The Ministry of Environment and Forests has refused to take any blame for the two grid disturbances that occurred last month. The grid disturbance on July 30th affected almost the entire northern grid, while that on July 31st impacted the northern, eastern and north eastern grids. Reports in certain section of the media had attributed the two grid disturbances to power projects stalled due to want of environmental clearance.
In its defense, the Environment Ministry recently listed a number of power projects for which environmental clearance has already been granted. The National Thermal Power Corporation’s Kudgi super thermal power project stage – I in Bijapur district of Karnataka was granted environmental clearance in January this year. The Essar Power MP – Mahan project in Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh received environmental clearance way back in April 2007 and has already begun operations. Reliance Power’s coal-based Chitrangi power project in Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh was granted environmental clearance in May 2010. For both the power projects in Singrauli, forest clearance is pending. In case of NHPC’s Dibang multipurpose project, a hydropower cum flood moderation scheme proposed on Dibang River in Lower Dibang Valley District of Arunachal Pradesh, opposition to the project by local people and subsequent unrest had led to postponement of the public hearing process five times even though initial Terms of Reference were issued in August 2009. The Dibang project involves diversion of 5,056 hectares of forest land. For Jaypee’s Lower Siang hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh, ToR was issued in January 2007 but the state government has not been able to hold public hearing till date because of local opposition.
The Environment Ministry has clarified that with regard to NHPC’s Middle Subansiri project in Arunachal Pradesh and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited’s Mithi Virdi project in Gujarat, application for grant of environmental clearance is yet to be received. Similarly, no application has been received for grant of forest clearance to the 3,960 MW coal fired Saurashtra super thermal power project in Gujarat. In case of the 1,200 MW Cheemeni gas based power project in Kasargod district of Kerala, the application by the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation for grant of environmental clearance was considered but had to be postponed as the promoters were not sure about the blend of natural gas to be used for the plant.
While the 11th Five Year Plan had projected a target of 50,000 MW of additional thermal power capacity, the 12th Plan seeks 100,000 MW. In the last five years, till 2011, the Environment Ministry granted environmental clearance for 210,000 MW of power. This is 60,000 MW more power than the capacity addition proposed till 2017.
As of April 30th, 2012, applications for grant of environmental clearance to 31 coal and gas thermal power plants with generation capacity of 38,997 MW were pending with the Environment Ministry. According to the Environment Ministry, in most cases including for coal and thermal power projects, the clearances given by it far exceed the targets and even the capacity projected for the future.