Fast growing pace of industrialisation, without any preventive measures, in India is creating more and more problems for inhabitants. Rampant setting-up of coal power plants is proving public health hazard. In India alone 80000 to 120000, premature deaths have come to light yearly and 20 million population have been suffering from asthma due to air pollution from coal-based power plants, specially in the region of West Bengal, Jharkhand,, Delhi, Mumbai, western Maharshtra, eastern Andhra Pradesh and the Chandanpur-Nagpur region of Vidarbha.The first study of the health impact of India's dash for coal, conducted by the Greenpace under former World Bank head of pollution, says the plants cost hospitals $3.3-$4.6 bn a year-a figure certain to rise as the coal industry struggles to keep up with the demands for electricity. Almost all regions of coal -based power plants were found to be most polluted but Mumbai, western Maharashtra, Eastern Andhra Pradesh and the Chandrapur-Nagpur region in Vidarbha were badly affected.
Not only that, lots of the world's attention has been focused recently on the 'startling high-level of smog' in China. But things are not too great in Europe., either, where the popularity of coal-fixed power plants is endangering the live of entire generations of people..According to a report, released late last week by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), a Brussel-based nonprofit, which indicates that coal pollution causes more than 18,200 premature deaths each year in Europe-or 23,300 deaths, if one add in Siberia, Croatia and Turkey. The economic costs of burning coal totals up to $71 billion in dollars, equalling about four million lost working days every year.
Before I deliberate the dangerous impact of coal-based power plants in India, I must place here one important facts. Coal as power source has been a decade-long wane in Europe, but HEAL sees the potential for "short-term rebound" in the fossil-fuel's popularity due to high prices of natural gases. Actually, it is already happening:coal is gaining traction in part due to the action of Germany, which ditched nuclear power plants in favour of coal in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. And there are 50 more coal power plants in development in Europe, some designed to burn lignite (aka 'brown coal') that is cheap but especially foul for the environment.
The study of the Greepace, which data took from 111 major power plants in India, says there is barely any regulation or inspection of pollution. "hundreds of thousands lives could be saved and millions of asthma attacks, heart attacks, hospitalisation, lost workdays and associated costs to the society could be avoided, with the use of cleaner fuels and stricter emission standards and the installation and use of technologies required to achieve substantial reductions in these pollutants,"the report says and adds, " there is a conspicuous lack of regulations for power plants stack emission. Enforcement of what standards (which) do not exist, is nearly non-existent"'.
In India, there are general complaints that the power is mostly exported to large cities and heavy industries while local people, where electricity is generated, are left with pollution and toxic dumps. About 400 million people in India have no electricity and power outages are common. The pressure to generate power has led to tens of thousands of homes being moved to make ways for mines and plants. In the process, crores of people in Odisha, West Bengal, Chhatishgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharshtra, Andhra Pradesh Karnataka etc have become homeless and landless as their living areas in forest and plan have been forcibly acquired by the government and the same have been handed over to multi-nationals, corporates, industrialists, neo-rich political classes etc for setting up power plants and industries in the respective regions.
India is the world's second coal burner after China, generating 210 GW of electricity a year, mostly from coal. But it is likely to become the largest if plants to generate a further 160 GVV annually are approved. "Thousands of lives can be saved every year if India tightens its emissions standards, introduces limits for pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury and institutes mandatory monitoring of emissions at plant stack", said the report's author, Sarath Guttikunda, a former head of the World Bank's pollution division.
Vinuta Gopal of GreenPeace says, " The ongoing coal expansion is irrational and dangerous. Coal mining is destroying forest cover , tribal communities and endangered species and now we know the pollution it emits when burned is killing thousands. Coal has failed to deliver energy security. We need a moratorium on new coal plants and ambitious policy incentives to unlock the huge potential India has in efficiency measures, wind and solar."
As regards, such menace in Europe, it is interesting to study the country-by-country breakdowns in HEAL's report as reported by The Guardian and the Washington Posts, which the group says is the first to comprehensively examine the medical-economic impact of coal on the continent. Some of the worst polluters are power-generation facilities in former Eastern Bloc countries like the imposing Maritsa Iztok lignite complex in Bulgaria and the quad-smokestacks Turcenia Power station in Romania.. More than half of total health impacts that HEAL logged come from Romania, Poland, Germany, while runner-up countries with high levels of combustion include Bulgaria, Turkey, the Czech Republic, the France and the United Kingdom.
Experts say, "coal pollution has been linked to chronic diseases of the heart and lungs and can trigger nasty stuff like bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, heart attacks and arrhythmia. A boom in coal could increase the amount of ozone and particulate matter over European cities where already between 80 and 90 percent of people are breathing air that is beyond dirty as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The Guardian and the Washington Post have disclosed that HEAL is asking policy makers to consider putting a moratorium on new plants or use better pollution-scrubbing technology. At the very last says the group's leader Genom Jensen, the "startlingly high costs to human health should trigger a major rethink on EU energy policy".