India shuts six coal-based power plants near New Delhi on pollution

Priya Jestin


MUMBAI (ICIS)–India has shut down six coal-fired power plants near New Delhi in an attempt to reduce air pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR) which has reached alarming proportions recently.

The NCR region comprises cities from the states of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, in addition to the capital city of New Delhi.

Of the 11 coal-fired thermal power plants located within a 300-kilometre radius of New Delhi, only five will remain operational, while the rest would remain shut until 30 November as ordered by the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) late on Tuesday.

India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday asked both the Indian union government and the federal governments of the NCR states to comply with the CAQM’s directive.

In case of a power shortage during this period, the CAQM has asked the government to ensure adequate supply from power plants located beyond a 300-km radius of the capital city.

India was facing an energy crisis from October until early November amid a severe coal shortage, with stocks in more than half of the country’s 135 power plants hitting dangerously low levels.

The country had prioritized coal supply to the power sector which had severely affected the operations of many small industries especially in northern India.

As per the orders from the CAQM, all industries in the NCR region having gas connectivity must compulsorily switch from coal to gas as fuel, failing which, the concerned factories would be shut down.

The CAQM has also banned entry of trucks carrying non-essential goods into New Delhi and stopped construction and demolition activities in the NCR region until 21 November.

Real estate developers in the NCR region deemed the pollution-led ban on construction futile, noting that it would lead to a further delay in projects that have already gone past their deadlines due to pandemic lockdowns, according to local media reports.

Schools, colleges, and other educational institutions in the NCR region will remain closed until further notice.

At least 50% of government employees should work from home until 21 November and has encouraged private companies to follow suit, the commission said.

The temporary restrictions were imposed after a warning from the Indian Meteorological Department that the dangerous air pollution could persist for a longer period as the region could see a drop in temperature and wind speed over the next few days.

New Delhi and the NCR region areas have been shrouded in toxic smog since the week of Diwali or the Hindu Festival of Lights which began on 4 November.

On 16 November, the average air quality index (AQI) of New Delhi stood at a dangerous level of 403, according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

An AQI of between 0-50 is considered safe while AQI over 300 is considered hazardous and can trigger health emergencies. During Diwali week, the AQI in New Delhi stood at 499.

Pollution in this region usually reaches dangerous levels in the months of October and November as the capital city battles severe smog as the drop in temperature during winter traps polluting gases from the coal fired plants in the NCR region and vehicular fumes.

In winter months, farmers in the neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab burn crop stubble. Additionally, fireworks during the Diwali festival, worsen the air quality.

Focus article by Priya Jestin


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