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Public Health Crisis from MNRE Supported Delhi’s Waste to Energy Incinerators in Okhla, Narela-Bawana & Ghazipur

Written By Krishna on Saturday, March 17, 2012 | 2:24 AM


Dr. Farooq Abdullah,
Union Minister of New & Renewable Energy

Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA)

Government of India

New Delhi

March 17, 2012

Subject- Public Health Crisis from MNRE Supported Delhi’s Waste to Energy Incinerators in Okhla, Narela-Bawana and Ghazipur


This is with reference to the callousness towards the sad plight of residents of Okhla, Narela-Bawana and Ghazipur, environment and the livelihood of waste pickers due to waste to energy incinerators supported by your ministry. We submit that environmental health researchers, residents and waste pickers are opposed to the hazardous incinerator technology.

We submit that they are opposing Okhla waste to energy incinerator plant since 2005 due to its adverse public health consequences. The plant in question has violated every rule in the rule book. It is a matter of fact that such plants have consistently failed in India.

We submit that consent of the people of Okhla which is a ‘must’ before granting clearances and cumulative impact assessment was never taken. The people of Okhla never gave their consent for this hazardous project in their proximity. There is documentary evidence that the public hearing that was conducted was fake, it was conducted at Saket. The environmental clearance given to the project is also flawed as it has been amended repeatedly to increase the amount of waste treated and energy generated in an apparent effort to grab subsidies being offered by Ministry of New & Renewable Energy (MNRE). The cumulative impact assessment of the pre-existing biomedical waste incinerator and the new municipal waste incinerator has never been done. The emissions from both these units are already becoming part of body burden of residents of Okhla.

This is to draw your attention towards the imminent public health crisis due to biomedical waste incinerator plant and the construction of municipal waste to energy incinerator in Delhi's Sukhdev Vihar residential area which is surrounded by university, schools, hospitals, bird sanctuary and several other residential areas of Okhla. Similar hazardous plants are proposed in Delhi's Narela-Bawana and Ghazipur. It is germane to mention that several waste incinerator technology based projects are proposed all over the country.

We submit that this grave situation has emerged due to evidently flawed waste to energy policy of MNRE which is providing fiscal incentives to hazardous incinerator and co-incineration incineration technologies like Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF). The MNRE must be persuaded to give this aspect of the policy to save irreparable damage to sustainable and sane municipal solid waste management practices. It may be noted that besides being an emitter of Persistent Organic Pollutants, as per Annexure A of Kyoto Protocol, waste incineration is a green house gas emitter. The Ministry of Power can vouch for the fact that the energy from municipal is inconsequential compared to the colossal public health concerns.

It may be recollected that pursuant to the agitation of the residents, environmental and waste picker groups, Shri Jairam Ramesh, the then Union Minister of Environment & Forests and currently the member of CCEA had taken cognizance of the emerging public health threats from the waste to energy incinerator in the vicinity of residential premises. He had written to the Chief Minister of National Capital Region of Delhi as well after he heard the testimonies of the people who are adversely affected by the waste to energy incinerator. The letter was sent following a site visit on March 30, 2011 and meeting with residents on 31st March, 2011. The author of this letter was present on both the occasions.

This is to draw your attention towards the imminent public health crisis due to the municipal waste to energy incinerator in the Sukhdev Vihar residential area which is surrounded by university, schools, hospitals, bird sanctuary and several other residential areas of Okhla. Similar hazardous plants are proposed in Narela-Bawana and Ghazipur. It is relevant to note that 35 waste related carbon credit projects have been given host country approval by the National CDM Authority across the country. The waste to energy incinerators proposed in Delhi is included in it.

We have read the relevant above mentioned minutes of the Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority for the NCR (EPCA) wherein Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) was asked about the actions taken to improve Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) management in Delhi in your presence. "To this MCD replied that individual waste to energy projects have been already given to Jindal, Ramky and GMR, which will result in minimal inert residue for landfilling along with the generation of electricity," the minute reads. This is factually deceptive and scientifically incorrect.

We submit that as per the Manual on Municipal Solid Waste Management, Union Ministry of Urban Development, physical composition of Indian waste shows that inert material constitutes from 43.59 % to 53.90 % and compostable matter constitutes 44.57 % to 30.84 %. Thus, the total inert residue from waste to energy incinerator projects will be significantly higher after the incineration of waste which will produce toxic ash as well that requires disposal in engineered landfills. The same manual reveals the chemical composition of Indian waste has the calorific value of 1009.89 kcal/kg to 800.70 kcal/kg with moisture content ranging from 25.81 % to 38.72 % and organic matter ranging from 37.09 % to 39.07 %.

It has been established that everything organic has a ratio of carbon to nitrogen (C:N) in its tissues. It is the combination of materials that creates the ideal climate for compost microbes-a C:N ratio of 30:1. In such a context, a Technical Report titled "Environmental Audit of Municipal Solid Waste Management, June 2006" infers, "we can deduce the Indian waste has a high content of organic matter, which makes it suitable for processes like composting and anaerobic digestion. The C/N ratio is between 20-30 and this ratio is very suitable for composting (Eiland, et al, 2001). The waste also has a high moisture content which makes it unsuitable for incineration." The audit was done with financial assistance from the Union Ministry of Science and Technology. Reference: CES TECHNICAL REPORT - 112 Energy and Wetlands Research Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

We submit that the waste to energy incinerator projects mentioned by MCD does not make municipal solid waste disappear or minimize inert residue instead they maximize it. They encourage waste generation and current patterns of production and consumption, which are at the root of solid waste problems. They are the most costly of all solid waste management options; result in air and water pollution, and still need to be supplemented by landfills as they produce an ash that is far more toxic than ordinary domestic trash. This has not been disclosed in a deliberate act by MCD which has chosen not to learn from its failure in Timarpur and Ghazipur.

We submit that even with waste to energy incinerators NCR will still need landfills for ash disposal and construction wastes. Ash can comprise about 25% by weight of an incinerator’s throughput and must be landfilled. Thus, incineration means incineration plus landfill. There are two kinds of by-pass waste: bulky materials that do not fit into the incinerator (such as mattresses), and collected waste that cannot be burned when the incinerator is down for regularly scheduled or unscheduled maintenance. These materials typically require landfilling in communities that have built incinerators.

We have learnt from the "White Paper on Pollution with an Action Plan" of the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests that the ministry’s wisdom is opposed to such municipal waste incinerators. The relevant part of White Paper in paragraph 4.1 reads: "The NEERI studies show that the treatment of solid waste not reduces the quantity requiring disposal but also reduces its pollution potential thereby preventing its adverse impact on environment. Some treatment methods also yield a product which can be recycled. Thermal treatment methods such as incineration or conversion of waste to briquettes and its subsequent use as fuel are not feasible due to the low heat value of the municipal solid waste in MCD area. The experience of the incineration plant at Timarpur, Delhi and the briquetting 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." Reference: http://envfor.nic.in/divisions/cpoll/delpolln.html

It is clear from Environmental Ministry's White Paper and the Technical Report prepared with assistance from Ministry of Science and Technology that MCD's “waste load” and its mishandling by the aforementioned contractors will distort the municipal solid waste management beyond repair.

We submit that MCD has not disclosed that Ramky Enviro Engineer Ltd proposes to process 4000 MT of waste in two phases using RDF incineration technology in Narela-Bawana adjacent to Sannaut village of Delhi and other residential areas. Having visited the plant site and having interacted with the villagers, one found that they are protesting against the proposed Dioxins emitting plant.

We submit that Delhi generates approximately 8500 MT of municipal solid waste daily. It is estimated that after all these 3 plants would be functional they will require approximately 7300 MT of waste to produce the projected amount of energy leaving only about 1200 MT of waste to share between private contractors and waste-pickers.

We submit that MCD has not disclosed that the projects handled by M/s Jindal Urban Infrastructure Limited (JUIL), a company of M/s Jindal Saw Group Limited owned by Shri Prithviraj Jindal part of O P Jindal Group is facing bitter opposition from residents, environmental groups and waste pickers.

We wish to draw your attention towards the analysis published in ECO magazine (March, 2012) which notes that the plant is situated not only in the proximity of New Friends Colony, Maharani Bagh, Sukhdev Vihar and the business district Nehru Place - but also several prominent institutions, including hospitals like Apollo, Escorts and Holy Family and Jamia Milia Islamia. Disregarding these, as also a number of binding guidelines from multiple state agencies and at least one Supreme Court directive, the plant has come up, under the shade of slack regulation, at one-tenth the cost of a world-class waste-to-energy facility, deploying China-made equipment and with inadequate provisioning for toxic by-products of incineration. It is strange that your ministry is backing the project as a technology solution to the city's two enduring, and worsening, problems - excess of waste and shortage of power. But while contributing to the solution of two problems, the plant kindles a number of new ones, with potentially serious health and environment implications for the residents of Delhi. Students of Jamia Milia Islamia have formed a Forum opposing this hazardous plant.

Unmindful of such concerns, the owner of this controversial plant is making false claims about the technology being used at Okhla as absolutely safe. The polluting potential of a 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, which are among the most toxic substances known to science.

The same is true about GMR Energy Ltd's New Delhi Waste Processing Company Private Ltd (now renamed as Indraprastha Energy and Waste Management Company Private Limited), Joint venture of Govt.of Delhi and IL & FS for the “Implementation of Integrated Municipal Solid Waste Processing (MSW) (waste to energy) complex” on BOOT basis at Ghazipur, Delhi. A statement on GMR website reveals "DIAL-SELCO consortium participated in the BID and emerged as winner in the BID. The proposed project is being setup on 5.73 acres of Land at Ghazipur, East Delhi owned by Delhi Power Company Limited (DPCL), which has been given on lease basis to GMR's East Delhi Waste Processing Co. Pvt. Ltd.

The reference to SELCO on GMR website merits attention. A Fact Finding team comprising of Dr K Babu Rao, former scientist at the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad, Dr Narasimha Reddy Donthi, Chief Advisor, Chetana Society, Hyderabad and the author visited the plant site of SELCO International Ltd’s Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) incineration technology based waste to energy project at Elikatta Village, Shadnagar Mandal, Mahboobnagar district and found the plant to be locked on August 1, 2011. This is the plant that was cited a successful example by Shri Najmi Waziri, Delhi Government's counsel on 18th July, 2011 in the Delhi High Court in front of Chief Justice Bench to defend Delhi’s Okhla Waste to Energy plant. The security guard of the SELCO International Ltd's 6.6 MW Municipal Solid Waste to Energy Project at Elikatta Village, Shadnagar Mandal, Mahboobnagar District, Andhra Pradesh informed the team that the plant is closed for the last three years. This fact has been verified with the local people and a site inspection too revealed the same.

We submit that the municipal waste to energy incinerator in the residential area is based on hazardous incinerator technology that emits persistent organic pollutants like Dioxins and toxic heavy metals like Mercury. Incinerators are tried, tested and failed technology. We submit that the three waste to energy incinerators in Delhi are in violation of the Supreme Court order in Writ Petition (Civil) 888 of 1996.

We wish to submit research papers and relevant documents to you to help prevent public health disaster due to the construction of municipal waste to energy incinerator plant in the Okhla area in particular and in Delhi in general. Such unprecedented health crisis has been witnessed in Gandhumguda village, Peeranchery Panchayat, Ranga Reddy district in Andhra Pradesh where SELCO ran its waste to energy incinerator plant. The same was brought to the notice of the Supreme Court's Waste to Energy Committee by the residents and the author of this letter following which the Court only approved biomethanation technology. This order echoes the recommendations in the White Paper and the Technical Report.

It was heartening to find its reference even the National Action Plan on Climate Change released by you but saddening to find promotion of hazardous incinerator technology in the Draft National Mission on Sustainable Habitat. One is still hopeful that your Council on Climate Change will do the needful in order to adhere to the cardinal principles of waste management in this respect. We also wish to draw your attention towards the ongoing protest rallies and an online campaign on Facebook - Okhla ka Ghosla- against the toxic, waste-to-energy incinerator where students are also participating in large numbers.

In view of the above, a delegation of residents, environmental and waste picker groups would like to meet you to apprise you of the emerging situation due to these hazardous commercial and industrial establishments in residential areas which appears to be an act of environmental lawlessness in the heart of the national capital.

Thanking You

Yours Faithfully
Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
New Delhi, Phone: 2651781, Fax: 26517814
Mb: 9818089660, Web: toxicswatch.blogspot.com
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6:11 AM

The article seems factually incorrect on several fronts. While it is true that Indian garbage generally has a low CV, it is incorrect that it cannot be converted to a high CV fuel. With the right processing technique, RDF can be produced with CV around 3000 Kcal/kg. There are 20 operating plants in India which are producing high CV RDF in India today. It will be grossly incorrect to say composting will alone be the final answer for all of India's garbage disposal problems. Though compost made from garbage can be used for non food crops it is dangerous to use it for food crops due its high metallic content. Biomethanation on the other hand is only proven at small scale even in developed countries.

Hence answer to our garbage problem will be
-segregate at source
-reduce and reuse
-use composting for wet garbage and ensure compost usage for non food crops
-make RDF from dry garbage. RDF can then be used in incineration units with stringent emission controls. Modern incineration units emit significantly low emissions than old ones. Let's take a cue from other countries. China today has over 100 incinerators. Most of the advanced EU countries e.g., Sweden, Denmark, Germany send their garbage to incinerators. Emissions though are quite regulated in these countries.

So let us push our PCBs to be stricter in their vigilance of emissions but not necessarily go against what the world is primarily doing to treat garbage. Other technologies like composting can complement WTE. New technologies like biomethanation will take time to mature to treat heterogeneous garbage in large quantities.

Regarding Selco, yes the power plant has taken downtime since 2010 (we have been selling compost in small quantities).But before criticizing the power plant, it is important to understand the results it achieved and also the reasons why the plant has taken downtime. Power plant was the first of kind in India established in 2003 to prove the technology. The plant generated more than 160 million units of power and disposed 6 lakh tons of garbage. All regulatory bodies including CPCB, APTRANSCO, GHMC certified that the company was following all norms in disposing garbage scientifically. Company received best technology award from CII. Several top leaders – Dr Rangarajan, 25 MPs, 20 Municipal commissioners – have all visited and appreciated the plant. One should appreciate that technologies take time to mature. Over 7 years of operations, our power plant proved beyond doubt that WTE is the right solution for our garbage. The technological issues faced which led to the plant taking downtime are issues which can easily be fixed in a 2nd gen plant. Emissions from the plant were never an issue and the PCB clearances over the years prove this. Hence it is totally rubbish that ‘an unprecedented crisis happened due to company’s operations’ as pointed in the article.

Also, Selco being the first of kind plant in the country - revenue was generated mainly through power sale at low tariff. There was also no tipping fees thereby affecting profitability. Today's plants get REC and tipping fees making them more financially viable. Having made changes to make RDF at a lower cost, Selco is now up and running and operations will start shortly.

Heavy resistance to incineration as pointed in the article is driving investments away and encouraging maintenance of status quo for MSW disposal. One needs to understand that we no longer have the luxury of land to depend on landfills which are contaminating our ground water and emitting poisonous gases. Composting as the final solution without recovering energy will result in our cities drowning from garbage.

Our municipal corporations should create the right incentives for private sector participation to solve our garbage crisis. A small garbage tax of Rs 15-20/house/month as part of the property tax which will then be passed onto the operator will go a long way in helping companies sustain financially while disposing garbage scientifically.

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