It was Delhi government’s Eureka moment of sorts when a waste-to-energy plant at Okhla started functioning in January 2012. Billed as one-of-its-kind plant in India, it was supposed to burn 1,300 tonnes of garbage a day, half of what 70 lakh people in 104 wards in South Delhi produce daily, and generate 16 MW of electricity.
Fifteen months on, though the Delhi Pollution Control Committee has allowed the Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Company to run the plant, it remains mired in controversy over environmental reasons.
Reports filed by an expert committee and a local commissioner appointed by the National Green Tribunal have said the plant is causing pollution. The tribunal, which is hearing a petition filed by residents of Sukhdev Vihar, seeking closure of the plant, will decide its fate.
Gopal Krishna, convener, Toxics Watch Alliance, said, “The plant releases harmful dioxins into the air. Delhi’s waste, largely because of poor segregation, is not fit for burning.”
The South Delhi Municipal Corporation and the New Delhi Municipal Council are supposed to segregate wet waste for composting, pick out recyclables and send to this plant only non-hazardous, dry waste. But this hardly happens; the job being left to”illegal”rag-pickers.
The tribunal has now asked the Union ministry of environment and forests to suggest remedial measures for the Okhla plant. But pollution is not the only issue here.
“Since the sole focus of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation is to send dry waste (40%) to this plant at the cost of disposal of wet waste (60%), the overall garbage disposal in South Delhi has taken a hit. It’s a waste of energy plant,” said Bharati Chaturvedi, a waste management expert.
The landfill in Okhla itself has been a concern. A study supported by the Centre says there is no mechanism to trap the harmful gases that are released, toxins mix with groundwater and drains.
The landfill is overflowing at a maximum height of about 40 metres at a few places and an average height of about 27 metres above the ground level. Worse, reclamation of the landfill is not likely to start in the near future.
But the dumping continues because there’s no alternative site. The corporation has sought 500 acres of land, but the Delhi Development Authority has not obliged because of environmental reasons and scarcity of land in the Capital.
About 700 overflowing dhalaos or community bins that serve as secondary collection centres dot the 532-km area in the districts of south, west and south-west Delhi, covered by the corporation.
Sukhvir Singh of Jangpura said, “The corporation must start a door-to-door trash pickup system.”
Pinky Jain of Lado Sarai and Vinay Sharma of Janakpuri rued there was no segregation at source.
Vijay Arora of an RWA in Lajpat Nagar said, “We have hired people to collect garbage from houses to dump it in the dhalao, which is not cleaned regularly.”
Bhagirath Lal of Green Park market association said, “We send the garbage generated in the market to the dhalao on our own.”
The corporation has in some areas outsourced secondary collection. It has had some impact.
Harvinder Singh of Defence Colony market association said, “We have kept a drum which is cleaned twice a day.”
(With inputs from Ritam Halder)
Case study: Pits of manure takes care of colony waste
Defence Colony, A-Block
New Delhi: When Shammi Talwar was elected an executive member of the Defence Colony, A-Block, RWA in 2003, her agenda was clear: “I wanted to reduce garbage generation.”
She contacted an NGO and it gave her the idea of composting the colony’s waste. On less than a half an acre wasteland, there are now eight functional pits in the colony where composting is done.
“We collect kitchen waste from households and put it in the pits. Compost is produced in three months. The garbage collectors also segregate waste and sell plastic bottles,” she says, adding that the colony produces over 4,000kg of manure every year.
“Today there is a self-sustainable system in place. The Delhi government has given us funds to set up this composting unit. The forest department and other RWAs purchase manure from us as it is cheap as well as organic. People of the colony also buy manure for their private gardens,” said Talwar, who has been living here for the past 33 years.
“The goal is effective disposal of garbage. We are not keen on earning money. But since the landfills have exhausted their lifespan need of the hour is to have two pits in every park in each colony of the city. If the government makes it compulsory then nothing like it,” said Talwar.
Talwar’s model has been replicated in Dwarka and Sarita Vihar as well.
“It depends on one’s will to implement effective garbage management. We want to make this colony a ‘zero-waste residential area’. People must be motivated to learn to segregate their garbage properly,” she said, before resuming to instruct gardeners on nuances of composting, a knowledge she has acquired over the past few years.
Interview Manish Gupta: ‘DDA has to provide us land for reclaiming Okhla landfill’
Manish Gupta, commissioner, South Delhi Municipal Corporation, squarely blames the DDA for not providing land for an alternative landfill for south Delhi. The landfill at Okhla has already exhausted its life span and the civic body is trying to reclaim it. He also claimed that the emissions at the Okhla waste-to-energy plant are within the prescribed norms. He spoke to HT about these issues:
The landfill at Okhla exhausted its lifespan a long time back. How is south Delhi going to manage its waste?
It is DDA’s responsibility to provide land for landfill. Supreme Court has also directed it to do so. But nothing happened.
What is the south civic body doing about it?
We have prepared a plan for the next 20 years that includes composting, debris processing units and waste-to-energy plants. We would segregate waste, recycle, compost and burn it. Only residue inert material will be dumped. For this purpose 500 acres of land is required. Hopefully the court will help us.
What about the overflowing landfill?
We have prepared plans to reclaim the site. But technology and funds are needed. We also need land for dumping when reclamation starts. There is a 60-acre plot near the site. DDA has to take action. Once we get the nearby plot, reclamation will start.
There have been environmental concerns regarding the Okhla waste-to-energy plant. The matter is pending before the court. Are these plants a way forward?
For these plants, you need land to dump waste. According to its master plan (2021), Delhi requires 1,500 acres of landfill. So these plants save land. Plus landfills produce methane and pollute groundwater. Emissions at our plant are within norms. In Paris they have 15 waste-to-energy plants in the city. If they can why can’t we?
When will door-to-door collection of garbage begin?
From January 2014, a waste management and sanitation plan will be put in place. Consultants will make an assessment of every ward’s sanitation management. Door-to-door collection will be a part of it. By April 1, 2014 we want to start implementing it.
With inputs from Ritam Halder
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