Delhi’s air pollution disaster a fortnight ago seems to have alerted the Maharashtra government into taking preventive measures at the earliest. On Tuesday, the state cabinet approved the State Thermal Power Plant Ash Utilisation Policy which seeks to curb transport of fly ash produced in the coal-based thermal plants and stipulates measures to utilise all coal waste at source.
The government has announced cluster development of ash-based industries, such as cement, in the vicinity of all thermal power plants. The industries, in joint venture with the government, will be given land, ash and tax incentives.
Maharashtra produces nearly 18 million tonnes of fly ash annually. While one-third of it remains unutilised, the rest is provided to cement companies for free. The ash transportation cost, a Rs 2,000 crore burden on the state exchequer annually, is also borne by power stations.
The policy has been announced after the Centre’s directive in this regard, issued early this year. Maharashtra is the first in the country to formulate such a policy. It seeks 100% compliance by the end of 2017.
Energy Minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule said, “We have already received some proposals from cement companies which are willing to purchase the coal waste.” About a third of raw material used in cement is fly ash.
Fly ash can be used for making cement, pre-fabricated building material, bricks, laying roads, housing and industrial buildings, dams, flyovers, reclaiming low-lying areas, wasteland development, stowing of mines and all other construction works.
The government has directed departments like Rural Development, Public Works Development, Urban development, Tribal, Social Justice and premier schemes such as Housing for All, Pradhan Mantri and Mukhya Mantri Sadak Yojna to use at least 15% ash component in their works. The coal ash can be used in the agricultural land to increase its productivity and hence agriculture department has also been roped in to promote the fly ash among farmers. With the move, the government also hopes to bring down the cost of power generation and promises to pass it on to consumers.
The government has also decided to export fly ash after treating it with cenospheres, which is expected to generate revenue of Rs 1,500 crore. “There is a great demand of fly ash generated from power plants abroad,” said Bawankule.
The government has decided to set-up a company — Maha Gen Management Services (MahaGeMS) — to manage the ash generated at all government-run and private thermal plants in the state. Shyam Wardhane, the director of Mining in Maharashtra, has been given additional charge of the Managing Director of the under-construction company. The company will form joint ventures with private cement companies. The contribution of Mahagenco, the state-owned power generation company, will be its land and fly ash. Other investment will be done by the private partner.
If the venture is successful, it will reduce air pollution in the areas around power plants. Presently, fly ash is transported in trucks to cement plants. Many times the transporters do not pour adequate water on the fly ash and it spreads around during transportation.
“The cluster of industries can be set-up within 300-kilometer radius of the thermal plant. While those setting foot within 100-kilometer radius will have to collect ash on own expenses, for those established between 100- and 300-kilometer thermal plants will share 50% of the transport burden,” said Energy Minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule.
Ash content of Indian coal is approximately 30-45% while imported coals have 10-15%. A large quantity of ash is thus being generated at coal/lignite-based thermal power stations in the country, which not only requires large areas of precious land for its disposal near power plants but is also one of the sources of pollution of both air and water