Fly ash shortage, pre-cast concrete units suffer

– Industries have to knock at the Chief Engineer’s – office in Chennai – Companies forced to stop production – Manufacturing units allotted fewer tonnes (India): “Shortage” in availability of fly ash, a high-polluting by-product from thermal power plants, has hit the pre-cast concrete industry in this district. These industries manufacture hollow blocks (hollow bricks), pavement blocks, or compound wall slabs, by mixing fly ash with cement, sand and blue metal. The mix of fly ash in pre-cast concrete products has two advantages: Correct mix of fly ash in the right quantity adds strength to the material; and it helps in the easy disposal of the pollutant in a useful way. Keeping in mind the twin advantages, the Union Government made it mandatory for thermal power stations to give 20 per cent fly ash at no cost to pre-cast concrete manufacturing industries that are small scale industries, and sell the rest to big cement manufacturing companies. In Tamil Nadu, the State Government sanctions the prescribed 20 per cent to various manufacturing units based on their letters requesting renewed allotment. This takes place annually at the office of the Chief Engineer, Civil Designs, Tamil Nadu Electricity Board, in Chennai. But now the industries are forced to knock at the Chief Engineer’s door every quarter, which they resent. “Things have worsened after the new Government took over. This frequent renewal paralyses the manufacturing process and increases renewal time,” complains S. K. Rajeshwar of R. M. Concrete. He is a member of the committee that resolves disputes over fly ash allotment. His and other manufacturers’ grouse is while the earlier renewal process affected the production only once a year, the current set up hampers it four times, forcing them to stop production for about 15 days every quarter. The other problem is that the manufacturers go to Chennai for renewed fly ash allotment, while a few years ago, they got it sanctioned at the nearby Mettur Thermal Power Plant. “In the past the process was decentralised. A senior TNEB officer had the allotment powers. But now everything takes place in Chennai, which affects our production,” Mr. Rajeshwar complains. The manufacturers’ other complaint is insufficient allotment of fly ash. The fate of a unit in Modakurichi is a case in point. It demanded 150 tonnes for three months but got only 60. The unit’s owner, who wants to remain anonymous, has stopped production. Workers in his factory are in search of alternative employment. Similarly, Mr. Rajeshwar’s unit is not functioning to capacity because he has got just 250 tonnes a month against the required 1,500 tonnes. These manufacturers allege irregularities in the allotment. “Manufacturing units like us are allotted fewer tonnes while those that exist only on paper siphon off huge quantities, which they later sell in the open market at a high premium,” Mr. Rajeshwar alleges. He adds: “What is allotted free of charge to small scale units is sold in the market for Rs. 100 to Rs. 300 a tonne.” They further charge that the frequent renewal, and centralised allotment process have led to a cartel, which controls the trade to create artificial demand. The manufacturers demand decentralised annual allotment of fly ash to small units, from Mettur itself, and in required quantities to prevent a scandal. By: Karthik Madhvan

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