Ministry ordered fly ash use in 2021, but most projects in Punjab still using top soil

Even after the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) directed the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) to use fly ash for its projects to restrict the use of topsoil, the instructions are being followed in a restricted manner. The ministry instructions came on June, 2021 but even now, top soil is being used in most NHAI projects in Punjab.

Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) said that about 50-55 lakh tonnes per annum of fly ash and another 10-12 lakh tonnes in wet ash are generated in various thermal power plants of Punjab.

However, Sandeep Bahl, chief engineer of Punjab pollution control board (PPCB) Patiala zone, said that that a lot of issues regarding the transportation of fly ash from thermal power plants are yet to be resolved. “Vehicles in which fly ash will be transported need to be fully covered so that it doesn’t cause problem for the areas from which the trucks are passing. It is the responsibility of the generators of fly ask to make proper arrangements of disposal of fly ash. The tyres of the trucks also need to be fully cleaned before it moves out of the thermal plant,” he said, adding that meetings are being held to address these issues, following which, only fly ask will be used.

The MoEFCC had issued a notification in 2021 urging the conservation of topsoil and natural resources by utilising fly ash in the construction of roads. According to the notification, all agencies engaged in construction activities within 300 km of lignite or coal-based thermal power plants are now required to mandatorily use fly ash in their activities.

Environment activist Jaskirat Singh said that the deviation from the notification is seriously hampering the ecology of Punjab as fertile agricultural land is being converted into desolate barren lands. “Despite numerous notifications and advisories from the government, no action has been taken to curb the menace of topsoil excavation that has been specifically banned,” he said.

A PSPCL official said that NHAI should be held accountable for the erosion of topsoil. “NHAI should be directed to immediately start using fly ash in all road construction sites. Failure to comply the order should result in penalties,” the official said. Meanwhile, when asked, NHAI officials said that they are using fly ash within 20-30 km of a thermal plant. “We are facing the issue of carriage charges, which is yet to be resolved by the PSPCL. Hence, we are using fly ash only I the nearby areas,” an NHAI official said.