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This is our Jaitapur

It’s wrong to project the anti-incinerator stir in south Delhi as an elite time pass, writes Seema Alavi.

india Updated: Apr 30, 2011 00:13 IST

This is in response to Bahar Dutt’s article (Different Rules for different people, Comment, April 28). As someone who admires her reporting, I was surprised to find how ill-informed she is about the campaign against the waste-to-energy incinerator that is being built barely 2 kms from thickly congested residential areas in south Delhi. I do not wish to go into the technological merits and demerits of the incinerator and the environment versus development debate because Dutt and the anti-incinerators campaigners of Okhla are on the same page on that.

I do wish to clarify here that the Okhla campaign is hardly, as Dutt mentioned, one of ‘posh south Delhi’ alone, its certainly not about aesthetic concerns on ‘stench of the garbage’, nor are there any official ‘different rules’ for it. Instead the campaign identifies with other vulnerable communities and sees parallels with their protests. It is unfair and misleading to distort facts and trivialise the campaign as an elite time pass.

First, like Jaitapur, the residents of south Delhi’s Okhla area were not consulted in any discussion on the incinerator. The so-called public hearing was a farce attended by three employees of the plant. The procedural laxity on the part of the Delhi government meant the exclusion from consultation of not just the ‘posh South Delhi’ residential areas of Sukhdev Vihar, Maharani Bagh and New Friends Colony, but also the thickly populated low-income group Muslim minority areas of Haji Colony, Ghaffar Manzil, Jamianagar, and Harkesh Nagar. The protest, therefore, is a rainbow coalition in terms of income groups, religious and professional categories.

Second, I am shocked that an environment journalist like Dutt can trivialise the scientifically proven toxic emissions from such waste-to-energy plants and reduce its hazards to mere ‘stench of the garbage’. It is not only the stink and the aesthetics that has brought hundreds of people together. The neighborhood has been living with the stench of burning hospital waste from a bio-medical waste plant that shares the boundary with the Sukhdev Vihar DDA flats. It belches out pollutants and thick black smoke despite a high court order to re-locate it. And now the residents are worried about their own health and of that of the medically un-insured poor Muslim neighbours once the plant starts functioning. The current location is surrounded by Apollo, Escorts and Holy Family Hospitals, a Cheshire old home, Jamia Millia Islamia and, of course, the thickly-congested population of economically poor and medically vulnerable members of the minority community.

Finally, the anti-incinerator campaign sees striking parallels with Jaitapur and other such locations chosen for setting up nuclear and other energy plants. Indeed, it realises that all such campaigns across the globe share one referent: most sites are in low income, vulnerable minority- concentrated locations. The Okhla anti-incinerator campaign too is a victim of such a global universalism in the choice of locating both experimental and scientifically proven hazardous projects cheek by jowl with vulnerable residential areas.

( Seema Alavi is professor, University of Delhi )

The views expressed by the author are personal