Minister for Environment Forests Jairam Ramesh visited Okhla-Timarpur toxic plant on March 31 and interacted with agitated residents who had also turned up in good numbers to express their displeasure over the setting up of the hazardous incinerator plant in the locality. The minister calmed down the agitated residents by promising them that he would look into the case. Also, the minister assured the residents that he would inquire in to how no resident or civil society people turned up at a public hearing conducted by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) before the construction of the plant was begun.
Before giving a green signal to the controversial 1,000 tonne-per-day “waste-to-energy” incinerator in the residential area, the DPCC had called a public hearing. Now, it is using it as an excuse to accelerate work at the site saying that nobody had raised their voices against the toxic plant then. But the residents are not convinced with the argument. Some 50 residents, including members of Toxics Watch Alliance, an environmental group and a local Congress leader, were present at the site to confront the minister with documents. A local resident Vimal Monga told OKHLA TIMES: “We don’t remember of any such public hearing. We are happy that the minister’s response is positive. Also, we handed over the proceedings of the public hearing drafted by DPCC to the minister.”
Other residents were quite confident that the minister would take some positive steps in addressing the burning issue. A resident from Eshwar Nagar Colony Anant Trivedi said there was little point in attending any hearing when the environment impact assessment was not made available to the public until March 2011.
Ramesh was accompanied by other officials including Prof. S.P. Gautam, Chairman, and Central Pollution Control Board. After some argument, DPCC officials present at the site admitted to Ramesh that only two of their own staffers were present for the hearing conducted in 2007.
Since March 2005 when a MOU was signed for the project the residents have been protesting against the setting up of the plant that uses technology known to emit dangerous dioxins, furans and toxic oxides. The minister was also informed that the plant was being built by Jindal Ecopolis in violation of a Supreme Court order in 2005, banning waste-to-energy plants.
However, in 2007, the court partially lifted the ban allowing five pilot projects on an experimental basis on biological treatment method but it is not one of those projects and the thermal technology too is non-biological, according to a press release issued by the Toxics Watch Alliance.
Later on the Supreme Court ruling echoed a White Paper produced by the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) stating: “The government claims that this plant will generate electricity, but it will only generate dioxins and other toxic emissions.”
It appears that the pressure mounted on the government has worked with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) withdrawing from the Okhla-Timarpur waste to energy plant that was expected to start operations in November 2011. Moved by the stiff resistance being put up by residents, waste pickers and environmental groups, the Comptroller Auditor General of India (CAG) and Delhi High Court have rebuked the concerned ministries for the project. Now the residents want the MoEF to cancel the flawed environmental clearance given to this hazardous plant.
Some residents are furious that by not stopping work at the plant the government is protecting the interest of private corporations and not the residents. The convener of Toxics Watch Alliance, Gopal Krishna, said: “We will not rest until and unless the project is scrapped or shifted from the area.” Another resident Amit also wants the project to be closed immediately.
Asha Arora said: “We are bringing out another rally this Sunday against this project.” It is expected that some 200 residents from across the colonies will turn up. They will march from the plant to Mathura road.