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Residents of Okhla, Narela-Bawana, Ghazipur face toxic threat from municipal waste incinerator plants

Written By Unknown on Friday, November 14, 2014 | 5:43 AM



Justice Shri K.G. Balakrishnan
Chairman National Human Rights Commission Manav Adhikar Bhawan Block-C, GPO Complex, INA, New Delhi - 110023
Through Shri Rajesh Kishore, Secretary General, Chief Executive Officer, NHRC

Date: November 14, 2014

Subject- Residents of Okhla, Narela-Bawana, Ghazipur face toxic threat from municipal waste incinerator plants

This is to draw your attention towards some 100 doctors writing letters on the subject of public health crisis in the Okhla residential areas and seeking protection from the war chemicals and other hazardous chemicals being emitted from the municipal waste incinerator plant located amidst Sukhdev Vihar, Hazi colony and other colonies. Prior to this Delhi High Court and Parliamentary Standing Committee on Urban Development has ruled against such hazardous incinerator/combustion technologies.  Such plants pose a grave threat to health and environment of the residential areas of Narela-Bawana and Ghazipur as well. This issue has been highlighted in an episode of Satyamewa Jayate.

I submit that more than 80 doctors from Holy Family Hospital in Okhla and some other hospitals across the city have written open letters raising concerns about emissions from the Okhla waste-to-energy plant. In their letters, written on individual letterheads, doctors have said polluting emissions from the plant could lead to allergies, asthma, cancers and reproductive anomalies. 

I submit that many of these doctors also live close to the waste-to-energy plant. Central Pollution Control Board checks at the plant site have revealed dioxin emissions to be way higher than the permissible limit. Residents are extremely concerned about fly ash from the plant falling on their homes and vehicles. Delhi Pollution Control Committee issued a show cause notice to the plant in January for not meeting the air quality standard.

Fr P A George, director of the hospital has submitted, "An unusually large number of patients are coming in with respiratory ailments like asthma and bronchitis which can be attributable to the high levels of pollution in Okhla caused by the plant. The Holy Family Hospital has announced plans to launch a medical college. We would like it to function in an unpolluted environment".

Neonatologist with Fortis La Femme Ashu Sawhney, who lives just behind the plant, said, "Based on my experience as a paediatrician as well as various studies, I can say such pollutants cannot just cause respiratory illnesses but also learning and behavioural problems. My daughter developed asthma last year".

Another paediatrician from AIIMS Shivani Randev said, "Most children from the area are suffering from respiratory illnesses. These pollutants can cause foetal anomalies, infertility, cancer and other health issues. This is a humble request from residents, especially doctors, from the area to please help us and shut down the plant."

I submit that one of the main reasons for anxiety among residents and environmentalists is high dioxin levels around the plant. When CPCB monitored air quality there last October, dioxin level in stack 1 was 1.06ng TEQ/Nm3 (toxicity equivalent) and that in stack 2 was 0.93ng TEQ/Nm3 though safe level is 0.1ng TEQ/Nm3 only.

I submit that the social cost of this technology as a large number of ragpickers stand to lose their jobs if waste-to-energy plants are widely adopted for waste management. Though they are common in the West, there is a raging debate even there about the suitability of waste-to-energy plants. In Delhi, the issue is even more relevant because there is no waste segregation at source which is why chances of non-biodegradable waste like plastics ending up in the incinerator is high.

I submit that in February 2014 the 27th report of the Parliamentary Committee on Urban Development has recommended that "Incinerator plants should be stopped in all residential areas in all metropolitan & Big cities across the country" in its report to the Parliament.

The report reads: "The Committee note that the Municipal Solid Waste is delivered by NDMC and MCD at the Okhla Power Plant site. Although it is claimed that "only non Hazardous Municipal Solid Waste will be treated at the facility", the fact is that Delhi's mixed municipal solid waste has characteristics of hazardous waste. MCD, Delhi government and Central Government have shown sheer callousness towards hazardous emissions from municipal incinerators that cause serious environmental and health problems to the people living not only near them but thousands of kilometers away from the source. The Committee feel anguished and dissatisfied with the reply of the Ministry that the soot in the atmosphere is reported to be
within norms as it is monitored by Delhi Pollution Control Board. Therefore, the Committee recommend that these kinds of Waste Incinerator Plants
should be stopped in all residential areas in all metropolitan & Big cities across the country." It is an endorsement of our position.

The report states, "The Committee find that there are three major Sanitary Land Fill (SLF) sites in Delhi (Ghazipur, Okhla and Bhalaswa-Jahangirpuri,) which have turned into huge mountains of garbage and far exceeded their life span." The report states, "During the hearing held on 15th May, 2007 in the matter relating to the stay on Govt. subsidies for projects on recovery of energy from municipal solid waste, Hon'ble Supreme Court has permitted the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to go ahead with setting up of 5 waste-to-energy projects to study the viability of such projects. Hon'ble Supreme Court also directed that no projects for waste-to-energy be taken up till 5 pilot projects are completed. As per the aforesaid direction, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy formulated "Programme on Energy Recovery from Municipal Solid Waste for Setting-up of 5 Pilot Projects". The programme provides central financial assistance @ 2.00 crore per megawatt limited to Rs. 10.00 crore per project for 5 pilot set up by State Nodal Agencies, Urban Local Bodies/ Municipal Corporations or entrepreneurs. So far 5 projects have been approved in the cities Bengaluru, Hyderabad, New Delhi and Pune..."

I submit that the report mentions one of these five projects as M/s Timarpur Okhla Waste Management Pvt. Ltd., (TOWMCL), Jindal ITF Centre, 28 Shivaji Marg, New Delhi (Promoted by Jindal Urban Infrastructure Ltd. The location is mentioned as Old NDMC Compost plant, New Okhla tank, New Delhi. 

I submit that the reference to this Okhla based plant as one of the 5 projects is deceptively worded to give the impression that it is one of those 5 projects which was approved by the Supreme Court. The RTI reply hasalready revealed that it was not one of those 5 projects.
I submit that the Delhi High Court's judgment dated January 15, 2013 establishes the health impacts from the incinerator based on existing medical literature. I am quoting the same below from the order. World Health Organisation also has a fact sheet on it.

I submit that the Delhi High Court bench of Chief Justice came to the rescue of residents of Okhla's Sukhdev Vihar who had filed case against operation of the biomedical waste incinerator due to adverse effect on their health. The judgment was pronounced on January 15, 2013. Okhla medical waste incinerator was supposed to be shut down by 15 July, 2013 as per the order of the Delhi High Court. In order to escape contempt of court, the Synergy company, the biomedical waste incinerator operator has filed a review application and has chosen not to comply with the Court's order with no consequence so far.

The High Court held that "We, therefore, direct respondent No. 2 Government of NCT of Delhi and respondent No. 7 M/s. SynergyWaste Management Pvt. Ltd. to shift the bio-medical waste disposal facility, being operated near Sukhdev Vihar, to a suitable site. *The site suitable for shifting of the said facility in terms of this order would be identified by the Chief Secretary, Government of NCT ofDelhi, within three months from today in consultation with DDA and DPCC and the facility in question would be shifted within three months thereafter, i.e., within 06 months from today."

The High Court judgment 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.'

I submit that 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 anincinerator 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%".
The judgment 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".
I submit that 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".
I submit that the 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 theincinerator". *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".

I submit that this judgment is quite important relevant for the Okhla's municipal waste incineration power plant is being operated 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. The plant is owned by Shri Prithviraj Jindal.

In a significant development Dr. A.N. Vaidya, Senior Principal Scientist and Head of Solid and Hazardous Waste Management Division at NEERI informed that the joint report of Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) - National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) which was prepared for the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) on waste to energy projects in Delhi, reveals that combustion technology based waste to energy plants in Delhi "are posing threat to environment" and public health. He said, “it was based on NDMC request” in conversation with ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA).

In view of the above, I seek Commission's urgent intervention to stop a preventable public health disaster and to address the issue of health rights of the residents of the present and future generations.
Thanking You

Yours faithfully
 (Gopal Krishna)
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) A-124/6, First Floor, Katwaria Sarai,
New Delhi 110 016
Phone: +91-11-26517814
Fax: +91-11-26517814
Mb: 09818089660, 08227816731
E-mail:gopalkrishna1715@gmail.com Web: www.toxicswatch.org

Justice Shri Cyriac Joseph
Member, NHRC

Justice Shri D. Murugesan
Member, NHRC
Shri Sharad Chandra Sinha
Member, NHRC

Shri Wajahat Habibullah
Ex-officio Member, NHRC
Shri P.L. Punia
Ex-officio Member, NHRC

Dr. Rameshwar Oraon
Ex-officio Member

Ms. Mamta Sharma

Ex-officio Member
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