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Thursday, October 10, 2013

FALLACY OF COAL POWERED THERMAL POWER PLANTS

It is a well documented fact that the Coal Powered Thermal Power plants (CPTPs) supply maximum amount of Electric power around the World, at the same time it is also on record that they top the list for emitting Carbon-Di-Oxide and other pollutants. It is becoming clear that the CPTPs are topping various other lists, as well, such as loss of human hours due to illness, damage to Ecosystem and human made structures, causing various types of respiratory disorders, abortion in cattle as well as humans, damage to Crops and even premature death. No wonder that they are facing a wrath of people around the World. Following table summarizes some of these effects.
Estimated annual health impacts and health costs doe to PM pollution from Coal-fired power plants in India, 2011-12

EFFECT
HEALTH IMPACTS
HEALTH COST
 (In Rs. Crore)a
Health Cost
(in million US $)b
Total Premature Mortality
80,000 -115,000
16,000 -23,000
3300 - 4600
Child Mortality (under five)
10,000
2,100
1200
Respiratory Symptoms
625 million
6,200
1,200
Chronic Bronchitis
170,000
900
170
Chest Discomfort
8.4 million
170
35
Asthma attack
20.9 million
2,100
420
Emergency Room visits
900,000
320
60
Restricted activity Days
160 million
8000
1600
TOTAL LOSSES

35,790
6,985
    a – one crore = 10 million
    b – using conversion rate of 1 USD = 50 Rupees

(Table from Report “Coal Kills – as assessment of Death and Disease caused by India’s dirtiest Energy Source – published by Conservation Action Trust, Mumbai in collaboration with Urbanemmissions.info and Greenpeace).

 I joined the groups agitating against CPTPs some 30 years ago, and stared collecting data in bits and pieces from different sources.  Our friends were looking up to me for information as I was the only ‘qualified’ person in the group, a Professor teaching Environmental Sciences at a local College. But believe me, there was lot more information beyond the books we were referring to. Interestingly, some of our members knew a lot more than me on the subject.

This write up will not be complete if I fail to mention Sri Balakrishna Shetty, who is a walking encyclopedia on the issues related to CPTPs and a person who has worked selflessly to protect the people of his area through spending not only lot of time but also a fortune. Other person worth mentioning is Sri Vijaykumar Hegde, who stood by the people of Padubidri almost full time, though he was living away at Udupi. But people of Padubidri have failed to recognize their selfless service. Such an attitude surely dampens the interests of others like me who volunteer to help. 
  
Even in those days we had a tough time condensing the vast data available in order to educate the gullible. I am sure we were fairly successful in educating the masses, but the classes refrained from getting educated. Naturally they had totally different set of goals in mind apart from supplying power to the ‘needy’. The needy in this case, and as always, were the Industries situated far away at Bangalore and other big cities. The locals had absolutely no place on their list. But they played to the public. We heard for the first time politicians ‘assuring’ the locals of Padubidri, that if they do not want the power plant then the Government will not force it on them.  Well, we now find that the Government in fact did not force it on the people, but established the plant in a discreet manner, hood-winking all of us. The politicians at the helm of affairs then saw to it that the meticulously prepared petition did not come up for hearing in the High Court of Karnataka. The proponents of the CPTP were violating practically every safety norms, and not even repentant about it, even for the sake of courtesy.
Proponents of the CPP were violating practically every safety norms, but PCB were looking away.


Our politicians have borrowed the hideous ways from the East India Company of Britain. They have mastered the art of splitting a group of agitators by promising (but not offering) booty and to our disbelief; our people have been falling for it. Mr Ron Sommers, of Cogentrics, was already at it, donating sumptuous grants to who so ever approached him. Joke goes that one poor person approached him for a small grant to perform ‘Thithi’ (death anniversary) of his father. After the ritual the person brought some prasadam such as Vada and Gashi to Mr. Sommers.  Mr. Sommers was so enamored by the taste of the vada that he gave some more donation for the poor person and said ‘perform my thithi’.   It was easy for the Lanco group to pursue his lead and succeed. Politicians joined hands and promised excellent compensation for the farmers, jobs for their children. But nothing happened.
Our Adivasi Bandhus of Orrisa, have shown us a path, by remaining united they have managed to show the door for one of the biggest company the POSCO. People of Tadadi, Karnataka and Chamalapura have also demonstrated that ‘Unity is Strength’. So the lesson for Niddodi group or any group for that matter, is to ensure that there will not be any split in their group, and they remain united.
The establishment of the UPCL has shown us the hazards that CPTPs can cause and has given us a glimpse of hazards in store for us when SEZs come up. UPCL has not allowed anyone to enter their premises, even when a big controversy was raised regarding the height of Chimney. We are still in the dark about the height of the Chimney, and added to  this, they seem to have got permission to manage with just one chimney for their additional 600 MW plant (a total of 1200 MWs), which means doubling of problems for the locals from single source.  
The Company has cornered 3 times more land than required, denuded huge area of forest and managed to illegally ‘smuggle’ fire wood worth about 30 crores. When this was brought to the notice of the authorities, and after a lot of hue and cry by the activists, the Government fined the company with a paltry 25 thousand rupees! In spite of several complaints, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board refrained from giving even a ‘Show Cause’ Notice to the company. Finally, one officer was bold enough to issue a notice, but the company would care less.
We had learnt about the extent of pollution and its effects on human health and the environment from an independent study of the Reliance Company’s plant at Dahanu (in Maharashtra) conducted by a group. But since we could not visit the plant situated in Maharashtra, we were wondering as to whether all the allegations made against it were true. The people of Dahanu had won a case against the Company at the Supreme Court (SC).  The area had been declared as Ecological Sensitive Area (ESA) and SC had passed very strong strictures against the company and its working, and had even appointed a special committee to monitor the ESA.  But the Dahanu company management hardly cared for all these issues and is happily operating as if nothing has happened. We are in a similar situation at Padubidri. The lesson for any group fighting against a big company is to follow the principle – ‘Prevention is better than cure’. Lot of people will come under their obligation even before the company gets established, and thus the company manages to bulldoze all stipulations and resistance. People should be very careful about this.  

Another major allure the company floats for which gullible farmers fall for is the land value. Company does not say anything about it, but it manages to circulate the news that if the company is established the land value goes up, like in Bangalore or any other city. Although our friends tried to rubbish this idea, no one seems to have taken it seriously, and now people are getting lower yield of all crops, are unable to raise cattle, their wells are getting contaminated, respiratory diseases are on the increase, no one is keen to buy land in the vicinity of the unit. People in the area have done practically everything to control the situation, -  roped in religious heads, complained to the authorities, knocked the doors of Courts, but all in vain.  Now I am at loss to state that the people have lost their hope in any redressal of their grievances. Will they revolt one day? May be they will like the villagers of Maharashtra, who went to the extent of damaging the pumping units of one such erring Company.  But in all such cases, or for that matter, even a strong demonstration, the people who lead are arrested and several types of cases are leveled against them, thus ensuring that they will run to the politicians for getting relief and thus ending their agitative attitude.
UPCL has ‘educated’ us on many more issues.  For example, we never knew the result of using Sea water for cooling the boilers. Mist from cooling towers affected the vegetation around and aggravated corrosion. Pipes carrying sea water burst several times contaminating large areas of paddy fields as well as open wells, subjecting the people living downstream to never ending hardships. They had to struggle for even drinking water. People, who were otherwise self-sufficient with drinking water from their wells, were suddenly thrown to the streets, to wait in long queues’ for fresh water supply. At one point of time, people even went to the extent of locking the pump house. But the UPCL management was influential enough to manage such situations very easily, as if nothing has happened. (In Maharashtra villagers managed to damage the pump – now I am confident that the people who dared are behind bars and company is having the last laugh).  Added to that they also took the help of Police, who are primarily meant to protect we the people rather than corporations who have their own security force. People living around Niddodi will be subjected to similar hardships if the CPTP plant takes roots. Remember – prevention is better than cure.
Added to that they also took the help of Police, who are primarily meant to protect WE the people rather than corporations who have their own security forces.

One important positive development in this area is the change of attitude of Press reporters. Initially they were opposing us and ridiculing us as anti-development. But after a visit to the UPCL site and after seeing the plights of school going children with handkerchiefs tied around their faces, they transformed. In fact one of the meetings held in presence of Sri Sri Vishveshwaratheertha Swamiji, it was the reporters who took UPCL management to task. The unit had already started generating power, and supplying it to KEB, but the at what rate? .It has been almost impossible to get to it. However, couple of months ago CERC announced that it had approved a rate proposed by the company at Rs 4.50/kWh. Then the Karnataka Government had to fight to get it reduced and finally succeeded in lowering the price by just a couple of paise.
In the project presented by the Company, they had proposed to buy equipment from BHEL, but once the project was sanctioned, they bought the equipment from a Chinese supplier at a lower rate, but company managed to swindle Government of Karnataka to the tune of Rs 650 crores.  Outrageous! You would exclaim, but it is true.  
We are not in a position yet to asses various other associated problems, like for example, what will be the effect of super-heated water (warm according to the Company) that will be pumped back to the sea? The sea water used would have been treated with Chlorine, and when this treated water returns to the sea, what will be its effect on marine life? We are certain that fairly large amount of ash will also ‘allowed to escape’ into the sea, and what would happen to the fish in the area? Will the Government help the farmers whose fields are contaminated by sea water? And how?
Elsewhere in the country, especially Punjab, high level of Mercury has been detected around CPTPs, will it be the same in other area as well? What steps will the Government take to prevent repetition of Minamata syndrome? Is the Government monitoring the area through Pollution Control Board? Why is a company allowed to operate in an impudent and discrete manner in a democratic setup where the excellent practice of RTI is operational? We feel that it is because such large companies are like ATMs for the politicians of all shades and color - ruling or not. Such maladies can only be redressed when people become more assertive. If we remain inactive, not only Netravati but many more rivers will be diverted, and finally we will be left with our own tears to drink.
Such maladies can only be redressed when people become more assertive. If we do not, more rivers will be diverted and many polluting Industries will be thrust on us.
 It my earnest hope that before we reach the 70th year of Independence we will be more assertive. But for the mistakes our generation has made by being silent, our children grand children, great grand children and in fact the entire line of progeny will suffer. 

Citizens who have been habituated to the use of electric power - the Industrialists and also the planners have been challenging us. “What is the alternative then” they demand - for we were opposing Coal and Nuclear based power plants. Frankly we did not have a very convincing answer then –except suggesting Wind, Solar and small hydel plants. We had also been suggesting various other measures like increasing production efficiency, reducing losses due to transmission, demand side management and the like. Government too seems to have realized the potential of Wind and solar, and have been encouraging use of these sources. But Solar and Wind are intermittent in nature, and they are also costly with an efficiency factor less than 20%. In such a scenario, my search led me to Ocean and now I seem to have evolved a new system which would herald a new era in harnessing energy from ocean and to generate power on a 24/7 basis on all 365 days of the year.  There is one more potential design from Udupi area, and if Government encourages, it may be possible to harness the free energy from ocean and generate over 4 million MWs of energy using just one fourth of our costal area. Can we hope for a greener future?   

By Dr. Ashok Kundapur