The three proposed waste-to-energy plants, coming up in east and south Delhi, have run into trouble with environmental experts and residents allying with waste pickers.
Claiming that they would emit poisonous fumes, causing damage to the residents' health, and provide only a minuscule amount of electricity to the city, critics are calling for construction to stop on these plants.
They plan to march on January 12 to Okhla's Sukhdev Vihar area, where such unit is coming up. The activists cite past government reports that say Indian garbage is not viable for this kind of project.
"Unlike western garbage, Indian waste is not high enough on calories to produce enough electricity. So, you either need to mix plastic in them or use a lot of oil to make them fit for power production. In either case, they will emit toxic gases and endanger lives," said B Sengupta, scientist and former member secretary of Central Pollution Control Board.
Even burning a sizeable part of the garbage in these plants will only provide a meagre amount of electricity. The Okhla and Timarpur plants will, for instance, yield only 16MW of power despite processing around 2,000 tonnes — one-third of Delhi's daily waste — of garbage.
But the environmental costs could be huge. If plastic is allowed to burn in incinerators, the fumes produced would contain a carcinogenic gas called dioxin. Similarly, mixing oil will also make the fumes poisonous.
"There is no clean way to operate these plants," Ravi Agarwal of environmental NGO Toxics Link, which along with Toxics Watch by Gopal Krishna, is a leading partner in the alliance. "There are technologies available to try and trap the emission, but the power produced in these plants is so abysmally low that these projects have never been viable enough in India to employ those costly technologies."
For this reason, all waste-to-energy plants in Europe are given the same status as incinerators in terms of their pollution value.
Apart from experts, associations of ragpickers, which have around two lakh members in Delhi, have joined the alliance. They claim these plants are nothing but a way to send Delhi's waste into incinerator and put ragpickers out of jobs. "The authorities are viewing garbage as a source of income," said Sashi Bhushan Pandit, head of All-India Ragpickers' Association. "They just want to earn millions in carbon credits by destroying lives here."
The proponents of these projects, however, argue this is the safest way of treating solid waste and also prevent it from going to landfills.