Mercury pollution from coal-based thermal power plants (TPPs) is a well known, but seldom discussed issue in India. For more than 10 years, Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) have done research or commissioned research on mercury pollution from TPPs. But these reports have not been made public. Meanwhile people living near these power plants continue to suffer from the exposure to this lethal neurotoxin.
Last year, community representatives from Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh approached Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) to do a study on the pollution problems they were facing because of the coal mines and TPPs. They also told us about strange diseases that have started to afflict people of this very poor region of the country.
Sonbhadra is part of the Singrauli coalfields, which falls in both Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Singrauli is the energy capital of India. It currently produces about 15% of India’s coal and electricity. On top of it, projects have been cleared to double the coal mining and TPPs capacity by the end of the 12th Five Year Plan.
CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Laboratory, which is known for having conducted seminal research in the areas of industrial contamination, water and air pollution, and food safety, undertook a major laboratory study in Sonbhadra and found mercury everywhere -- in water, soil, fish, as well as blood, nails and hair of people living there.
What was most disturbing for us was that mercury poisoning in Sonbhadra was well-known to the State pollution control boards (SPCBs) as well to MoEF and CPCB. Despite this both the Central and state governments had not taken any concrete action to prevent pollution. About two years ago, Sonbhadra was declared a critically polluted area and a moratorium was imposed on new projects in the district. But when the moratorium was lifted based on a pollution control action plan, mercury pollution was not even mentioned.
We at CSE strongly believe that there is a conspiracy of silence and denial as far as mercury pollution from TPPs is concerned. In this newsletter, we, therefore, bring to you the Sonbhadra study and issues related to mercury pollution in the country. We need your support in bringing some regulations to control mercury pollution from coal-based TPPs.
Management of permit and pollution related data is key for better compliance and enforcement. My colleagues, therefore, spent some time looking at the data management systems in the state pollution control boards. We found the XGN software developed by NIC Gujarat to be quite robust and useful. The highlight of the software is that all the information of a particular industry— from raw material to water sourcing and consumption, wastewater generation, treatment and disposal, electricity consumption, inspection reports, monitoring results, water cess fees and e-files—are now available at one platform. This allows quick access to information and better understanding of the compliance performance of industries. The only drawback of the system is that the generated data is not available to the public. We believe that this information should be made accessible to everyone for knowledge sharing so that there is more transparency and accountability in the system. We have featured the XGN software in this newsletter as we think that other pollution control boards should also use this software or something similar to this to improve their data management system.
We are happy to inform that our training programme for the environment regulators has moved to the next level. In 2012, we conducted 5 training programmes for the officers of the pollution control boards – four in India and one in Sweden. In the beginning of the year, CSE and Swedish EPA signed a Memorandum of Understanding to take officers from India to Sweden on a week-long training programme on compliance and enforcement tools and techniques. The first training was held in Stockholm in October and was highly appreciated by all. We hope to develop more partnerships with international organisations so that our regulators are exposed to the best practices. This will go a long way in improving the environmental governance in the country.
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Let me end by wishing all of you a very happy and exciting 2013.