Thermal plant closure
More to it than meets the eye
After spending Rs 550 crore on the renovation of the Bathinda thermal plant between 2001 and 2006 the Punjab government has decided to dismantle it. If the reason for the plant’s closure is environmental pollution, as has been reported in the media, then the government may have to shut all other government-run thermal plants in the state too. According to the latest CAG report, all thermal plants in Punjab violate air/water pollution norms and operate without the consent of the Punjab Pollution Control Board. The coal-run thermal plants belch out fly ash, which is toxic and causes respiratory and eye troubles.
If the people of the area feel relieved by reports of thermal plant closure, their relief may be short-lived. Apart from the existing two thermal plants four more are being set up within a 50-km radius of Bathinda. The town is set to meet the fate of Uttar Pradesh’s Singrauli, which has five thermal plants and fly ash released by them has made fertile land unfit for cultivation. Even if the private firms setting up the thermal plants in Punjab are forced to strictly follow the anti-pollution norms, which is unlikely given the flexible ways of governance, the concentration of so many thermal plants in such a small area is ill-advised.
In its zeal to nurture Bathinda, represented in the Lok Sabha by Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the myopic Badal family ruling the state keeps announcing projects for the area regardless of their long-term consequences. Clean energy sources are paid little attention, while private firms are handed over power projects without competitive bidding and disregarding the adverse effects on the environment. The viability of such plants is also in doubt. Due to shortage, coal prices are climbing and imports have become inevitable. As global oil prices soar and the cost of coal transportation escalates, will the power produced by private thermal plants be affordable to consumers? Will the state have to subsidise it? Experts need to discuss these issues.