Every time Naintara Devraj gets up in the morning, she feels sick and groggy. Thick black smoke swirls around her residence at Sukhdev Vihar through the night.
“There is a perpetual, acrid smell in the air, like in a crematorium. Sometimes there is the distinct smell of plastic burning. Often the smoke mixes with the fog and remains over rooftops,” the 47-year-old housewife says.
She is not alone. There are many who say a waste-to-energy plant emits brownish, soapy ash, causing eye irritation and difficulty in breathing. They say ash sits on houses, cars and plants and furniture; it can leave a stain on the skin and burn holes on clothes hung out to dry.
Vanya Joshi (51), a filmmaker, says, “My doctor tells me that the smoke from the chimneys has affected my immune system. I do not smoke but my lungs have developed black patches. If this continues I will have to sell my flat and move somewhere safer.”
Residents say they have been holding demonstrations, fighting court cases, and meeting officials for two years now, seeking relief from the smoke and ash.
Gopal Krishna of anti-pollution NGO Toxic Watch Alliance said, “We gave a petition to chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on January 11. We asked environment minister on January 27 to intervene.”
Another resident, Rishi Bansal, has complained to government authorities. “I was playing football in a park. A sudden cloud of smoke came from the direction of the plant and settled all around us. Finally, we had to quit the game,” he said.
Residents claim toxic emissions from such plants have been linked to cancers, respiratory ailments and birth defects. “And it’s not only Sukhdev Vihar which is suffering. Other affected colonies include New Friends Colony, Maharani Bagh, Ishwar Nagar, Jamia Nagar, Jasola Vihar and Sarita Vihar, besides Jamia Millia Islamia University, Holy Family Hospital and other institutions,” said Krishna.
A delegation of Okhla AntiIncinerator Committee (OAIC) has also submitted to Delhi the environment minister documents “which nail the lies of the company that runs the plant and the regulators.” Ranjit Devraj, another resident, said, “We have submitted proof that the union environment minister wrote to the Delhi CM, questioning public hearings on whose basis clearances were given to the plant.”
Though Hindustan Times could not independently verify the claims of the residents, pollution control authorities have in the past found that pollution levels were above permissible limits. Delhi Pollution Control Committee member secretary Sandeep Mishra admitted: “The plant has violated pollution-control norms four times in the last two years.”