Shivpal Bhagat v. Union of India, O.A. No. 104/2018 (27 February 2020)

Energy Coal and gas power plants
Mining Coal mining

Communities living near the Tamnar-Gharghoda coal fields in the state of Chhattisgarh are plagued by significant environmental pollution and land disturbance from coal mining. The coal is transported to two nearby coal-fired power plants, which emit hazardous air pollutants and generate tons of toxic coal ash. Several community members petitioned the National Green Tribunal, seeking to hold the mining and energy companies responsible for widespread land, air, and water contamination, and failure to abide by conditions set forth in environmental clearances.

The Tribunal issued an order in July 2019 directing an expert committee that had been convened for a related case to examine a number of issues associated with coal mining and coal-fired power plants in the Tamnar-Gharghoda mining blocks, including adequacy of pollution control devices, fly ash management/disposal, particulate air pollution, and the district’s environmental carrying capacity to accommodate additional mining and industrial activities.  Para. 2.  

The committee’s report was filed with the Tribunal in October 2019.  It contained a detailed series of short-term and long-term measures to reduce environmental and public health impacts of coal mining, coal transport, and operation of coal-fired power plants. Para. 3 (excerpt of report).  Among other things, the committee recommended that fly ash no longer be disposed in low-lying areas, but instead be deposited in coal mining pits (backfilling). Para. 3 (excerpt para. 4.1(a), (b)).  Recognizing the detrimental effects of forest loss, pollution problems, and costs of rehabilitation, the committee proposed that no further conversion of underground mines to open cast be permitted. Para. 3 (excerpt para. 4.1i)).  The committee also outlined a detailed series of measures to reduce air and water pollution, implement mitigation measures, and improve environmental monitoring.

The committee concluded that the area encompassing the Tamnar-Gharghoda coal mining blocks “is close to exceeding its environmental carrying capacity” and that decisions regarding future mining and industrial activities should be guided by a “comprehensive environmental load carrying capacity study” conducted over a 2-year period.  Para. 3 (excerpt para. 4.2(a)).  

[NOTE: The full list of recommendations is reproduced in paragraph 3 of the decision, which is available below.]