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Green Tribunal’s justice seems caught in a miasma of Jindal’s toxic waste ash

Written By Unknown on Tuesday, September 10, 2013 | 12:22 PM

Green Tribunal’s justice seems caught in a miasma of Jindal’s toxic waste ash

Tribunal failing to prevent environmental damage in Delhi's Okhla waste incinerator case

Jindal’s waste incinerator power plant is illegal and illegitimate

NGT ignores its own order on Okhla Bird Sanctuary

New Delhi: So far despite orders of National Green Tribunal (NGT) in the case of mixed waste burning based power plant in Sukhdev Vihar, Okhla, the residents of continue to wait for legal remedy. NGT heard the matter again on September 10, 2013 but did not agree with residents’ demand seeking closure of the illegal and illegitimate plant. Besides these orders, Delhi High Court has heard the matter 27 times since 2009. 

Environmental groups and residents are dismayed by NGT’s approach. Tribunal said that as an interim measure it is declining the request of applicant for closure of the plant.  The just relief for the residents appears to be caught in the mist of toxic ash emanating from Jindal’s waste based power plant. The Tribunal has said that after three weeks' time, an inspection team would check the waste based power plant and place its findings before the bench. ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) has been campaigning against this hazardous plant since March 2005. The waste-to-energy plant at Okhla must be closed.

Residents of Okhla who are facing public health crisis due to environmental exposure from hazardous waste to energy plant are unlikely to get any relief. The impartiality of NGT faces a litmus test in which it seem to failing.  NGT’s order is quite bizarre in its assumptions about what the residents of Okhla have been praying for.

ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) demands that the transcripts of the arguments and submissions of the applicants and respondents must be uploaded on NGT's website as is done in US courts. TWA finds NGT's lenient approach towards the polluting plant of Jindal Saw Group Limited is intriguing and puzzling. It is a case of environmental lawlessness in the national capital but NGT is yet to order any stringent action against this plant set up illegitimately and illegally in a residential and ecologically fragile area.   

NGT's order of August 14, 2003 which has put a stop to all illegal constructions in a 10-km radius of Okhla Bird Sanctuary at the Okhla barrage over Yamuna River on Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border is quite
relevant to the demand for closure of the plant. NGT has allowed UP Government to be
a party in the case seeking closure of municipal waste to energy incinerators functioning in Sukhdev Vihar, Okhla. The case Sukhdev Vihar Residents Welfare Association & Ors. Vs State of NCT of Delhi &
Ors. (M.A No. 562/2013 in Original Application No.22(THC)/2013) came before the Principal Bench
of NGT.

Toxic emissions from the waste based power plant in their neighbourhood of Okhla Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary which falls both under the jurisdiction of Uttar Pradesh Government in Noida is an
inter-state matter. In the meanwhile, District Forest Officer, Gautam Buddh Nagar, B Prabhakar has visited the site and measured the distance from of the sanctuary from the hazardous plant. The plant in
question has come up in manifest violation of the Wildlife Protection Act and the Environment Protection Act in the proximity of Okhla Bird Sanctuary that lies on the Noida-Delhi border near Kalindi Kunj. In a grave act of omission and commission the plant has been constructed
without informing the Government of Uttar Pradesh and the residents of
Okhla, Delhi and NOIDA, UP.

The residents’ case against the plant was heard in NGT on August 29, 2013 amidst demonstration by Okhla residents demanding removal of the plant from their residential area on August 29, 2013. It underlines the growing anger of the residents who held banners with slogans like “aaswsiya kshetra me Kachra power plant ka virod’, Delhi Pradesh Pradushan Niyantran Samiti kya Okhla Kshetra ka Bhugol bhul gaya hai, Delhi Sarkar ka bhrastachar, zehrili gaso se atyachar.”

NGT's August 14, 2013 order is applicable to the waste incineration based power plant of M/s Jindal Urban Infrastructure Limited (JUIL), a company of M/s Jindal Saw Group Limited that is facing bitter
opposition from residents, environmental groups and waste pickers of Delhi. The plant is just 1.7-km away from the Okhla Bird Sanctuary. The sanctuary is situated at the entrance of Noida in Gautam Budh
Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh.

An area of 3.5 square kilometres on the river Yamuna was notified as a bird sanctuary by the Government of Uttar Pradesh under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 in 1990.

Jindal’s power plant is sandwiched between an eco-sensitive zone and the residential colonies. The plant is situated at a distance of less than 50-100 meters from the residential colonies. This hazardous plant has an adverse impact on a large number of transcontinental migratory birds that visit the Okhla sanctuary. Their numbers have decreased over the years. Not only that there is a large lake which lies sandwiched between Okhla village towards the west and  Gautam Budh Nagar towards the east, the impact of the plant on this water source was not been disclosed in the Environment Impact Assessment report of the plant. This plant does not have the required mandatory clearances from the National Board for Wildlife. The sanctuary is approachable from Mathura Road (NH-2), via Sarita Vihar going towards NOIDA.

A scientist with the NGT appointed Commission, Dr U.C. Bahri wrote to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on 16 August 2013 saying, “Dust from Waste to energy plant was shocking… We expect
strong action against the operators so that people living around should not suffer” and shared pictures with it. Delhi Chief Minister and all the central and state agencies continue to feign ignorance
about the plight of residents of Okhla and birds of Okhla Bird Sanctuary. The residents will surely give a befitting reply to her in the upcoming assembly elections.

If National Green Tribunal’s order on Okhla Bird Sanctuary does not apply to Okhla’s municipal waste to energy plant functioning in Okhla in the name power generation its order will appear to be empty symbolism.

It is quite disturbing that Okhla’s vegetable market (subzi mandi) is getting submerged in the ashes which emerge from the plant which is burning some 2050 Metric Tons of mixed municipal waste which has
hazardous waste characteristics.

This Jindal’s power 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.  But disregarding these habitations of birds and humans and a number of binding guidelines from multiple state agencies and Supreme Court directive, the plant has deployed unapproved and untested Chinese technology for power generation from burning the garbage unmindful of its human and environmental cost due to emissions of pollutants like persistent
organic pollutants and heavy metals. This has serious health and environment implications for the residents of National Capital Region (NCR) in general and Okhla and NOIDA residents in particular.
Transboundary air pollution from plant is adversely affecting Delhi’s Okhla vegetable market and UP’s NOIDA areas.

Birds of the Okhla sanctuary and South Delhi's residents in Okhla face toxic dust as Jindal’s waste based power plant in Sukhdev Vihar, Okhla spews out large clouds of thick emissions. Such toxic emissions from the Jindal’s power plant in an ecologically sensitive area and thickly populated area has become a routine affairs with all the concerned authorities turning a blind eye towards this illegitimate and illegal act. The apparent complicity of the central ministries of New and Renewable Energy and Environment & Forests,
State Government’s Delhi Pollution Control Committee and Municipal Corporation is quite stark. They appear helpless in the face of the corporate might of the company.

Birds and residents are left choking and spluttering and suffered severe eye irritation in Sukhdev Vihar which is barely 100 metres from the plant.  Much of Sukhdev Vihar, Hazi colony, Gaffar Manzil and adjoining colonies including Jamia Milia Islamia and hospitals remains blanketed by soapy brown ash which had to be cleaned off floors, cars and even trees and shrubbery.

This plant is in violation of the Supreme Court order in Writ Petition (Civil) 888 of 1996. The matter was scheduled to be heard again on August 27, 2013 but was not heard. In the matter of Okhla's waste to
energy plant even Jairam Ramesh, the then Union Environment Minister had written a letter dated April 1, 2011 to the Chief Minister of Delhi following a site visit on March 30, 2011 and meeting with residents on 31st March, 2011 underlining violation of environmental regulations.

Government of UP ought to intervene urgently to prevent public health and environmental disaster due to this 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 company ran its waste to energy incinerator plant.

Government of UP should demand that Okhla Bird Sanctuary be declared a Ramsar site. The UNESCO's Ramsar Convention’s Article 1.1 defines wetlands as “areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres.” This definition can be applied to Okhla Bird Sanctuary. Its Article 2.1 provides that wetlands to be included in the Ramsar List of internationally important wetlands “may incorporate riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide lying within the
wetlands.” Wetlands are areas where water is the primary factor controlling the environment and the associated plant and animal life. They occur where the water table is at or near the surface of the
land, or where the land is covered by water.  

There are total 26 recognized Ramsar sites in India. Okhla Bird Sanctuary should be made India’s 27th Ramasar site to ensure its protection and conservation from encroachments and industrial pollution.

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 underlines that the operation of Jindal’s waste burning based power plant is an act of environmental lawlessness in the heart of the national capital. If Government of UP can ensure closure of this illegitimate and illegal plant, it will enhance its credibility and prestige before the environmental movement. So far no action has been
taken penalizing the Jindal’s plant for its acts of omission and commission and violation of all the rules in the rule book.

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, the most toxic substances known to mankind. This plant is owned by Prithviraj Jindal who won an open tender in 2008 to build and operate the plant for 25 years at a project cost of
Rs 240 crore. The owner has ignored the disastrous environmental health consequences of its operations.

It may be noted that resident welfare associations of Okhla have written to Jayanthi Natarajan, Minister of Environment and Forests asking her to act on Ministry’s “own guidelines and exercise relevant statutory provisions under Section 3 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and Section 5 (1) of the Environment Protection Act 1986 to immediately shut down the plant.”

In view of the above, Government of UP and the Tribunal must consider declaring the construction of the waste incineration based power plant merely 1.7-km away from the Okhla Bird Sanctuary, situated at the entrance of Noida in Gautam Budh Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh as illegal and initiate action against it for its acts of omission and commission. Even before NGT could gain stature for saving environmental and human health it appears to be suffering erosion due to delay in its efforts to close down the plant.  

NGT's deafening silence on the 31 page report of the Technical Experts Evaluation Committee of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on the Timarpur-Okhla Waste to Energy Incinerator Plant constituted by Union Environment & Forests Minister condemned the Timarpur-Okhla Waste to Energy Incinerator Plant by JITF Urban Infrastructure Limited (Jindal Ecopolis) 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 municipal corporation and the State Government is complicit in allowing such a plant. 

Earlier the same was heard as Writ Petition (Civil) NO. 9901/2009 in the Delhi High Court against the power plant by 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 noteworthy that Union Minister for Environment & Forests, Jayanthi Natarajan has admitted in Rajya Sabha 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… on four occasions out of ten, levels of Particulate matter (PM) exceeded the standard of 150 mg/Nm3” however “the Minister said 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 truth as is evident from the CPCB’s report which is now in public domain.  

In the report, Dr A B Akolkar, Director, CPCB emphasized that as per Municipal Solid Waste (Management & Handling) Rules ‘biodegrdable waste’ is to be treated using biological method rather than deriving RDF or by incineration as is being done by Jindal Ecopolis. This clearly demonstrates that the Timarpur-Okhla Waste to Energy Incinerator Plant violates the Municipal Solid Waste (Management & Handling) Rules framed under Environment Protection Act, 1986.

NGT previous orders so far are here:

SNo. Order Date Next Hearing Date Order of Tribunal
1. 10-09-2013 10-10-2013
2. 29-08-2013 10-09-2013
3. 22-07-2013 --
4. 28-05-2013 22-07-2013
5. 30-04-2013 28-05-2013
6. 04-04-2013 30-04-2013
7. 11-03-2013 04-04-2013
8. 22-02-2013 11-03-2013

For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 9818089660, E-mail:gopalkrishna1715@gmail.com, Web: www.toxicswatch.org

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