7 states, 17 major incidents of coal ash mismanagement in India in past one year: Report

A joint report has documented how between April 2020 and March 2021, states in central and south India witnessed high incidence of coal ash pollution. Also, 76 coal fly ash related accidents were reported in India from 2010 to 2020.

Gaon Connection
| Updated: June 16th, 2021

The report is based on an analysis of the media reports on coal fly ash accidents in the country. Photo: Healthy Energy Initiative India

Air pollution by coal ash, commonly known as fly ash — the powdery residue of coal produced due to burning of coal in thermal power plants — was rampant in India despite the restrictions arising from the COVID19 lockdown, a new report has found.

The new report titled ‘Coal Ash in India – Vol II: An environmental, social and legal compendium of coal ash mismanagement in India, 2020-21’ found at least 17 major incidents occurred in seven states from April 2020 to March 2021 in India.

The report is based on an analysis of the media reports on coal fly ash accidents in the country. It found that such incidents were reported from seven states including Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Maharashtra.

Also Read: Singrauli tragedy: Reliance asked to pay a fine of Rs 10 crore. But, is that enough? The full story

“Courts are yet to hold a company criminally liable for the toxic pollution caused by callous approach of power companies,” Ritwick Dutta said.

The report is jointly released  by the non-profit Healthy Energy Initiative India and the New Delhi-based Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment.

“While big cities like Delhi celebrated clean air and blue skies during the COVID lockdown, we found regions like Korba in Chhattisgarh, Ennore and Seppakkam in North Chennai that reported multiple incidents and accidents related to fly ash mismanagement,” Pooja Kumar of Healthy Energy Initiative India was quoted in the press statement.

“We also found that residents from coal hotspots reporting that many power companies used the COVID-19 lockdown to dump waste indiscriminately in the water bodies, villages and around the highways, causing irreparable harm to the environment and public health,” she added.

Also Read: 2.45 million people in India died due to air pollution from burning of fossil fuels in 2018: Harvard study

Recently, a similar incident came to light in the Korba district of Chhattisgarh where a dam constructed by the National Thermal Power Corporation to separate the polluted water from the thermal plant broke during heavy rain.

The joint report is a continuation of a similar report released last year  that documented 76 coal fly ash related accidents across the country between 2010-2020 and provided an overview of the management of coal fly ash in India, and the threat it poses to human health and environment.

Also Read: Losses suffered by Indian businesses due to air pollution equal to 1.5 times the Union Health Budget: Report

“Coal ash is the most ignored threat to the health of the community and the environment. India’s regulatory mechanism has failed to deal with the problem which continues to increase every passing year; while Courts are yet to hold a company criminally liable for the toxic pollution caused by callous approach of power companies,” Ritwick Dutta, an advocate with the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment said.

Also Read: Two dead, four missing after the Reliance power plant in Singrauli develops breach

What the laws say about coal ash pollution

The report points out that the legal position in India is clear with respect to the liability of project proponents responsible for breach of fly ash —  they are absolutely liable for both the damages and cost of restoration. 

Also Read: The criminality of fly ash management

“Despite this clear judicial precedent, the Courts and Tribunal have rarely fixed the liability on the violators which reflects both the damages caused and the cost of restoration,” the report mentions.

“One of the reasons for the same is that in most instances the cost of calculating the damage caused and cost of restoration is left to be decided by a third party to be selected by the project proponent itself,” it added.

Also Read: Despite COVID19 restrictions and lockdowns, several Indian cities register high air pollution

Risks associated with coal ash

In its report released last year, the Health Energy Initiative India had stated that the ash from coal-fueled power plants is known to contain toxic chemicals like arsenic, aluminum, antimony, barium, cadmium, selenium, nickel, lead and molybdenum, among other carcinogens.

Also Read: Over 100,000 coal burning related deaths in 2018: The Lancet Countdown 2020 report

“Along with increased risk of cancers from toxic heavy metal exposure, coal ash can affect human development, create lung and heart problems, cause stomach ailments, and contribute to premature mortality,” it had noted. 

Gaon Connection has been raising the issue of fly ash pollution and the human health cost associated with it. In September, last year, it reported on the Mineral Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2020 about how the legislation is directed at incentivising private sector participation in mining by introducing a series of regulatory subsidies. Read full report here.