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Delhi Environment Minister’s assurance on Okhla plant welcome but DPCC’s legacy of complicity remains a concern

Written By Gopal Krishna on Friday, January 31, 2014 | 4:23 AM

Legacy of environmental lawlessness must be undone, an urgent inquiry into the questionable affairs of DPCC is a must   

Zero Waste approach should be adopted to deal with garbage crisis, not NIMBYism
Delhi Environment Minister, Saurabh Bhardwaj’s promise of action against Okhla waste incinerator plant is a welcome change from the previous regime but Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC)’s legacy of complicity remains a matter of concern. Residents of Okhla and environmental groups are hopeful that the consent to establish (No Objection Certificate) given by DPCC to the plant in question will be withdrawn to save Delhi from an avoidable environmental health crisis. This will be a step to undo the legacy of environmental lawlessness in Delhi.

DPCC is guilty of having facilitated the fake public hearing for the plant which led to the grant of NOC and environmental clearance in 2007. For a plant in Okhla, the hearing was done in Saket in presence of just three persons who were officials of the government and even this was announced for “waste processing facility” not for waste to energy (WTE) plant. This fact has been noted in writing by the then Union Minister of Environment & Forests in a letter to the previous Chief Minister but she being anti-environment and anti-people chose to collude with the waste incinerator company in question.  This letter was shared with the Delhi Environment Minister by the delegation.

The Okhla Waste to Energy (WTE) Incinerator plant by JITF Urban Infrastructure Limited (Jindal Ecopolis) has violated every rule in the rule book including environmental clearance conditions with complicity from the DPCC. An inquiry must be ordered to examine the dubious circumstances in which environmental regulations were admittedly violated with impunity. Based on the documents on record, complaints of the residents, the letter of Union Minister of Environment & Forests, fraudulent misrepresentation of facts regarding the project being in accordance with the Supreme Court’s order, minutes of the public hearing and the EIA report, there is a compelling logic for conducting an inquiry and fixing accountability for the acts of omission and commission of the officials in this matter.      
  
This lawlessness was unleashed on the residents of Okhla and Okhla Bird Sanctuary by Prithiviraj Jindal’s waste to energy plant based on unapproved and experimental Chinese technology. DPCC has consistently been indulgent and has been misleading the authorities disregarding the fact of Okhla colonies which are getting engulfed from the dust and pollution from the plant including New Friends Colony, Maharani Bagh, Ishwar Nagar, Sukhdev Vihar, Jamia Nagar, Jasola Vihar and Sarita Vihar Jamia Millia Islamia university, Holy Family hospital and several other colonies and institutions. 
The fact is that burning or incineration or combustion is unambiguously polluting. It may be noted that mother's milk in areas where waste burning takes place has already been tested and found to contain high amount of dioxins. Dioxins, are well known carcinogenic chemicals. Incinerators also emit greenhouse gases, especially from plastics. Incineration drives a negative spiral of increased energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Also, restrictive policies in typical incinerator contracts require a set amount of garbage. These contracts impose fees that that are a disincentive for a city to improve waste prevention strategies (i.e. reduction), recycling and composting collections.

Instead of making Delhi citizens suffer from such hazardous technologies there is a need for integrated zero waste management. Take the case of Gandhi Nagar, a town panchayat of around 2,400 families in Vellore district, Tamil Nadu. Gandhi Nagar generates garbage of over 48 tonnes per year. This garbage is converted into manure and recyclable waste generating over Rs.3 lakh in revenue, and the scheme provides employment to local people. Such measures promote sustainable development as against the current trend of introducing failed polluting technologies, which turn citizens into guinea pigs for experiments. Zero Waste approach should be adopted to deal with garbage crisis, not NIMBYism (Not in My Back Yard). Waste should not be shifted from richer localities to poorer localities.   

The Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Integrated Plant Nutrient Management has recommended setting up of 1000 compost plants all over the country and has allocated Rs.800 crore for the same in the year 2005. This report has been submitted in the Supreme Court in the writ petition (civil) no. 888/1996) case. Notably, this report recommends composting as a measure for waste management instead of energy recovery because Indian soil is carbon deficit.
The ideal resource management strategy for municipal solid waste is to avoid its generation in the first place. This implies changing production and consumption patterns to eliminate the use of disposable, non-reusable, non-returnable products and packaging. The alternative waste disposal methods include waste reduction, waste segregation at source, extended use and refuse, recycling, biomethanation technology and composting. Zero Waste approach should be adopted to deal with garbage crisis, not NIMBYism


In sum, the waste incinerator projects are technologically incompatible with reducing dioxins emissions and at the same time relies on minimum guaranteed waste flows. It indirectly promotes continued waste generation while hindering waste prevention, reuse, composting, recycling, and recycling-based community economic development. It costs cities and municipalities more and provides fewer jobs than comprehensive recycling and composting. It prohibits the development of local recycling-based businesses.

In keeping with the characteristics of Indian municipal solid waste -- low calorific value, high moisture content, high proportion of organic matter, and considerable inerts like earth, sand and grit – that the Supreme Court Committee on Solid Waste Management suggested simple technologies and easily achievable standards with liberal timeframe knowing the limitations of urban local bodies and their institutional capabilities. It made recommendations to improve the finances of urban local bodies and to boost the composting of waste and recycling industry in this field. Recycling can eliminate a large chunk of the problem. Wet biodegradable wastes (e.g. cooked and uncooked foods and flowers) make excellent for composting. Indian soil is deficient in carbon and that is also the need of the hour to enrich the soil. In the US alone, recycling conserves an equivalent of approximately 11.9 billion gallons of gasoline, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking one-fifth (40 million) of all US cars off the roads every year.

The move by the incineration industry to term waste incinerators as 'renewable energy' projects is not only fraudulent but also dangerous. The 25 year power purchase agreement for purchase of 50 % of what is generated (4-5 MW) by the Jindal’s plant in Okhla must be rescinded in view of the above facts. Municipal solid waste is not considered to be a renewable energy source since it tends to be a mixture of fuels that can be traced back to renewable and non-renewable sources. An inquiry is needed to examine as how much power has been generated and added by this unit. The agreement was signed under the misleading assumption that WTE is renewable energy. The advocates of incinerators prefer to pre-empt segregation and recycling efforts being made by municipalities and communities around the world. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) is due to hear the matter at next date of hearing is on 19-02-2014.

A delegation of Okhla Anti-Incinerator Committee (OAIC) and ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) met the minister on January 27, 2014 to apprise him of the scandal of the waste based power plant and shared documents which nail the lies of the company that runs the plant and the regulators. 

For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 09818089660, Mb:gopalkrishna1715@gmail.com, Web: www.toxicswatch.org 

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