General Studies IIIEnvironment and Ecology

Fly Ash Management and Utilisation Mission


Recently, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the constitution of a ‘Fly Ash Management and Utilisation Mission.

What is a Fly ash?

  • Fly ash is an unwanted unburnt residue of coal combustion in a coal thermal power plant.
  • It is emitted along with flue gases during the burning of coal in a furnace and collected using the electrostatic precipitators.
  • It is hazardous for health and the environment due to the concentrated presence of heavy metals.

Environmental Benefits: 

Fly ash utilization, especially in concrete, has significant environmental benefits including:

  • increasing the life of concrete roads and structures by improving concrete durability,
  • net reduction in energy use and greenhouse gas and other adverse air emissions when fly ash is used to replace or displace manufactured cement,
  • reduction in amount of coal combustion products that must be disposed in landfills,
  • conservation of natural resources and materials.

Processing of Fly Ash

  • The fly ash collected with the help of precipitators is converted into a wet slurry to minimise fugitive dust emissions.
  • It is then transported to the scientifically designed ash ponds through slurry pipes lines.
  • The ash ponds are lined with dykes to hold the slurry in place.

Issue with Fly Ash Management

  • Gross under-utilisation has led to the accumulation of tonnes of fly ash, causing environmental hazards.
  • Unscientific handling and storage of the fly ash by coal thermal power stations.
    • Reasons: hydraulic pressure induced by excessive rainfall causes ash to overflow in storage units.
  • Substandard construction of ash dykes, leads to collapse of dykes, flooding nearby farms, fields and even homes with toxic ash.
    • It thus pollutes soil, air, water, damage crops, and cause cardio-pulmonary illnesses

Major Highlights by NGT Order: 

  • It is mandatory for Thermal Power Plants(TPPs) to ensure 100% utilisation of fly ash within three to five years
    • Existing provisions allow TPPs to fully utilise fly ash in a four-year cycle in a staggered manner. 
  • It also introduced fines of Rs 1,000 on non-compliant plants under the ‘polluter pays principle’, taking into account utilisation targets from April 1 next year.
    • The ‘polluter pays’ principle is the commonly accepted practice that those who produce pollution should bear the costs of managing it to prevent damage to human health or the environment.
    • Under this,the collected fines will be deposited in the designated account of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). 
      • The fine collected by CPCB from the TPPs and other defaulters shall be used towards the safe disposal of the unutilised ash.
  • It also deals with unutilised accumulated ash (legacy ash) where TPPs will have to utilise it within 10 years from the date of publication of final notification in a staggered manner.
    •  If the utilization of legacy ash is not completed at the end of 10 years, a fine of Rs 1000 per tonne will be imposed on the remaining unutilised quantity which has not been fined earlier.

Head & Nodal Agency:

  • The Mission is to be jointly headed by the secretaries of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC), Union Ministry of Coal and Power, keeping on board chief secretaries of respective states where the mission is being implemented.
  • The secretary of MoEF&CC will be the nodal agency for coordination and compliance.

Objectives and Need 

  • Fly ash utilisation in India has increased from nearly 10% in 1996-97 to the highest level of over 83% during 2019-20, unutilised ash gets dumped in an environmentally hazardous manner, polluting air, water and soil.
    • It aims to deal with environmentally hazardous fly ash generated from coal and lignite based thermal power plants (TPPs).

Different from Fly Ash Notification 2021:

  • Fly Ash Notification 2021 was issued under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986.
    • Prohibiting dumping and disposal of fly ash discharged from coal or lignite based thermal power plants on land or into water bodies, the Centre has made it mandatory for such plants to ensure 100% utilization of ash in an eco-friendly manner, and introduced for the first time a penalty regime for non-compliance based on ‘polluter pays’ principle.
    • Under new rules, the non-compliant power plants will be imposed with an environmental compensation of Rs 1,000 per tonne on unutilised ash during the end of every financial year.
    • The amount, collected by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) from the thermal power plants, will be used towards the safe disposal of the unutilised ash. It may also be utilised for advancing research on use of ash including ash based products.
    • In cases where fly ash is being used in various activities, power plants will have to deliver fly ash at project sites free of cost.
    • The power plant may, however, charge for ash cost and transportation as per mutually agreed terms, in case it is able to dispose of the ash through other means.
  • The new fly ash notification of December 2021, has made provision for the ‘enforcement, monitoring, audit and reporting’ of the progress of fly ash utilisation and implementation by coal thermal power plants and user agencies.
  • The Notification holds the CPCB and State Pollution Control Boards (SPCB) / Pollution Control Committees (PCC) responsible for monitoring the effective implementation of mandates under it.
  • However, along with these statutory regulators, the Mission also extends the responsibility of fly ash management to the chief secretaries of the states.
  • The Notification mandates the individual thermal power plant to upload monthly information regarding ash generation and utilisation on its web portal.
    • The Mission as directed by the NGT, on the other hand, will make the roadmaps and progress in fly ash utilisation available for all thermal power plants and their clusters, on the MoEF&CC website on a quarterly basis for the knowledge of all stakeholders.

Initiatives Taken

  • Optimum utilization of fly ash: To facilitate 100% ash utilization by all coal based thermal power plants, a web portal for monitoring of fly ash generation and utilization data of Thermal Power Plants and a mobile based application titled “ASHTRACK” has been launched by the Government. 
    • Ash-park has developed, and awareness programme for utilisation of fly ash and its products conducted at various platforms..
  • Roles played NTPC:  National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) has developed an infrastructure to transport fly ash from power plants in bulk to cement plants, at a cheaper cost.
    • NTPC intends to transform the fly ash it produces into a revenue-generating by-product.
    • It has developed geopolymer and nano aggregates from residual fly ash for use in the construction of roads and houses is a manifestation of this.
  • Earlier in 2021, National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) Limited had invited Expression of Interest (EOI) for sale of fly ash.
  • NTPC has also collaborated with Cement manufacturers around the country to supply Fly Ash.
  • Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) has focused on new construction technologies such as using fly ash bricks that are innovative, and environmentally friendly.
    • Even state governments have come out with their Fly ash utilisation policies, e.g. Maharashtra was the first state to adopt the policy.
  • A web portal for monitoring of fly ash generation and utilisation and a mobile based application titled “ASHTRACK” has been launched by the Government.
  • Goods and Services Tax (GST) rates on fly ash and its products have been reduced to 5%.

Source: Down To Earth

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