The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has notified the latest amendments to the Environment (Protection) Act for better monitoring and utilisation of fly ash by coal-based thermal power plants (TPPs) in the country.

“To reduce the requirement of land for disposal of fly ash in ash ponds and to address the problem of pollution caused by fly ash, MoEFCC has issued various notifications on fly ash utilisation,” the ministry said in a notification on December 31, 2021. The ministry has been amending the Environment (Protection) Act from time to time for checking the fly ash problem.The first notification came in September 1999.

The latest notification mandates all coal and lignite-based TPPs to utilise 100 per cent fly ash in an environment friendly manner for making construction sector products like bricks, ready mix concrete, among others. If the plants fail to achieve these targets the government can impose a penalty of ₹1,000 per tonne of fly ash. Fines have been introduced for the first time.

Now, the TPPs also have to achieve 100 per cent fly ash utilisation in three years, instead of the earlier five years. Besides, the utilisation levels for the TPPs should not decline below 80 per cent.

For monitoring fly ash utilisation, the government will form a committee, headed by the Chairman of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) with members from the ministries of Power, Coal, Mines, Environment, Road Transportation and Highways and Heavy Industries. Other concerned stakeholders will be nominated by the committee’s chairman.

Besides, the compliance audit for ash disposal by the TPPs and their user agencies will be conducted by auditors, authorised by CPCB. The audit report will be submitted to CPCB and the concerned state pollution control board (SPCB) by November 30 every year and action against non-compliant TPPs will be taken within 15 days of receiving the report.

Between April and September 2021, India’s coal-fired thermal power plants consumed around 313 million tonnes (MT) of coal and generated 106.37 MT of fly ash, data from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) showed. Of the total fly ash generated, the utilisation stood at 79.18 per cent with a quantity of 84.22 MT.

The data was received from 104 power utilities having 199 thermal power stations, out of which 41 power utilities and 84 thermal power stations achieved 100 per cent or more average fly ash utilisation respectively. Besides, 17 power utilities achieved average fly ash utilisation of 90-100 per cent in respect of 24 thermal power stations.

The utilisation of fly ash is in the range of 2-25 per cent in making fly ash based building products, mine filling (less than 7 per cent) and construction of roads & flyover (around 9 per cent) during the same period.