India Coal
Noise, pollution, trucks, coal dust and misery from Adani’s Raigarh coal-power plant to escalate
Jan 23, 2024
The Adani Group is proceeding with a colossal expansion to its Raigarh coal-power plant in India despite pollution and fines.

The Adani Group is planning to expand its Raigarh coal-power plant by a colossal 1.6 GW. Neighbouring people are already suffering the effects of coal dust, other pollutants, noise and dangerous congestion of local roads due to the existing 600 MW plant. The Adani company concerned has been slapped with a US $740,000 fine for violations of environmental laws. Rather than pay the fine and fix up its act, the company has managed to get a higher court to suspend the fine for the time being.

This article concerns the Adani Group’s coal-power plant (proposed for expansion) in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, India. Key details:

  • Raigarh Energy Generation Limited (subsidiary of Adani Power Limited)
  • Location: Bade Bhandar-Chhotte Bhandar, Pussore, District: Raigarh, Chhattisgarh
  • Capacity: 600 MW
  • Proposed Expansion: Addition of 2 units of 800 MW each (total expansion of 1.6 GW)
  • Total project cost (including cost of existing unit): Rs 16,500 crore (US $2 billion)
  • Cost of expansion: Rs 13,600 crore (US $1.6 billion)

Adani's polluting Raigarh coal-power plant in the fertile fields of Chhattisgarh, India.

The cacophony of noisy kids dispersing from school breaks the silence of the early afternoon. The noise is loud enough to drown the shrieking horns of trucks and dumpers hurtling down the national highway running parallel to the school’s boundary wall. In their trail, the vehicles leave a pall of dust and smoke.

Coal trucks leave a pall of dust and smoke on their way to and from Adani's Raigarh coal-power plant in Chhattisgarh, India.

Most of the dust settles on the greenery abutting the highway. Some of it enters the nostrils and lungs of the young schoolkids, leaving them gasping for breath and trembling with violent bursts of coughing. Hundreds of trucks speed past the school campus every day carrying coal to the Adani Group’s massive power project in Raigarh in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. Several more bring back toxic fly-ash, generated as waste after the combustion of coal in the power plant, along the same highway.

The school campus, spread over a large area, comprises separate buildings for primary, middle-school and higher secondary students. It is the only government-run school in Bade Bhandar, a village located about 1.5 km from the coal-fired power plant. In a dingy eatery across the highway, just opposite the school, Suresh Maitry (40) polishes off a humble meal consisting of samosa (a pastry filled with savories) and chhole ki subzi (a watery gravy of white peas and diced potatoes).

Suresh Maitry (40), a labourer, outside a small eatery on a road plied by Adani coal trucks.

‘About a thousand kids are enrolled in this school,’ says Maitry, a laborer. ‘They use the same road as these heavy vehicles. The road is not safe for the schoolkids. The drivers do not obey traffic rules. They always drive at very high speeds.’

Maitry’s children study in the higher secondary classes. Due to paucity of space, their classes are conducted every afternoon in a second shift that begins around noon. It has been Maitry’s daily routine for the past couple of years to partake a light meal at the eatery after dropping his kids at school.

‘Though my kids are in their teenage years, I do not let them go alone to school,’ he says. ‘These unruly trucks and dumpers always pose a risk.’

Many girls walk with their bicycles across the road before pedaling back home. Boys cycle past dumpers driving dangerously close to them.

Minutes later, hundreds of school kids pour out into the road as the school bell goes off. Many girls walk with their bicycles across the road before pedaling back home. Boys cycle past dumpers driving dangerously close to them. A minibus halts and picks up some of the kids. Many of the kids walk lazily along the road, rambling and loitering, oblivious to the sirens of the hurtling vehicles. Some of the more careless kids stray onto the highway chattering amongst themselves. Older kids arrive from different directions to the school for their shift of classes to begin. Some of them are on foot while others are on bicycles. There is not a single traffic cop to monitor and regulate the simultaneous movement of kids and heavy vehicles on the highway.

Huge coal trucks pass close to the school and school children on their way to and from their classes.

‘Towards the end of each month, the numbers of coal-laden trucks multiply,’ says Lalit (37), the eatery owner who is seated across Maitry. ‘The vehicles are queued up for miles along the highway and they move at a snail’s pace. It is that time which is the most dangerous for kids because there is hardly any space left on the road. The amount of pollution in the air at that time is unbearable.’

Lalit's wife prepares somosas in a small eatery by the side of a road dirty with trucks carrying Adani's coal.

Lalit’s wife is busy at the front of the eatery preparing a fresh batch of samosas. They will be deep-fried in a pan of hot oil. Coal dust flying off the passing vehicles settles on the food in a thick grayish coat of dust. Some of it gets deposited in the oil lying idle in a huge pan.

(Story continues below)

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The 600 MW coal-fired power plant stands amidst lush farms, barely 30 km from Raigarh’s city centre, with its large chimney emitting toxic smoke into the air. A huge sign of Adani Power Limited, the Adani Group subsidiary which owns the power plant, welcomes visitors at the main gate of the plant’s premises. Scores of trucks and dumpers are parked near the main gate as well as across the road in front of it. Further down, coal-laden dumpers grind their way along a narrow, winding road, constructed exclusively for coal transportation from the highway to the plant.

A coal dumper grinds its way towards Adani's Raigarh coal-power station.

The Adani Group completed acquisition of the company owning the power plant – renamed Raigarh Energy Generation Limited – in the financial year 2019-20 in a corporate debt insolvency case. Now, the business conglomerate has plans to expand the plant’s production capacity by more than three-and-a-half times.

In August 2023, the Modi government provided the Adani Group with terms of reference for carrying out an environment impact assessment for the expansion project. Total land required for the expansion project is 355.71 hectares (including the existing facility) spread across the villages of Bade Bhandar, Chhote Bhandar, Sarvani and Amli Bhanuna in Raigarh’s Pussore tehsil (an administrative unit). The land is already in the possession of the company. The Adani Group will spend a massive Rs 13,600 crore (US 1.6 billion) to install two additional units of 800 MW.

The entrance to Adani's 600 MW Raigarh coal-power plant, set to undergo a colossal expansion.

However, the government has asked the project proponent to carry out a cumulative environmental impact assessment study of all the existing and proposed projects in a 15-km radius of the plant before undertaking expansion work.

In early November 2023, when this correspondent visited Raigarh, dates for conducting the mandatory public hearing to discuss potential environmental impacts of the expansion project were yet to be notified. Government activities had come to a standstill as the ‘model code of conduct’ for Chhattisgarh’s assembly elections was in force. However, people from amongst the local communities interviewed by this correspondent expressed apprehension about the potential environmental impacts of the huge expansion given the sketchy records of coal-fired power plants that have apparently not fulfilled promises of economic development in the region.

Adani's Raigarh coal-power plant - set to expand by 1.6 GW to three and a half times its existing output.

The Adani Group has claimed that the project will generate nearly 400 direct jobs and 500 indirect jobs after the expansion is completed. It has also claimed that inflow of high-income groups into the area, as result of the expansion, will result in economic growth.

But the project is located very close to the confluence of two major waterbodies – the Mand River which is 1.4 km to the south-west and the Mahanadi River, 3.5 km to its south. The Adani Group proposes to extract 95,996 cubic metres of water per day from the Mahanadi River, which is an important source of water for Chhattisgarh as well as the neighboring east Indian state of Odisha through which it drains into the Bay of Bengal. Incidents of illegal dumping of fly ash at the confluence of the Mand and Mahanadi, and the resulting pollution, have been reported in the recent past. However, the plants involved in these dumping activities have not yet been officially identified.

Around half a dozen men, bathing in a pond by the side of a road that branches off from the highway into the settlements of Bade Bhandar, are aghast when told about the impending expansion of the coal-power plant. They tell me the pond belongs to the village and has catered to the basic needs of the community for at least a century despite being polluted by the coal plant in recent times.

These men, bathing at a communcal pond, were horrified to learn of the impending expansion of Adani's Raigarh coal-power plant.

‘Truth be told, there has been no improvement in the quality of our lives after the establishment of the power plant,’ a 30-year-old man employed at the power plant said on condition of anonymity. ‘Rather, we are facing economic hardship. An adequate number of jobs was never generated for the project-affected families. Farm output has declined owing to coal dust.’

'Farm output has declined owing to coal dust,' said a local about the impacts of Adani's Raigarh coal-power plant.

Most households of Bade Bhandar own farmland in an area lying between the village and the power plant. Chatur Singh Maitri (60), a local farmer bathing at the pond, said: ‘In the last few years, I noticed a peculiar pattern in my crops. The paddy that I harvested from my farm contained very few seeds. It needs to be examined if this is a result of the pollution caused by the power plant. An expansion of the project will further worsen our living conditions. Even the pond in which we are bathing is polluted with coal dust, but we have no option other than to use its water’.

A priest at the local temple, Ashwini Das Bairagi (56), recounted an incident of mass killing of fish from another pond located inside the village.

‘One fine morning, masses of dead fish were seen floating on the surface of the other pond,’ he said. ‘People stopped consuming fish from the pond after that. The incident could have been triggered by water pollution from coal dust and fly ash.’

The Adani Group's signature in the coal dust that blankets the environs of its Raigarh coal-power plant.

A government-run primary health centre located on the same side of the road as the pond bears testimony to the rampant pollution. Copious amounts of coal dust and fly ash blanket the vehicles parked inside the facility as well as on its signboard. The main gate of the health centre is derelict and hangs loose on its hinges.

‘Local people mostly come with complaints of respiratory illnesses and skin diseases,’ a hospital staff member said on the condition of anonymity. ‘These illnesses are mostly caused by air and water pollution. We administer primary treatment and refer aggravated cases of sickness to higher centres.’

The most common complaints dealt with at this government health-care centre are respiratory diseases.

Daduram Chauhan (48) sells green vegetables from a shack along the highway. The vegetables that he displays are withered and covered with a coat of coal dust. ‘There is no escaping the coal dust. It enters the intestines through food. But people do not have an alternative,’ Chauhan said.

'There is no escaping the coal dust.' A vegetable vendor and his friend outside his stall along the highway travelled by Adani coal trucks.

The woes of the local population resulting from trucking of coal are not expected to vanish. The two new units of the expanded power plant will require 8.15 million tons of coal per annum which will be transported to the power plant along the same highway from mines in Raigarh and the neighboring district of Korba. A system for transportation of coal through the railway route is still under construction nearly 13 years after environmental clearance for the project was first granted in May 2010 to its previous owner, the Korba West Power Company Limited.

Out of the health-care clinic and onto the streets, dangerous and polluted due to coal-truck traffic.

The central government has, from time to time, granted extensions for coal transportation to the project site using the road network. On 16 April 2015, the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), which carries out assessments of potential ecological impacts of coal-fired projects for the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (‘the ministry’), recommended granting a three-year extension for transportation of coal to the project site using roads.

The plant remained idle for a period of more than 1.5 years when the original owner, Korba West Power Company Limited, went bankrupt. It had filed for bankruptcy before fulfilling its own commitment of completing the railway line by March 2021. The railway project had been in limbo since May 2017 when the 600-MW unit was completely shutdown due to a technical glitch.

Adani's sign looms behind a traffic barricade set up by the local police.

After resuming operations in December 2019 following its takeover, the Adani Group sought an extension from the central government in March 2020 for road transportation of coal for an additional period of three years. It said that coal would be transported by road for a distance of 47 km from a siding at Bhupdevpur village in Raigarh to the project site. It informed the EAC that a sum of Rs 116.42 crore (US $14 million) would be required for the railway project. Land-acquisition proceedings for it were yet to be completed. Acquisition of nearly 65 hectares of land – from the total requirement of 208.5 hectares – was pending at the time.

‘The coal requirement is 8800 tonnes/day which will involve 752 trips (to and fro) from Bhupdevepur (sic) railway siding to the plant premises,’ said the company.

The Adani Group has received repeated approvals and extensions of approvals for coal to travel by road to the Raigarh power plant instead of the previously stipulated rail option.

The EAC had already permitted road transportation of coal for five years. Nevertheless, in a meeting held on 10 April 2020 amid the nationwide Covid lockdown in India, it recommended an extension of one year. This extension was granted subject to conditions of carrying out a traffic impact-assessment study, adhering to various pollution-control measures, and ensuring transportation using larger vehicles with covered tarpaulins to avoid dissipation of fugitive dust. The one-year extension period ended on 15 April 2021.

The EAC has met on 44 occasions after granting that one-year extension of 10 April 2020. The Adani Group never filed a request for further extension. In July 2023, it filed an application with the ministry seeking clearances to expand the overall capacity of the thermal power plant.

In January 2023, the Chhattisgarh government slapped penalties on nine coal power plants, including the Adani-owned plant, for environmental violations caused by transportation of coal along the road network. These nine power plants procure coal from the Kulda and Garjanbahal open-cast mining projects in the western part of Odisha using the road network.

The penalties were imposed following an order of India’s premier environmental court, the National Green Tribunal, which had asked the state government to determine and recover environmental compensation for past violations by various project proponents. Penalties were also determined for construction of roads damaged by coal transportation. The tribunal sought an action plan from the government to put in place a system for transportation of coal from collieries to various power plants by conveyor belts and rail. It further ordered the establishment of a committee to supervise ‘coal transportation in [a] pollution-free manner’ in an order dated 12 January 2023.

A coal dumper en route to Adani's Raigarh coal-power plant - this dangerous and polluting traffic is set to increase if Adani's expansion plans proceed.

The Chhattisgarh government issued a letter to Adani’s power project imposing a total penalty of Rs 6.1689 crore (US $746,000).

‘You have transported 479,520.07 tons of coal in the year 2020-21 and 1,009,382.46 tons in the year 202l-22, Total – 1,488,902.53 tons by road from Kulda to Tamnar. Whereas houses of villagers, schools and other social infrastructures are located adjacent to the above road. Whereas plying of heavy trucks carrying coal from the Kulda Mine to industries in Chhattisgarh are generating fugitive dust emissions causing hardship to the people of the villages living in the nearby areas.

'Whereas villagers are facing problems of noise pollution during plying of heavy vehicles. Whereas pollution by transportation of heavy vehicles is causing adverse effects on human health. Whereas there are five villages namely Lamdand, Khuruslenga, Dhourabhata, Jhinkabahal and Ribra are situated nearby the road. Some schools, hospital and anganbadi [rural child-care centres] are also located nearby the road … your industry is liable to pay Environmental compensation of Rs. 2.120 crores and share of construction cost of new road of Rs.4.0489 crores, amounting to total Rs. 6.1689 Crores,” the environment conservation board wrote in a letter dated 20 January 2023b (See Annexure VI of document).

The Adani company was fined approx. US $750,000 for environmental breaches associated with its Raigarh coal-power plant and the road transport of coal.

The Adani-owned power project was amongst the firms that appealed against the penalties in the high court of Chhattisgarh. The high court issued a stay on 17 February 2023 on the ‘effect and operation’ of the green tribunal’s order. The stay order was further extended when the case was last heard on 12 May 2023. Meanwhile, the green tribunal called Raigarh Energy Generation Limited and other power projects as respondents in the case pending before it and sought responses from them in an order issued on 19 July 2023. The tribunal is yet to hear the case.