Delhi Govt’s budget ignores adverse public health consequences, promotes toxic waste based power plants
Chief Minister complicit in environmental lawlessness in the national capital
Disregarding bitter opposition to toxic waste based power plants by environmental groups, residents and waste recycling workers, in the Budget Speech made by Sheila Dikshit, the Chief Minister of Govt. of NCT of Delhi continues to approve waste to energy plants despite their violation of every rule in the rule book.
In her budget speech she says, “A 16MW Waste To Energy Plant has already been commissioned at Okhla, utilizing about 1950 tons of municipal solid wastes each day. Work on another Waste To Energy Plant at Ghazipur of 10MW is in progress, which would utilise about 1300 tons per day of municipal solid waste. We have approved a third Waste To Energy Plant of 24MW at Narela-Bawana Road that would utilise 3000 tons of municipal waste each day.” She is complicit in the emergence of a public health crisis due to exposures from highly hazardous emissions like heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants like Dioxins and furans.
In effect the Chief Minister is defending the controversial municipal waste based plant of Delhi’s Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Co Pvt Ltd (TOWMCL) of M/s Jindal Urban Infrastructure Limited (JUIL), a company of M/s Jindal Saw Group Limited. It is a case about a dubious carbon trade project in a densely populated residential area. The case against which was filed by the residents’ welfare association (RWA) of Sukhdev Vihar, Okhla in the Delhi High Court from 2009 to 2013 was transferred to the Tribunal on January 23, 2013 despite having been listed for some hearing 27 times without any relief. The matter is listed for next hearing before the Tribunal on April 4, 2013. What the Chief Minister is doing is an exercise a fait accompli to the Tribunal. Her support for the plant in her budget speech is unethical and appears to be an attempt to influence the verdict of the Tribunal which issued a bailable warrant against the MCD Commissioner for his non appearance during the last hearings on March 11, 2013.
The Chief Minister ignores the fact that its own Environment Department website reads: “Delhi had one municipal waste incinerator, but it never worked because Indian waste has low calorific value and is unsuitable for incineration.” The EIA-Okhla Report reveals that the proposal for the project was a “RDF plant at okhla will be designed to process 1300 TPD of MSW and is expected to generate around 450 TPD of Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) in the form of fluff” now the plant is a Chinese boiler technology based power plant.
With regard to Okhla waste to energy plant a bizarre situation has emerged because the arguments for Refuse Derived Fuel incineration technology that was advanced by the Chief Minister and her law officers to defend the polluting plant are no more relevant because the plant is using an experimental Chinese technology which was never ever mentioned at the time of submitting the project proposal and which remains unapproved. The environmental clearance was not for this technology.
Echoing the concerns of environmental groups and residents, earlier, opposition party leader of the BJP had also expressed apprehension over the location of such a plant in South Delhi saying “This plant would release various types of harmful gases which will certainly pose serious health threat to the lives of surrounding residents” Vijay Kumar Malhotra, BJP M.P. in a letter dated June 27, 2008 to the Lt. Governor of Delhi, Tejender Khanna referring to Okhla waste to energy plant.
Although belated even Congress MLA, Subhash Chopra wrote separately to Chief Minister of Delhi and Lt. Governor of Delhi, Tejender Khanna demanding inquiry into the toxic flay ash from the Jindal’s large plant on December 27, 2012.
Clearly, the Chief Minister is defending the indefensible and highly polluting waste based power plants as a political escape route from dealing with municipal waste as a management problem rather than a technological problem.
The reply of the Delhi Govt’s Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) to a Right to Information application regarding harmful effects of waste-to-energy plants on human life reveals its collusion and complicity with the waste to energy companies. Union Environment & Forests Minister has already informed the Parliament about the emissions from the waste to energy plants in Okhla based on DPCC data. It is quite strange that DPCC is pretending ignorance about the harmful health effects of these emissions. DPCC said, “There is no information available on the harmful effects of landfill sites and waste-to-energy plants on human life and Delhi’s environment in general.”
Union Minister for Environment & Forests Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan stated in Rajya Sabha informed the Parliament that “as per the Central pollution Control Board, the technology being used by the Waste-to-Energy plant at Okhla is as specified in the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000.” This is far from the truth.
The Environment Minister had informed the Parliament that “complaints were received against the incineration of municipal waste and its likely harmful effects on the air quality and health of people in the Sukhdev Vihar/Okhla area due to the emissions from Waste-to – Energy plant at Okhla.” She admitted that “on four occasions out of ten, levels of Particulate matter (PM) exceeded the standard of 150 mg/Nm3”. She did not reveal anything about the emissions of Dioxins/furans which remains one of the core concerns.
Delhi government and central government are showing unacceptable callousness towards hazardous emissions from municipal incinerators that cause serious environmental and health problems both to people living near them and thousands of kilometres from the source. These projects are destroying the livelihood of about 3.5 lakh waste recycling workers and valuable resource material for compost that is required to be treated by composting/anaerobic digestion/vermin composting/other biological processing for stabilization as per Municipal Solid Waste (Management & Handling) Rules.
The March 11, 2013 order of the Green Tribunal reads: “The grievance of the Petitioner was that this Unit, if established, would cause tremendous environmental implications in regard to its functioning and discharge of other effluents. The other submission made was that all round the Unit, in fact within 200 meters of the location of the Unit, there are residential colonies. The running of this Unit shall cause irreparable damage not only to the environmental but even to the health of the residents of that area. Thus would violate the constitutional protection granted to them under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. This petition was ordered to be transferred to this Tribunal by the order dated 23rd January, 2013 of the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi at New Delhi.” It was also heard on February 22, 2013.
The Tribunal issued the directions constituting a team of experts which consisting of Member Secretary of Central Pollution Control Board, Member Secretary of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, Representative Scientist from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, a Technical Expert to be nominated by the Applicant, a representative of the project proponent and Environmental Engineer from the Delhi Pollution Control Committee.
So far the fact that this waste based plant using experimental incinerator technology is in violation of the Supreme Court order has not been put on record. Waste to Energy projects based on incineration technology violate Supreme Court’s order dated May 6, 2005 wherein it said, “…we hope that till the position is clear, the Government would not sanction any further subsidies.” It is noteworthy that on May 15, 2007, the Court’s order “permit (s) Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources (MNES) to go ahead for the time being with 5 pilot projects chosen by them” but it is noteworthy that this refers specifically to bio-methanation technology. MNES is renamed as Ministry of New & Renewable Energy (MNRE). It has been revealed through Right to Information application that neither the proposed Delhi’s waste to energy incinerator projects one of those 5 pilot projects nor is it based on the recommended Biomethanation technology.
The Tribunal should take cognizance of the ‘White Paper on Pollution in Delhi with an Action Plan’ prepared by Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Chief Minister has been misled in to promoting it. The White Paper says, “The experience of the incineration plant at Timarpur, Delhi and the briquette plant at Bombay support the fact that thermal treatment of municipal solid waste is not feasible, in situations where the waste has a low calorific value. A critical analysis of biological treatment as an option was undertaken for processing of municipal solid waste in Delhi and it has been recommended that composting will be a viable option. Considering the large quantities of waste requiring to be processed, a mechanical composting plant will be needed.” The paper is available on Ministry’s website.
It is a test case for Tribunal as far as cardinal principles of municipal waste management and the grievances of the Okhla residents is concerned. The precedent the Tribunal sets will have far reaching implications for municipal waste management across the country. It will also reveal the limitations in dealing with a plant that is based on the primitive combustion technology that has been tried and tested and resulted in the failure of the Timarpur waste to energy plant. The Jindal’s plant is running after violating every rule in the rule book. It is a cause of point source of pollution.
After the failure of the Timarpur waste to energy plant, the Delhi High Court had ordered an enquiry by the Comptroller Auditor General (CAG). In its annual report dated March 1990, the Comptroller Auditor General of India (CAG) observed, “The Refuse Incinerator-cum-Power Generation Plant installed by Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources in March 1985 remained inoperative since its installation. The Ministry failed to utilise or dispose off the inoperative plant and incurred an expenditure of Rs 1.25 crore on maintenance and insurance of the plant.” The project was scrapped in July 1990. It is germane to note that Union Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources is now called Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy which provides a subsidy of Rs 1.5 crore/MW is distorting waste management in the country including Delhi. As per Supreme Court’s order such subsidies are not meant for incinerator plants like the one in Okhla.
The report of the Union Environment & Forests Ministry constituted Technical Experts Evaluation Committee of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on the Timarpur-Okhla Waste to Energy Incinerator Plant has condemned the Timarpur-Okhla Waste to Energy Incinerator Plant run by JITF Urban Infrastructure Limited (Jindal Ecopolis) as it has violated every rule in the rule book including environmental clearance conditions. It revealed to the Experts Committee in September 2011 that it is using untested and unapproved Chinese incinerator technology in complete violation all laws and environmental clearance of 2007 including its own project design document and environment impact assessment report. Chinese technology provider is from Hangzhou New Century Company Ltd of Hangzhou Boiler Group.
The plant faces bitter opposition from residents, waste pickers and environmental groups. Residential colonies of Sukhdev Vihar, New friends Colony, Maharani Bagh, Haji Colony and Ghaffar Manzil have been agitating against this plant that has been set lawlessly. Adjacent to the plant are major institutions such as the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), Apollo Hospital, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute and the Holy Family Hospital, besides several schools such as the Dev Samaj Public School.
It is claimed on the company’s website that the waste based power plant is registered as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project with United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) “for earning carbon credits.”
The company claims that the land on which the plant is operating “was transferred on lease by Government of Delhi from this 200 acre piece of land that had been earmarked for waste treatment facilities in Delhi’s master plan back in 1920’s.” The Municipal Solid Waste is being delivered by NDMC and MCD at the Okhla Power Plant site. Although it is claimed that “only non Hazardous Municipal Solid Waste will be treated at the facility”, the fact is Delhi’s mixed municipal waste has characteristics of hazardous waste.
There have been incessant demonstrations and protest rallies against this project. There is an ongoing campaign against it. The plant that has been built despite protest is 150 m from the residential areas. The area has a bird sanctuary, a university and three hospitals within a radius of 10 kilometres. All will be adversely affected by toxic fumes of the plant. The idea of waste to energy plants which is based on a tried, tested and failed incineration technology in Okhla.
Representatives of GTZ (German Technical Cooperation) led by Dr. Juergen Porst, Senior Advisor have stressed the need for a Disaster Management Plan in the very first meeting of the CPCB’sTechnical Expert Committee, which is annexed to the CPCB’sreport. But this does not find mention in the recommendations of the report. This finds reference in the minutes of the meeting annexed with the report. It underlines the possibility of disaster from the Timarpur-Okhla Waste to Energy Incinerator Plant, which is situated in a residential area. It is noteworthy that a hazardous plant in Bhopal’s residential area that led to world worst industrial disaster in 1984 also did not have any disaster management plan.
It is relevant to remember that the Timarpur-Okhla project began when the MCD proposed to initiate a waste to energy (WTE) project at Timarpur that uses incineration. The Timarpur Waste Management Company Pvt. Ltd. (TWMCPL), a subsidiary of Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd. (IL&FS) plans to generate 6 MW of electricity from the project at Timarpur, Delhi. TWMCPL is a subsidiary of IL&FS and has been created only for Timarpur project. A Memorandum of Understanding between MCD and IL&FS was signed in March 2005 by D K Mittal, the then CEO of TWMCPL and Rakesh Mehta, the then Commissioner of MCD. On March 14, 2005, MCD said that it plans to earn carbon credits from the project. Subsequently, TWMCPL was renamed as Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Co Pvt Ltd (TOWMCL) and it changed hands to become a subsidiary of the JUIL and incorporated Okhla site in its scheme of projects. The public health crisis in Okhla is the legacy of Rakesh Mehta’s tenure. It is only appropriate that the Tribunal that brought MCD’s role at the center stage.
Vimal Monga, ex-President, Sukhdev Vihar Resident Welfare Association Mb: 9711408421
Asha Arora, Okhla Anti-incinerator Committee, Mb: 9810499277
Okhla Anti-incinerator Committee, http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/ghoslaokhla