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  Taming the fly ash menace.

Fresh amendments to the Fly Ash Rules are likely to go far in converting an unavoidable pollutant into a rich resource. The amendment also shows that unbeknownst to the average citizen the State behemoth does keep track of a wide variety of issues.

Fly ash is the fluffy by product resulting from burning coal in power stations. It is easily air borne and the only way to dispose it off was to dump it in excavations and keep it wet to prevent it from polluting the air. India is faced with 90 million tonnes of fly ash and has used up 65,000 acres of land as fly ash dumps.

But fly ash is a very usable resource. Indian coal ‘s ash is luckily does not contain toxic elements inclusions like sulphur and radio nuclides. It can be used in brick and cement manufacturing, as an additive to cement mortar, converted to an aggregate to blend with concrete, used in forming roads, embankments and dykes, converted to products like door and window frames to replace wood and so on. The Central Building Research Institute in Roorkee has for decades been researching fly ash applications.

The 1999 Fly ash Rules notified by the Ministry of Forests and Environment required manufacturers of tiles, bricks and hollow blocks within a 50 km radius of coal power stations to mix at least 25% fly ash into their inputs. The idea was to dispose off a waste while slowing down excavation of natural resources. The fresh amendments extend the area to a 100 km radius.

But there is a delicious twist built in: the onus has now shifted from manufacturers to users. Now, it is the builders’ responsibility to use a minimum of 25% fly ash products in all construction in the specified area. And there is a progressive time schedule specified by which 100% of all possible building materials have to be fly ash based. This would create a huge market for waste recycled tiles, bricks, hollow blocks and cement. Since India’s power stations will burn coal well into the foreseeable future this win-win policy will expand the economy, create jobs and save the environment.

Lay pay a silent tribute to our much reviled mandarins.
An earlier GoodNewsIndia story on the uses of fly ash in agriculture
An overview of the fly ash issue
Fly ash products
Full text of the amended rules