Environment minister Jairam Ramesh doesn’t think it should come up in the present location of a densely populated residential area. The Asian Development Bank’s Asian Pacific Carbon Fund has dropped it from its aid portfolio.
Also, the residents of 15 south Delhi colonies (numbering nearly 500,000 people) are dead against it. Yet, for some unfathomable reasons, the Delhi government is pushing the Rs 200-crore Timarpur-Okhla waste-to-energy project that is coming up on a 15-acre Municipal Corporation of Delhi plot, a few hundred metres from south Delhi colonies like Sukhdev Vihar, Maharani Bagh and New Friends Colony, near three premier hospitals (Holy Family, Fortis-Escorts and Apollo Indraprastha) and an old age home.
It is being built on land that was seen as a green buffer between the residential areas and a biomedical waste plant set up years ago.
Like many other projects in India, this too began with a public hearing — an eyewash, really — in 2006 when the DMK’s A Raja was the Union environment minister.
The Delhi government claims that it had given a newspaper notice for the public hearing (a legal requirement for projects of this size) on December 17, 2006, but no resident of the area attended the meeting. Residents, however, tell a different story. They allege that the public notice was drafted in a manner as to conceal the fact that 2,050 tonnes of municipal solid waste would be burnt everyday to generate 16 MW of electricity.
Later a Right to Information (RTI) petition found that only a few people attended the hearing: an engineer from the project proponents, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, and a department clerk.
Alarmingly, the Environment Impact Assessment Report of the project, which formed the basis of the clearance, has since gone missing. Today, the case is in the Delhi High Court and will come up for hearing on March 14.
Interestingly, there’s a Supreme Court ban on such waste-to-energy plants and the court has allowed only five pilot projects to test their viability. The one under construction in south Delhi, a private-public partnership between the Delhi government and Jindal Ecopolis, is not one of those pilot plants.
Yet, at the Delhi High Court, the state government touted this project as one. But replying to an RTI question, the Union ministry for renewable energy replied that it’s not one of the five pilot projects okayed by the apex court.
While the government and the company say that there are no health hazards from the project, it is well known that all municipal waste combustors, regardless of what technology they use, release a number of pollutants including cadmium, lead, dioxin, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride and nitrogen dioxide.
Dioxin and furans are toxic and they tend to persist in the environment for generations. Studies of human populations living near incinerators and of compounds released indicate that incinerators are associated with numerous health problems, especially in children and other vulnerable populations. These health problems include nerve damage, delayed development, birth defects, brain damage, respiratory and cardiovascular ailments, and cancer.
Then there’s the issue of plastics: the residents feel that complete elimination of plastics is impossible and they would be burnt as part of fuel to attain the desirable calorific value for the project during operations. This, they feel, will directly expose the communities to highly toxic pollutants. In fact, the Municipal Solid Waste Rules, 2000, rules say it’s illegal to incinerate chlorinated plastics (like PVC) and wastes chemically treated with any chlorinated disinfectant.
Cleverly, the government has used the climate change shield as a cover for the project and termed it as a renewable project. But annexure A of the Kyoto Protocol says that waste incineration is a greenhouse gas-emitter!
These are some of the serious questions that need to be answered. But as things stand now, the government refuses to remove its earplugs as residents run pillar to post for a fair hearing.