Pollution Due to Coal-Based Thermal Power Generation in India

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The coal-based thermal power generation industry in India has long been associated with severe pollution issues. Despite the existence of emission norms and regulations, the flouting of these guidelines has become a pressing concern.

Context: Emission Norms Flouted

To address the growing pollution concerns from coal-based thermal power plants, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) introduced emission norms in 2015. These norms were designed to regulate the release of harmful substances into the environment, including sulphur dioxide (SO2), a major pollutant emitted during the combustion of coal.

Emission Norms

The MoEFCC mandate of 2015 emphasized the importance of curbing SO2 emissions from coal-based thermal power plants. One of the key requirements mandated the installation of Flue Gas Desulphurisation (FGD) systems for the removal of sulphur dioxide.

Status of Implementation

Unfortunately, the implementation of these emission norms has been far from satisfactory. Poor adherence to sulphur dioxide emission regulations has been observed across the industry. Several specific cases highlight the magnitude of the issue.

Specific Cases

According to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), only 5% of the installed capacity of coal-based thermal power plants in India have adopted FGD systems for sulphur dioxide removal. This indicates a significant gap in compliance. Additionally, around 17% of the capacity is still at the initial compliance stages, indicating a lack of progress in meeting the emission norms.

Regional Data

Regional data reveals a concerning lack of compliance, particularly in Eastern India. This region has consistently shown no adherence to the emission norms. On the other hand, Maharashtra has demonstrated the highest compliance capacity, followed by Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Tamil Nadu.

Results Indicate

The poor implementation of emission norms in the coal-based thermal power generation sector reflects the industry’s unwillingness to comply with regulations. This is further underscored by the non-compliance of new projects with SO2 norms. Additionally, the dilution of norms and extensions of deadlines have further contributed to the lack of progress in addressing pollution concerns.

Reasons for Delayed Norms Implementation

Several factors have contributed to the delayed implementation of emission norms in the coal-based thermal power generation sector in India.

Firstly, there is a dependency on the external market for FGD components. The limited availability of these components and their importation delays have hindered the timely installation of the required systems.

Secondly, the novelty of FGD technology in the Indian market has posed challenges. The unfamiliarity with the technology, its integration, and the associated costs have contributed to the delay in implementing FGD systems.

Lastly, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the challenges. The restrictions imposed due to the pandemic disrupted supply chains and construction activities, impeding progress in implementing emission control measures.

Impact of Poor Implementation

The poor implementation of emission norms in the coal-based thermal power generation sector has significant environmental consequences, primarily due to the release of sulphur dioxide.

Sulphur dioxide is a major pollutant that contributes to air pollution. It can also undergo conversion into sulfuric acid, which is a key component of acid rain.

The effects of acid rain are far-reaching. Deforestation, primarily caused by the acidification of soil and water bodies, is one consequence. Aquatic life is also harmed as water bodies become increasingly acidic, negatively impacting ecosystems. Additionally, the release of sulphur dioxide poses a serious health hazard to humans, potentially leading to conditions such as skin cancer.

Challenges Ahead

The coal-based thermal power generation sector in India faces significant challenges in addressing pollution concerns, particularly with the construction of 20 new thermal plants. These new plants are projected to have a combined capacity of 27.4 GW by the end of 2027-2028, raising further concerns about pollution levels.

Way Ahead

To tackle the pollution caused by coal-based thermal power generation, several measures can be taken:

  1. The National Electricity Plan (NEP) 2022-32 recommends location-based standards, which can provide a targeted approach to regulate emissions in areas with higher pollution levels.
  2. Strict deadlines should be imposed for compliance with emission norms, eliminating any further extensions.
  3. It should be made mandatory for new units to install FGD systems before commencing operations.

By implementing these measures, the coal-based thermal power generation sector can work towards minimizing pollution and ensuring a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.


The pollution resulting from coal-based thermal power generation in India, specifically the non-compliance with emission norms, poses significant environmental and health risks. The implementation of emission control measures, such as the installation of FGD systems and adherence to stricter regulations, is essential to mitigate these challenges. By adopting a location-based approach, setting firm deadlines, and making FGD systems mandatory for new units, the sector can take meaningful steps towards reducing pollution and safeguarding the environment for future generations.

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