Fossil Fuels, Climate Change and India’s COVID-19 Crisis

Time to Flourish | May 06, 2021

The surge of COVID-19 cases and the humanitarian crisis now unfolding in India has shocked the world and led to a search for an explanation of how the situation got so bad so fast. Scientists are investigating several factors including new variants and public health officials have pointed to underinvestment in the country’s health system.

Undoubtedly, the causes are varied, and as I watched the numbers surge, I began to wonder whether it’s worth considering the role air pollution may be playing. Since the early days of the pandemic, researchers have understood that exposure to polluted air makes people more vulnerable to COVID-19, and India’s megalopolises are among the most polluted in the world. “We understand that the impact of pandemic can be higher in polluted regions where people’s lungs have already been weakened due to long term exposures,” says Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of research and advocacy at Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi. “That makes Indian cities vulnerable.”

There’s been some research on air pollution and COVID-19 in India specifically, but it’s probably first worth looking at the bigger picture. A slew of studies have shown direct links between exposure to air pollution and vulnerability to COVID-19. One paper published in December in the journal Cardiovascular Research found that chronic exposure to particulate matter—a type of pollution that results from a mix of chemicals that come from sources like smokestacks and fires—is likely linked to some 15% of global COVID-19 deaths. Particulate matter doesn’t just come from fossil fuels, but the study’s authors found that more than 50% of air pollution-linked COVID-19 deaths are specifically connected to fossil-fuel use.

A seemingly endless stack of studies has shown the causal links that explain this: extended exposure to air pollution contributes to a range of ailments—from asthma to diabetes—that are risk factors for COVID-19.

The research in India is still in early stages, but scientists have already begun to evaluate the local connection. A preliminary study out of Malaviya National Institute of Technology in Jaipur, India found a correlation between COVID-19 cases and air pollution and climatic conditions—like wind and humidity—in Delhi. Another preliminary paper from the World Bank relying on data from India found that a “1 percent increase in long-term exposure to [particulate matter] leads to an increase in COVID-19 deaths by 5.7 percentage points.” The study suggested a range of “urgent” interventions from promoting cleaner fuel sources to reducing pollution in the transportation system that would complement more obvious public health measures like vaccination and mask wearing.

“A scientific consensus seems to be emerging that improving air quality may play an important role in overcoming or at least reducing the impacts of the pandemic,” the authors of the World Bank paper wrote. “Research implies that pollution must be limited as much as possible when lockdowns are lifted.”

This dynamic is important to understand not only because it helps explain one factor that has worsened the pandemic, but also because it offers a lens into so-called “climate co-benefits”—a key consideration that helps make the case for urgent action on climate change. That term refers to the positive effects beyond carbon dioxide emissions reduction that result from tackling climate change. Co-benefits range from improved soil health (resulting from agricultural practices that reduce carbon emissions) to improved energy security (as a positive outcome of expanding renewable energy sources and reducing reliance on fossil fuel imports).

But perhaps no co-benefit is more significant—and more urgent—on a global level than the clean air that results from nixing fossil fuels. In India, for example, chronic exposure to air pollution causes the premature death of more than a million people each year. Hundreds of thousands more are similarly affected in China. Even in the U.S., which has relatively strict environmental standards, more than 100,000 people have been estimated to die prematurely due to particulate matter air pollution every year, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And, in the U.S. and around the world, the burden falls disproportionately on low-income communities of color.

Policymakers and scientists have had many a thorny debate about the best ways to account for those co-benefits, but on a purely human level it’s another example of how tackling climate change would save lives—not just 30 years in the future but right now.

960 mega watt Polavaram hydel power plant works gain steam

The Indian Express | May 02, 2021

The contracting agency and authorities have targeted to complete all the foundation works of the power project by May 31, according to the plan.

VIJAYAWADA:  With AP Power Generation Company (APGENCO) Ltd issuing the letter of award (LoA) for the execution of Polavaram hydroelectric power plant to Megha Engineering and Infrastructures Ltd (MEIL) a few weeks ago, the authorities have chalked out a strategy to complete the works of the 960-mega watt (MW) hydel power station in time. The contracting agency and authorities have targeted to complete all the foundation works of the power project by May 31, according to the plan.

Out of the 118.2 lakh cubic metres of foundation works, about 110 lakh cubic metres of excavation works have been completed and plans are afoot to conclude the remaining by the end of this month.  The hydel power plant, which will have 12 units of 80 MW each once complete, cleared all the legal tangles, which arose from the state government’s decision to cancel the awarded contract and go for re-tendering, in December, 2020. “After clearing the legal hurdles, the LOA of contract has been given to the contracting agency and formalities have been concluded earlier in April,” official sources said.

 As per the contract, the time for execution is 58 months. However, the officials and the contracting agency are planning to complete the works at the earliest and commission the project by 2024. While irrigation component’s head works are being taken up on priority, the power station’s works are also apace.  Meanwhile, APTRANSCO is also working on establishing necessary infrastructure for evacuation of power from the powerhouse.

For the record, the power station is coming up to the left of the spillway instead of the conventional design of being adjacent to the spillway, the officials added.  Coming up in about 107 acres of area in Angaluru village in Devipatnam mandal of East Godavari district, flood water will be released from a height of 27 metres, thereby generating hydel power.

Each unit of the powerhouse, which will have vertical generators and vertical Kaplan turbines, would have 331 cumecs of water discharge capacity and can produce 2,308.41 million units of power. A total of 24 gates with 12 intake gates, three stop log gates and 12 pressure tunnels are to be constructed.

The water reaches the power house via intake from the approach channel and following power generation it would flow back into River Godavari through the tail race channel. In the last week of December, 2020, BHEL bagged the electro mechanical works from MEIL. The scope of E and M works include manufacture and supply of hydro Kaplan turbines.

Government should make suitable amendments in MMDR Act

The Hitvada | B K Shukla | 28-04-2021

Recently the Central Government amended The Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act-1957, a parent statute, which contain regulations for grant of mining leases in India. Reasons cited for amendments in the Act is to boost domestic production and to reduce import of minerals but it does not seems to achieve the object. 1. “Mining operation” occurring in Section 4A of MMDR Act-2015 is now replaced by “production and dispatch”, as result Lessee has to start production and dispatch of mineral from lease area within two years from date of executing mining lease agreement. This period of two years could be extended by maximum period of 1 year, if lessee satisfied the Government that reasons for not producing and dispatching the mineral from his mine were beyond his control. Thus after period of three years, mining lease will be lapsed.

Lapsed lease could be revived, only once during entire period of lease, if lessee satisfies the Government that reasons for not producing and dispatching the mineral from his mine were beyond his control. It is pertain to note, within above period of time, lessee has to procure all “Statuary Clearance” like environment clearance, consent to operate the mine, consent of occupier of land, Forest clearance etc. and thereafter lessee have to install plant and machinery, construct road within mine and remove over burden of mine and to continue such extraction and dispatch the mineral from the mining lease without interruption during entire period of mining lease, irrespective of market conditions, lock-down, strike, labour problems or directives of authorities not to undertake mining operation. Government should examine and consider the reasons for which the lessee could not start or continue mineral production in the mine. Shortage of minerals in the domestic market cannot be overcome by lapsing existing mining leases and allotting same, through auction, to others.

  1. Tenders for allotment of minerals blocks, through auction, were invited by the State Government from “specified category of bidders” who undertakes to consume 100% of minerals in their own industry (Captive use). Such successful bidders were not allowed to sale minerals in open market. Through amendment in Section 8 and 8A of Act, the Central Government now permit such lessees to sale up to 50% minerals so produced from auctioned mine in open market, on payment of additional amount to the State Government. Had there been this condition in the tender document to sell 50% of annual production in the open market, a number of otherwise eligible applicants would have participated in the auction process and the State Government would have fetched a better premium on allotment of such mineral blocks. Subsequent relaxation to sell mineral being contrary to terms of tender documents is therefore bad in law. According to the Ministry of Mines, one of the reasons for this amendment is to make available in open market huge quantity of mineral, extracted during the last 50 years, stocked unutilised at mine head of PSU. It is matter of record that this unutilised stock of mineral is of low grade (mineral reject) therefore same could not be utilized in mineral industries. Amendments in these provisions of law will help lessees (who before amendment were not allowed to sale their mineral in open market) to sale their high grade mineral in open market. Moreover such lessees are required to pay lesser additional amount to the State Government (at the rate zero to 50% of royalty payment) in compare to lessees, who were allowed to sale the mineral in open market, (at rate of 100 to 200% of royalty payment).
  2. The Government acknowledges, it requires longer period of time for procuring environment clearances, consent to operate the mine from PCB, Forest clearances, consent of occupier of land to enter piece of land for undertaking mining operation (in some cases, such clearances are not granted even after 10 years) and therefore by amending Section 8B of the Act, validity of such statuary clearances, if already procured by previous lessees, will be extended to new lessees. Since provisions of MMDR Act and provisions for grant of above statuary clearances are govern by different statutes and separate ministries / departments, enforcement of this amendment may not help new lessees in undertaking mining operation without acquiring such clearances individually. If the Government acknowledges it is beyond control of applicant / lessees to acquire above statuary clearance in short period of time it is unfair on part of the Government, to declare the entire bunch of pending applications as lapsed (for not procuring said clearances by applicants in time), by amendment in section 10A of Act.
  3. By deleting Sub-Section (6) of Section 12A, the Government has now allowed to transfer mining leases, acquired otherwise through auction, by lessees, in favour of third parties (subject to additional payment to the State Government, mentioned in the “Sixth Schedule” of Act). Such lessees are at liberty to charge premium, from prospective transferee, for transfer of mining leases. This amendment will boost trading of mineral concessions 5. Long pending suggestion of mining industry for appropriate amendment in MMDR Act: Since the Central Government is authorised, under provisions of the Constitution, to take control of regulation and development of mines and minerals in India, suitable amendments should be made in MMDR Act authorising the Central Government to obtain all clearances required for undertaking mining operation, before any mineral block is made available for auction. The author is Mining Law Consultant and can be contacted at [email protected]

AP govt. decides to construct new lift system at Polavaram project, releases Rs. 912 crore

The Hans India | April 20, 2021

The government has decided to carry out lift system works at Polavaram to meet the housing needs of the famine-hit hilly areas of West Godavari and Krishna districts between January and April apart from releasing abundant water for rabi crops in the Godavari delta from the Polavaram project. State Water Resources Secretary J Shyamala Rao on Monday issued administrative sanction of Rs 912.84 crore for the work. The minimum water level of Polavaram project is 41.15 meters. If the water level in the project is at the level of 35.50 meters the water can be moved on gravity through the Polavaram right canal. However, if the water level falls below 35.50 meters, not a drop of water will reach the right canal of Polavaram.

The hilly areas of West Godavari and Krishna districts are experiencing drought conditions. During the summer, there is a severe shortage of water for drinking and domestic purposes in these areas. In this context, the Polavaram CE submitted proposals to the government on January 22 to divert 35.50 meters to 32 meters of water from the Polavaram project into the right canal connection between January and April and supply it to households in the hilly areas of West Godavari and Krishna districts. The Polavaram project can supply water below 32 meters in abundance to rabi crops in the Godavari delta. The government has given administrative sanction of Rs 912.84 crore for the management of the scheme for 15 years to undertake these uplift works.

Polavaram will render people from 192 villages homeless

Deccan Chronicle | April 11, 2021

KAKINADA: All those who have been displaced from 192 villages because of Polavaram Project are living in fear amid insecurity. They are all worried that the villages would be submerged in June or July because of cyclones and floods. They appealed to the Union and state governments to provide a relief and resettlement package to them, before the completion of Polavaram Project.

According to them, nearly 3.5 lakh people, from Schedule Tribe and Scheduled Caste, are facing a threat of their livelihood. According to sources, the government completed 70 per cent of Polavaram project works by the end of December but only four percent of the R & R package was implemented. The Chief Minister aimed at completing the project by the year-end.

As per the 2017 statistics, 5,08,874 persons have been displaced and the number may increase.

The state government had announced that 371 villages will be submerged due to the project and CCLA has given permission for providing R&R package to 164 villages. However, only 15 villages have been given partial R&R packages.

Indian Association of Lawyers state executive member Inapurapu Suryanaryana said that the Comptroller and Audit General (CAG) found fault with the project as there is no MoU between Centre and the state government on construction of Polavaram project and advised the state government to reach a truce with the Union Government for the sake of the project.

To avoid submergence problems, the Centre advised state governments of Odisha and Chhattisgarh to construct protection walls at eight and four places, respectively. But, either has obliged. He said that the Union Government has also not taken any steps to have cases filed in the Supreme Court to be withdrawn by Odisha and Chhattisgarh.

SC, ST vigilance and monitoring committee district member Ayithabathula Rameswara Rao demanded the government to halt Polavaram project works till the completion of R&R package works to 371 villages. He said that the ST Commission recommendations have not been implemented by the governments so far. Adivasi maha sabha district secretary Karam Venkateswara Rao said that tribal people should be given fertile lands as compensation. The government should provide livelihood to people who will lose their forest products. He demanded the government should make a fresh integrated survey on the number of displaced persons and families under the project under New Land Acquisition Amendment Act, as the socio economic survey was last done in 2005 and there were no environmental clearance for the project till 2009.

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