With each passing day, as the emission norms to curb air pollution are delayed, every Indian's life expectancy gets severely impacted. Apart from the spike in premature deaths due to air pollution, experts have warned that the toxic gases may hinder India's fight against the covid-19 pandemic. Poisonous gas emission from coal is one of the most pressing causes of global warming that continues to smother our cities. The sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), fine particulate matter, and mercury emitted by coal-fired power plants contribute significantly to the air pollution in India. These toxic gases enter the lungs and choke the airways causing premature deaths of people.
Five years ago, in the year 2015, India had announced rules to control air pollution from coal power plants. As per the new norms, by December 2017, about 300 coal power plants in India were instructed to install scrubbers, filters and flue-gas-desulphurisation technology to control the emissions from coal-burning. The decision was celebrated across India but, due to lack of implementation it was merely the beginning of a very long struggle for clean air which the people celebrated was soon rendered redundant.
In 2016, the Association of Power Producers claimed that they would need to invest INR 2.4 lakh crore for tech upgrades contradicting the Council for Energy Environment and Water's (CEEW) figure, which estimated the costs somewhere around INR 90,000 crores. The Pollution Control Board stated that green technologies far outweigh the financial costs. Despite this, the coal power plants delayed the implementation, followed by several excuses from prices to impracticality of timelines to ground realities.
The crimes against clean air did not stop there! The Indian Power Companies requested the deadline extension and tried seeking a hefty tariff increase from the public to pay for emission control technologies. Coming down to September 2017, the Environment Ministry looked at amending its guidelines within closed doors without any public consultation. Within a month, India also allowed sixteen new power plants to operate without any air pollution standards. A government affidavit at the Supreme Court also argued that power supply from thermal plants, which supply 80% of India's electricity, cannot be interrupted.
Cut to five years into the present, today, more than 90% of coal power plants continue to pollute the air at the expense of public health with the deadline now extended to upto 2024! The joint study, done by Health Effects Institute and IIT-Bombay estimated that between 400,000 and 850,000 deaths could be avoided with aggressive emission measures such as strict enforcement of rules, and financial support.
Air offenders of India is an initiative that highlights the lack of air quality implementation standards and clean air guidelines of the coal plants in India. With a collaborative effort, the Air Offenders of India initiative has chronicled everything that has been said for or against the law requiring coal power plants to curb air pollution. Additionally, it calls out the #AirOffenders of India who has deliberately made false statements intending to stall the implementation.
Besides aiming to spread awareness about the accountability that lies on the coal power plants for not abiding by the clean air norms, the initiative encourages people to take collective action! You can raise your voice against the #AirOffenders of India by tweeting at the Ministry of Environment and sharing the video on Facebook with the hashtag #AirOffendersOfIndia. It is indeed true that clean air is not a privilege; it is a right!