In a bid to improve the air quality of Jharkhand's Dhanbad district, no new hard or soft coke units will be allowed there from October 1, a state pollution board official said on Sunday.
The Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board (JSPCB) issued an order in this regard early this week.
"This is a temporary restriction, which will remain in force till the Air Quality Index (AQI) falls within the permission limit prescribed by the Central Pollution Control Board in Dhanbad district," JSPCB member secretary YK Das told PTI.
However, this order will not impact the existing hard or soft coke units of the district. "They will be operating as usual by following the compliance guideline," he said.
The order issued by the JSPCB stated, "The applications seeking Consent to Establish (CTE), which will be received till September 30, will be reviewed. If any error was found in them, the applications will be cancelled and no further action will be taken on those applications."
According to the Industries and Commerce Association (ICA), Dhanbad, the district has around 125 hard coke and 25 soft coke units.
The ICA president BN Singh told PTI that the decision would not affect the hard coke units.
"The industry is already going through a bad phase due to non-supply of coal. Out of 125, merely 90 units are working currently," he said.
Dhanbad is among 102 non-attainment cities of the country picked by the Centre under the National Clean Air Programme in 2019 with a target of reducing concentrations of Particulate Matter (PM)-10 and PM-2.5 up to 30 per cent by 2024. Non-attainment cities are those that have poorer air quality than the national ambient air quality standards.
According to the CPCB website, the AQI reading of 184 was registered in Dhanbad on Saturday at 4 pm. The AQI 184 falls under the moderate category, which might cause discomfort to people with lungs, asthma and heart diseases.
Das said that even though the air quality of the district has improved in the past few years due to various measures taken by the board.
"As part of further improvement in air quality, we have decided to restrict fresh establishment of hard and soft coke units. These units create major air pollution. However, the restriction is only applicable in Dhanbad district. This can be established in other districts such as Bokaro or Giridih," he said.
He further added, "The coal companies have strictly been asked to abide by the pollution rules. For this, a dedicated committee has been set up where representatives from district administration, Municipal Corporation and companies have been included. The committee from time to time takes stock of the compliance status of the coal companies."
Major drivers of air quality in Dhanbad
According to Airpocalypse-IV, an annual report released by Greenpeace India in 2020, Jharia, a part of the Dhanbad district, had recorded the country's highest PM-10 level at 322 ug/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter), while the same was recorded 264 ug/m3 in Dhanbad district, which was the second highest in the country.
Studies carried out by different agencies and JSPCB found that opencast mines, unscientific coal transportation, vehicular emission, road dust, air pollution from bio-mass burning, air pollution from industry, construction, diesel generator sets and use of coal in dhabas and roadside eateries as major drivers for worsening the air quality in Dhanbad district.
Das said that pollution fluctuates there depending upon the coal production and season. "When coal production goes high, pollution levels also rise. In winter and summer, pollution level increases, while it reduces in the rainy season," he said.
Pollution in Dhanbad has been a major issue for Jharkhand as well as the Central government. In 2010, Dhanbad ranked 13 among 43 critically polluted industrial areas of the country. The next year in 2011, the Union Ministry of Environment had imposed a moratorium in Dhanbad to check pollution. The ban was lifted in 2014 after JSPCB introduced several measures to check pollution from hard coke and other industries.
In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) had placed Dhanbad in 38th position among the 100 world's polluted cities of the country. The Centre picked Dhanbad among 102 non-attainment cities under NCAP.