The Public Hearing of Expansion of Waste based Power Plant from 15 MW to 25 MW at Bandhwari, Gurugram is scheduled to be held at the site of the proposed plant on 31st August, 2021. The notice of the Public Hearing reveals that there is a manifest procedural violation of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The Clause No. 1 of the EIA Notification, 2006 clearly states that the Hearing should give opportunity to "widest possible public participation". Disregarding this provision, the notice of the Environmental Public Hearing invites “suggestions and objections, if any, of the nearby public on the proposed project”. The notice makes a mockery of the EIA notification and the procedure of public hearing. Given the fact that air pollutants and water pollutants are long distance travellers and do require permission to go to farther places, confining the public hearing to “nearby public” transforms the EIA process into an empty ritual and a non-serious formality. It is a mockery also because there is no existing plant to expand. Initially, the project proponent submitted a proposal for 15 MW and now its is trying to expand it.
Residents of Gurugram in particular and environmental groups in general are seriously perturbed with this initiative of the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram in the name of ‘Integrated Municipal Solid Waste Processing Facility’ in their region. The proposed setting up of this monstrous municipal solid waste based “waste-to-energy” incineration project in question is highly polluting and hazardous. As per the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), all municipal waste combustors (i.e. incinerators), regardless of technologies, release a number of pollutants, including cadmium, lead, mercury, dioxin, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter. Dioxin and mercury are of particular concern because they are toxic, persist in the environment, and bioaccumulate. The decision of Municipal Corporation of Gurugram to set up and expand the said project is ill conceived, and blatantly ignores the present demography of the surrounding areas of the proposed site. How can it propose such a hazardous project in the vicinity of residential areas while ignoring the current geography of the area? This plant emits large quantities of hazardous and toxic emissions (such as dioxins and furans) due to burning of mixed Municipal Solid Waste, and profoundly affects the health of the people living in the surrounding areas and environment for all times to come in future. This is in violation of the fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and Articles 47, 48A and 51-A (g) of the Constitution. It disregards the provisions under Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules 2016, Rule 4(6), 4(7) and 4(8) which creates a compelling need for segregation of organic waste and composting or bio methanation. The proposed project is going to spoil the quality of life and living, the quality of the air for breathing, the quality of under-ground water and bring disaster to lives of all the residents. The burning of 1500 to 2000 Tonnes of municipal solid waste per day near Gurugram and in the middle of Bandhwari village exposes them to toxic fly ash and bottom ash.
It is noteworthy that no EIA report has been uploaded on the website of Haryana State Pollution Control Board’s Website or on the website of Municipal Corporation of Gurugram till recently. The notification on public hearing dated 28 July, 2021 made an incorrect claim that it is available in HSPSCB website. The Reginal Officer of the Board was asked to provide the EIA report but he never responded to email and telephonic communications.
The proposed plant is located amidst an ecologically sensitive zone-Aravalli forest- between Bandhwari and Damdama which is very rich in wildlife acts as a corridor between Asola Bhatti wildlife sanctuary. The proposed thermal power plant is less than 10 kms away from it. The Wildlife Institute of India has confirmed the presence of leopards, hyenas, jackals, nilgais, porcupines, palm civets and many birds around the landfill. It is threat to the fragile forest ecosystem, flora, fauna and habitats.
It is noteworthy that the transportation of 2000 tonnes of waste to the proposed site will require a some 300-400 trucks on Delhi-Haryana corridor, will add to the carbon emission, smoke and dust in the city. The proposed project will have adverse impact on the public health and environmental health.
The proposed project can only make the problem invisible and complex. It can not make the mixed municipal solid waste with hazardous waste characteristics disappear. It requires a hazardous waste landfill to hold toxic ash and residuals from such plants. Minimum of 25 % of the waste burnt in the facility will reach landfill. It will cause food chain poisoning through air pollution and water pollution.
The city have to arrange for segregated collection of organic waste. When it is collected segregated the city should be able to set up decentralized composting facilities to recover it. That reduces cost and volume of waste to the common facility.
The residents are clearly the “victims” of improper, unjustified planning reflecting no concern towards the health of the residents. This kind of “planning” disregards all the scientific evidence. The residents have been demanding stoppage of this project to avoid Bhopal Gas disaster like situation in this residential area.
The following details are relevant in this regard:
1. At page 27, 29, 34 and 39, of the 487 page long Draft EIA report pays lip service to health and prevention of health hazards. This is factually not correct as has been borne out by the order of Hon’ble Delhi High Court pertaining to a plant using similar incinerator technology at the same location. The landmark judgment in Writ Petition (C) No. 6976 of 2008 refers to 'The summary of "Epidemiological Studies on Adverse Health Effects Associated with Incineration" would show that medical waste incinerators are a leading source of dioxins and mercury in the environment and there is link between incinerator emissions and adverse health impacts on incinerator workers and residents living around the incinerators.'
2. The observations made in the judgment will have far reaching implications. It reads: "Both older and more modern incinerators can contribute to the contamination of local soil and vegetation with dioxins and heavy metals. In several European countries, cow's milk from farms located in the vicinity of incinerators has been found to contain elevated levels of dioxin, in some cases above regulatory limits. Increased levels of dioxins have been found in the tissues of residents near to incinerators in the UK, Spain and Japan. At an incinerator in Finland, mercury was increased in hair of residents living in the vicinity. Children living near a modern incinerator in Spain were found to have elevated levels of urinary thioethers, a biomarker of toxic exposure. "It notes that "After 2 years of operation of incinerator, dioxins levels were found increased by about 25% in both groups living between 0.5 to 1.5 and 3.5 to 4.0 km away (201 people) of people. In the repeat analysis, the increase was in the range of 10-15%". It records that "Mothers living close to incinerators and crematoria from 1956 to 1993" showed "increased risk of lethal congenital abnormalities, in particular, spinal bifida and heart defects, near incinerators: increased risk of stillbirths and anacephalus near crematoria". With regard to "Residents from 7 to 64 years old living within 5 km of an incinerator and the incinerator workers" the judgment observes, "Levels of mercury in hair increased with closer proximity to the incinerator during a 10 year period".
3. This judgment found that "Residents living within 10 km of an incinerator, refinery, and waste disposal site" showed "Significant increase in laryngeal cancer in men living with closer proximity to the incinerator and other pollution sources". The "Residents living around an incinerator and other pollution sources" showed "Significant increase in lung cancer related specifically to the incinerator". The "People living within 7.5 km of 72 incinerators" displayed "Risks of all cancers and specifically of stomach, colorectal, liver and lung cancer increased with closer proximity to incinerators". The order observes, "10. In Master Plan for Delhi, 2021, notified on 07.02.2007, hazardous waste processing viz. hospital/medical/industrial waste is amongst the industries, manufacturing of which shall be prohibited within National Capital Territory of Delhi." It is not in dispute that Delhi's municipal waste has hazardous waste characteristics. The Hon'ble Court observed that "This is a mandatory requirement of the guidelines issued by CPCB that such facility should be far away from residential and sensitive areas". The same holds true for the location of the proposed municipal waste based RDF plant.
4. The reference to “renewable power generation” at page no. 35 of the 487 page long Draft EIA/EMP Report of Expansion of Power Plant from 15 MW To 25 MW (Waste To Energy) are scientifically and factually incorrect and misleading. The contention that generating electricity using a non-conventional energy source instead of fossil fuel must be deemed a renewable energy project is scientifically questionable. waste burning technology cannot automatically be deemed a renewable energy project. If anything, such attempts to classify the WTE plant as renewable project is farfetched. Waste incinerator technologies are net energy losers when the embodied energy of the materials burned is accounted for. The move by the incineration industry to persuade public institutions to term waste incinerators as 'renewable energy' projects is not only fraudulent but also dangerous. 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. The perpetuation of the myth claiming waste incineration as a source of ‘renewable energy’ has deeply harmful ramifications. European Commission’s definition of Renewable Energy Directive states that ‘energy from renewable sources’ is derived only from non-fossil sources. As per this definition energy from waste is not a renewable energy because waste is not a non-fossil source. It is “energy from a source that is not depleted when used, such as wind or solar power”.
5. Waste is not like wind or solar. It consists of paper, plastic food etc – all having been made from other sources of energy and resources. For instance, if waste consists entirely of plastic (for example) and generates 100MW of energy per tonne, it’s only renewable if it took less than 100MW of energy to produce. If this is how energy is being defined as ‘renewable’ then Waste to Energy is not renewable energy. A road that harnesses the movement and sound of cars to create electricity is not typically considered ‘renewable’ because it relies on a car’s use of fossil fuels to move. It is this very principle which is being applied to waste. The advocates of waste incineration based power plants prefer to pre-empt segregation and recycling efforts being made by municipalities and communities around the world.
6. Given the fact that at present the national electric grid in India has an installed capacity of 383.37 GW as of 31 May 2021, there is no compelling logic for the extraction of power from WTE plants.
7. The residents of the region are in a state of profound fear because of the expanison of the plant’s capacity from 15 MW to 25 MW. This amounts to transforming the residents and wild life in the area into guinea pigs for testing war chemicals in peace time. The emission of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) like Dioxins from the plant in this residential and ecologically fragile area is akin to use of Agent Orange, a war Dioxins based war chemical used by US Army against Vietnam. Agent Orange is an herbicide and defoliant chemical, one of the "tactical use" Rainbow Herbicides. It is widely known for its use by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971.
8. The fact is that contrary to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report, Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) units do not exist.
9. No residential locality in its sanity can give consent to allow expansion of un-segregated municipal waste incineration based thermal power plant in their locality. They cannot be expected to be superior bearers of risk. The Experts Appraisal Committee cannot turn a blind eye to serious health hazard to tens of thousands of people living and working in this ecologically-sensitive area.
10. The residents and their neighbourhood will get submerged in the ashes which emerge from the such power plants plant which is going to burn mixed municipal waste which has hazardous waste characteristics.
11. It is quite appropriate that Hazardous Substances Management Division (HSMD), MoEFCC has framed the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules given the fact that Indian municipal waste does have hazardous waste characteristics.
12. The polluting potential of the proposed plant using municipal solid waste as fuel is serious. Emissions include suspended particulate matter (SPM), sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), hydrogen chloride (HCl), and dioxins and furans, the most toxic substances known to mankind.
13. It is noteworthy that the 'White Paper on Pollution in Delhi with an Action Plan' prepared by Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. 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. This paper is relevant for the proposed thermal treatment based RDF plant in Bandhwari, Gurugram, Haryana.
14. The failure of Delhi's Timarpur waste to energy plant, Hon'ble 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 New and Renewable Energy which is now part of Ministry of Power provides a subsidy of Rs 1.5 crore/MW is distorting waste management in the country including Delhi.
15. As per Hon'ble Supreme Court's order in the Writ Petition (Civil) No.888 of 1996 such subsidies are not meant for incinerator plants like the one in Okhla. Hon'ble Court's order dated 6th May, 2005 said, "...we hope that till the position is clear, the Government would not sanction any further subsidies." It is noteworthy that on 15th May, 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 RTI that neither the proposed Delhi's waste to energy incinerator projects one of those 5 pilot projects nor is it based on the recommended technology.
16. As per the March 2018 report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy, on a query regarding provisions of financial incentives provided by the Government for Renewable Energy for Urban, Industrial and Commercial Applications, the Ministry furnished the information that Power generation from Municipal Solid Waste gets Rs. 2.00 crore/MW (Max. Rs.10 crore/project) from the MNRE. Other incentives and support measures provided by the Ministry under the programme incentives are given to State Nodal Agencies: service charge @ Rs. 1% of the subsidy restricted to Rs. 5.00 lakh per project and financial assistance for promotional activities: for organizing training courses, business meets, seminars/workshops and publicity/awareness, subject to a maximum of Rs. 3.0 lakh per activity. In addition, the Ministry of Urban Development is also implementing “Swachh Bharat Mission” (SBM) since 2 October, 2014, which also includes setting up of waste to energy plants with Central support up to 35% of the project cost in the form of Viability Gap Funding (VGF) / grant, subject to the overall State-wise funds envelop for SBM." Incentives include "Accelerated Depreciation: Tax depreciation rate of 80% under AD benefits besides concessional Custom Duty Exemption and GST. Waste to Energy projects draws 5% GST besides availing concessional custom duty which would help the promoters / developers to avail these concessions to improve economic viability of the projects.
According to the amended Tariff Policy, Distribution Licensee(s) are required compulsorily procure 100% power produced from all the Waste-to-Energy plants in the State, in the ratio of their procurement of power from all sources including their own, at the tariff determined by the Appropriate Commission under Section 62 of the Act. The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) vide notification dated 07th October 2015 and 31st March 2015 have notified norms for determination of Generic Tariff for MSW, RDF and Biogas based WTE projects along with Generic Tariff for FY 2016-17. The Levelised Tariff which is in the range of Rs.6.50 to Rs.7.60 per unit."
When asked about the modes of financing, existing financial support available and possible options for funding capital and operation & maintenance costs with respect to W to E Plants, the Ministry stated: "The Government of India, through various schemes extends financial support for introducing appropriate solid waste management systems and for setting up processing and disposal facilities. These include Viability Gap Funding Swacch Bharat Mission of MoUD, Loan from IREDA, Grants from MNRE for Supporting W to E Projects and Preferential Tariff by Regulators besides support for Purchase of Compost from Ministry of Agriculture.
When the Committee desired to know about the current status and performance of Waste to Energy Plants in the country, the Ministry informed that "At present, six waste-to-energy plants using Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) with cumulative installed capacity of 65.75 MW are in operation in the country. The State-wise details of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) based power projects set up. It is apparent that the ministry is blind to environmental health concerns in its drive for energy from waste at any human and environmental cost. Such an unscientific approach is distorting waste management and poisoning the food chain. It high time MNRE withdrew or modified its letters that encourage and promote polluting technologies like the one proposed at Bandhwari, Gurugram, Haryana, situated in residential and admittedly ecologically sensitive areas.
17. Every claim made about RDF is misplaced and an exercise in glaring misrepresentation of facts.
18. It is noteworthy that for a project to qualify as climate crisis mitigating project it is necessary that it excludes waste incineration
-- including waste pelletisation or RDF, pyrolysis, gasification systems -- technologies. Incineration produces pollutants which are detrimental to health and the environment. Incineration is expensive and does not eliminate or adequately control the toxic emissions from today's chemically complex municipal discards. Even the latest incinerators release toxic metals, dioxins, and acid gases. Far from eliminating the need for a landfill, waste incinerator systems produce toxic ash and other residues. Such projects disperse incinerator ash throughout the environment and subsequently enter our food chain.
19. The emission of dioxins and heavy metals from such waste based thermal power plants is a cause of grave concern. Dioxins are the most lethal Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) which are associated with irreparable environmental health consequences.
20. It may be noted the Master Plan Report (2020) of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) said, “RDF is often an option when emission standards are lax and RDF is burned in conventional boilers with no special precautions for emissions.” The EAC ought to pay heed to it as well.
21. Union Minister of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change, in a written reply to a question in Lok Sabha has informed, “Government is aware of the reports published by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Health Effects Institute (HEI) regarding the impact of air pollution on human health in terms of higher casualty rate due to air pollution. The reports are based on models, simulations and extrapolations. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has carried out epidemiological studies to assess the impact of pollution on human health. Air Pollution could be one of the triggering factors for respiratory ailments and associated diseases. However, there are no conclusive data available in the country to establish direct correlation between diseases and air pollution. Health effects of air pollution are generally synergistic manifestation of the individual’s food habits, occupational habits, socio-economic status, medical history, immunity, heredity, etc.” WHO’s Ambient Air Pollution database has been marked National Capital Region as the most polluted city in the world with an annual particulate matter (PM) 2.5 level of 153 μg/Nm3. The pollution had spiked beyond acceptable limits with dangerous PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels hitting 999 μg/Nm3, while the safe limits for those pollutants are 60 and 100 respectively. A 2010 study conducted by the Boston-based Health Effects Institute (2010) has estimated that about 3000 premature deaths occur in Delhi due to air pollution related diseases. This works out to about 8 deaths per day in National Capital Region alone relating to air pollution related diseases. This year again, levels of PM 2.5 in Delhi reached 710 μg/Nm3, more than 11 times the safe limit prescribed by the WHO. Biomass burning in the proposed waste based thermal plant is a significant contributor to the air pollution load.
In such a backdrop, it is not surprising that municipal waste to energy plant based on incinerator technology in question faces bitter opposition from residents, environmental groups and waste pickers.
Given the fact that at present India has surplus power, there is no compelling logic for the extraction of power from WTE plants. There is a logical compulsion to desist from proposing such toxic plants in order to save present and future generation of residents from being enveloped in a toxic gas chamber as a consequence of use of such hazardous incinerator technology adopted for generating energy from waste which admittedly has hazardous waste characteristics.
Note: TWA has been working on the issue of waste since 2000 and has managed to stop seven waste incineration based projects in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kanpur, Bhopal, Jaipur, Agra and Bhojpur, Bihar. It has been part of research and advocacy regarding Okhla based waste to energy plant since March 2005.
Photo: Notice for Environmental Public Hearing of Expansion of Power Plant from 15 MW to 25 MW (Waste To Energy) Capacity at Bandhwari, Gurugram, Haryana