Shift biomedical waste plant out of Mumbai within a year to reduce air pollution: Aaditya Thackeray

The plant has been directed to reduce treatment by the permissible limit of its current carrying capacity, and submit a plan within 10 days as to how they intend on shifting out of Mumbai.
Smoke emissions from the biomedical waste plant.(Saif Alam)
Smoke emissions from the biomedical waste plant.(Saif Alam)
Published on Oct 05, 2020 11:40 PM IST
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By, Mumbai

Following air pollution concerns raised by Govandi residents over the past few months, state environment minister Aaditya Thackeray has directed the city’s only biomedical waste plant to be shifted out within a year. The minister also directed that private waste operator SMS Envoclean Pvt Ltd, which was appointed by the civic body to deal with Mumbai’s Covid-19 waste and associated biomedical waste, needs to expedite the process of identifying an alternative site for their operations within a month.

The decisions were taken by Thackeray during a meeting on Monday with private waste operators, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) and other state government officials.

“There are two sides to this issue. While we must realise that the presence of this plant within a residential area makes it a threat to citizens with regard to unfavourable air quality, at the same time this is the only certified biomedical treatment centre in the city which is also dealing with Covid-19 waste,” said Thackeray. He added, “The plant has been directed to reduce treatment by the permissible limit of its current carrying capacity, and submit a plan within 10 days as to how they intend on shifting out of Mumbai. Once the site is selected, based on permissions issued by various state departments, it would take at least a year to phase the plant out of Mumbai.”

Thackeray added that another follow-up meeting will be held within 15 days to examine developments in the matter.

Local residents have filed several complaints since the beginning of lockdown against SMS Envoclean for allegedly violating air pollution norms by releasing black smoke through its chimney into residential areas.

On September 11, a legal notice to MPCB issued by advocate Saif Alam and signed by 100 residents from Govandi, Mankhurd, Deonar and surrounding areas, alleged that repeated complaints between July and September went unnoticed and that MPCB did not conduct any investigation. The notice further alleged ignorance by the pollution regulator about residential and slum areas in the vicinity of SMS breathing ‘poisonous air’ and ‘having skin ailments’ even as one of the slums had witnessed 8.9% fatality rate due to Covid-19.

As a response to the notice, MPCB Mumbai’s regional officer AN Harshwardhan directed SMS Envoclean to divert 50% of the treatment carrying capacity of Covid-19 waste to another unit in Taloja-Mumbai Waste Management Ltd. He further stated that black smoke was emitted after incinerating personal protective equipment (PEE) kits and highlighted that the plant was complying with air quality emission standards.

On Sunday, Alam had written to Thackeray requesting action in the matter or he would be forced to move the National Green Tribunal seeking closure of the plant.

Reacting to Monday’s decisions taken by Thackeray, Alam said, “A year is too long a time frame for this plant to remain operational as air pollution is increasing on a daily basis. We will await a formal response to our letter to the environment minister since we were not invited for the meeting on Monday. Once the decision on action on this plant is clear, we will take a call whether to move NGT.”

Meanwhile, SMS plant operators said they were receiving 30-32 tons of Covid-19 and associated biomedical waste daily from Mumbai against their capacity of 24 tons. “We are already sending a large quantity of waste to Taloja and have reduced incineration significantly. Directions issued by the minister on Monday will be followed and a plan will be ready to shift the plant to a 3-acre area in Khalapur within one year from the time we receive permissions such as consent to establish the unit from MPCB, environment clearance, and construction permission. We will be submitting our plan of action within the next 10 days,” said Amit Nilawar, director, SMS Envoclean.

SMS WAS ISSUED CLOSURE NOTICE BUT THEY GOT STAY FROM BOMBAY HC

In 2018, MPCB had issued a closure notice to SMS after it failed to meet safety standards under the air and water pollution Acts. However, the unit managed to get a stay on the order from the Bombay high court. Thereafter, SMS refurbished their air pollution control system in full compliance as per norms, said MPCB. The plant follows a process of secondary combustion across four chambers through scrubbing and water sprinkling to remove hazardous pollutants. However, local residents said they had faced severe difficulty in breathing due to harmful black smoke daily emanating from the plant.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Badri Chatterjee is an environment correspondent at Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He writes about environment issues - air, water and noise pollution, climate change - weather, wildlife - forests, marine and mangrove conservation

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