of SO2 emissions was underway, while in the remaining four plants, the work progress was slow.

“In India, 58% of the thermal power plants are still not complying or haven’t put out tenders to comply with 2015 emission standard notification. Whether it is a state power plant, state discom or private power plant, nothing is being done to resolve issues. Non-compliance has to be taken seriously, and the onus is as much on the state governments as on the Centre, where there is a need for enhanced transparency,” said Nivit Kumar Yadav, programme director (industrial pollution unit), CSE.

Yadav further said, “Old power plants need to be phased out at the earliest as their harmful emissions impact everyone’s health.”

They said the only significant work to control the pollution from thermal power plants in the Delhi-NCR was the closure of the Badarpur Thermal Power Station in 2018.

“My concern about compliance is that the standards keep changing continuously. We may press for various standards, but the coal plant operators can get the standards changed. What’s worse, the deadline to install emission control technologies seems to be further extended biannually,” said environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta.

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