New Delhi– Taking a dim view of the Union Power Ministry shifting to 2022 the deadline for installing flue-gas desulfurization (FGD) in coal-fired thermal power plants, the Supreme Court on Wednesday told the ministry to be honest and say it will not do it or is incapable of doing it.

“Say honestly, we are not going to do it or we are incapable of doing it,” said the bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta describing the situation as “hopeless”.

The original deadline for installing FGDs on thermal power plants (TTP) to comply with the 2015 emission standards for sulphur dioxide (SO2) was December 2017 – a jump in deadline by five years.

Observing that “there is no will to do it”, Justice Lokur said: “File one line affidavit ‘We are not going to do it’ and we will close the matter.”

Saying that government was not bothered about the health of the people, the court described the affidavit as “illusionary” and there is “no will to bring down the pollution level”.

“How can you violate your own norms?” asked Justice Lokur.

At the outset of the hearing, advocate Ritwik Dutta told the court that the Power Ministry was not interested in installing the FGDs in thermal plants.

Dutta told the court that the affidavit filed by the ministry says that TTPs which have completed operational life of 25 years be allowed to operate for a limited numbers of hours and the feasibility of installing FGDs on those who are less than 25 years old will be examined by the Central Electricity Authority.

He further told the court that it says that TTPs which are less than 25 years of age but have no space for installing FGDs be allowed to complete their operating life of 25 years.

Sharing the concern of Dutta, amicus curiae Aparajita Singh told the court that the way things were moving, the FGDs would not be installed even by 2030.

“The schedule they have presented, it is not going to happen in 2022. They will not happen by 2030. No tenders have been floated. There is no plan when tenders will be floated,” she told the bench.

However, she urged the court not to close the matter as in last two years they have covered a considerable distance in direction of curbing the air pollution.

Justice Lokur admired Aparajita Singh for her “optimism”.

However things cooled down as Additional Solicitor General A.N.S. Nadkarni, appearing for the Power Ministry, told the court that there was a “gross default in missing the 2017 deadline and it can’t be taken lightly and the person responsible needs to be penalised”.

Telling the court that he was “not happy with the affidavit” filed by the ministry, Nadkarni said that the “December 2022 deadline can’t be met if they don’t wake up from slumber.”

Appreciating the offer by the amicus curiae Aparajita Singh and well-known environmentalist Sunita Narayan to co-operate in deciding the future course of action, Nadkarni sought time for a couple of days to come back with better response on the way forward.

Directing the next hearing on August 2, the court asked Nadkarni to state the number of TTPs with installed capacity of 500 MW capacity or more, how many of them are located in area with population density of 400 people per square Km.

The response will also indicate the steps to float the tenders for installing FGDs. (IANS)