The government plans to make it mandatory for builders to use bricks made of fly ash, the residue produced by burning coal at power plants, in 20 locations across India to reduce pollution.
Millions of tonnes of fly ash is generated every year in India, prompting the environment ministry in 1999, 2003 and 2009 to issue directions for its proper use and disposal. All brick units within the 100km radius of a thermal power plant are required to use fly ash for making the building material, according to the latest notification in 2009. Fly ash also has to be used in construction activities such as road building, according to the notification. Every agency engaged in construction within the 100km range is also required to use fly ash-based products for construction. The environment ministry has now decided to modify it further as the implementation of these rules has not been satisfactory.
“We are going to extend the area from 100km radius to 500km. What we are further trying is to identify 20 construction hotspots in the country such as Delhi-NCR, Bengaluru and Chennai where we will make utilisation of fly ash mandatory by putting it as a condition in local municipal laws. The new notification will be issued within next 15-20 days,” said environment ministry special secretary Shashi Shekhar. The move will create a huge market for fly ash bricks and power plants won’t be able to complain that there is no market for fly ash, Shekhar said.
According to a recent study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), fly ash disposal remains a major problem with only about 50-60% of the total fly ash generated by the power sector being utilised. Around 173 million tonnes of fly ash was produced across India in 2013-14.
The remaining is dumped into poorly designed and maintained ash ponds. As per estimates, about a billion tonne of these toxic ash lie dumped in these ponds, polluting land, air and water. By 2021-22, the thermal power sector is estimated to produce 300 million tonnes of fly ash a year and with that, utilisation of all the fly ash being generated is going to become even tougher.
Even the Central Electrical Authority, in a recent report admitted that “it would require a lot of effort to achieve the target of 100% utilization of fly ash as stipulated in MoEF’s (ministry of environment, forest and climate change) Notification of 3rd November, 2009.”
“We know that India is yet to construct around 70% of its building stocks; so, there is going to be enormous construction which will result in an enormous demand for construction material especially clay bricks. So, if there is a policy move to promote the use of fly ash then it’s a very good decision,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy), CSE.
“This would allow two things—one, to reuse the fly ash at power plants which otherwise destroys environment, soil and water and secondly, it will also minimise use of clay bricks whose production is highly polluting and damages the top soil. Therefore, such a move could help, but key would be to ensure implementation of such a decision, identify current bottlenecks and solve them,” said Roychowdhury, who is also the head of CSE’s air pollution and clean transportation programme.