The socio-environmental fallouts of generation from coal-based thermal power plants are well recognised. The revision of the environmental norms in 2015, which tightened some existing standards and introduced new parameters to check emissions, were a step to address them. But even in 2022, almost seven years since the norms were first notified, the norms have not been adequately implemented or adhered to.
There are significant interlinkages between adherence to the environmental norms and thermal power plant operations, which play a significant role in the power sector. The challenges affecting compliance to the environmental norms, thus, also affect – and are affected by – the power sector. Actors across the environment and power sector, ranging from thermal generators, electricity regulators, ministries and related institutions share the responsibility for the current state of affairs where the norms are still not sufficiently adhered to. The process of deciding the norms and deadlines, facilitating their implementation and monitoring compliance could all have been better. The actions from the relevant agencies and the resultant patterns of delays and dilution which have hitherto been observed toward environmental norm compliance seem poised to continue, with the deadline for compliance being postponed for the third time as recently as September 2022. These continuing patterns raise questions about whether a tighter emissions regime will ever be a reality in India.
Learning crucial lessons from the roll out of the norms up until now, coordinated planning between the power and environment ministries, and corresponding action from related institutions, is critical to achieve a more effective and prudent regime of emission control. Such measures should include avenues to hold key actors accountable to timely action, while enabling a more conducive environment for compliance. In the absence of this, the country’s currently insufficient emission regime is likely to continue toward a deadline that never seems to arrive.