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Sulfur Dioxide Emission Norms Delayed

  • 07 Jan 2021
  • 4 min read

Why in News

The Ministry of Power has proposed pushing back the deadlines for adoption of new emission norms by coal-fired power plants, stating "an unworkable time schedule" would burden utilities and lead to an increase in power tariffs.

Key Points

  • Background:
    • India initially had set a 2017 deadline for thermal power plants to comply with emissions standards for installing Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD) units that cut emissions of toxic sulphur dioxide.
      • This was later changed to varying deadlines for different regions, ending in 2022.
  • Flue Gas Desulphurisation (FED):
    • Removal of Sulfur Dioxide is called as Flue-gas Desulphurization (FGD).
    • It seeks to remove gaseous pollutants viz. SO2 from exhaust flue gases generated in furnaces, boilers, and other industrial processes due to thermal processing, treatment, and combustion.
  • Proposal of the Ministry of Power:
    • It has proposed a "graded action plan," whereby areas where plants are located would be graded according to the severity of pollution, with Region 1 referring to critically polluted areas, and Region 5 being the least polluted.
      • Strict control of emissions shall be required in such key areas for thermal power stations categorised under Region 1.
      • Plants in Region 2 could begin to take action one year after those in Region 1.
      • Presently no action is required for power plants that are situated under Region 3, 4 & 5.
    • According to the Ministry, the target should be to maintain uniform ambient air quality across the country and not uniform emission norms for thermal power plants.
      • This could avoid immediate increase in power price in various relatively clean areas of the country (and) avoid unnecessary burden on power utilities/consumers.

Sulfur Dioxide Pollution

  • Source:
    • The largest source of SO2 in the atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuels by power plants and other industrial facilities.
    • Smaller sources of SOemissions include: industrial processes such as extracting metal from ore; natural sources such as volcanoes; and locomotives, ships and other vehicles and heavy equipment that burn fuel with a high sulfur content.
  • Impact: SO2 can affect both health and the environment.
    • Short-term exposures to SO2 can harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult. People with asthma, particularly children, are sensitive to these effects of SO2.
    • SO2 emissions that lead to high concentrations of SO2 in the air generally also lead to the formation of other sulfur oxides (SOx). SOx can react with other compounds in the atmosphere to form small particles. These particles contribute to particulate matter (PM) pollution.
      • Small particles may penetrate deeply into the lungs and in sufficient quantities can contribute to health problems.
  • India’s Case:
    • India’s sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions recorded a significant decline of approximately 6% in 2019 compared to 2018, the steepest drop in four years, according to a report from Greenpeace India and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).
      • However, India remained the largest emitter of SO2.
    • In 2015, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) introduced Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) emission limits for coal power stations.
    • Air Quality sub-index has been evolved for eight pollutants (PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2, CO, O3, NH3, and Pb) for which short-term (upto 24-hours) National Ambient Air Quality Standards are prescribed.


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