Delhi High Court orders shifting of biomedical waste incinerator from Okhla

Residents hope it will pave the way for shifting of Jindal's waste-to-energy plant

By Akshay Deshmane
Published: Saturday 19 January 2013

The Delhi High Court has questioned the setting up of waste incineration plants in residential neighbourhoods. It has directed the civic authorities to shift the bio-medical waste incinerator at Okhla in south Delhi to a place outside residential limits following health concerns expressed by residents of the neighbouring locality of Sukhdev Vihar. The residents hope the court verdict will pave the way for shifting another  incinerator in the vicinity, Jindal's waste-to-energy plant, when the court hears their case on January 23.

"The judgement makes it clear that incinerators should not be located in residential areas because their hazardous effect on public health is beyond dispute. Besides, in the case of the waste-to-energy incinerator, there are even more violations. The court will certainly give its verdict in residents' favour (in the Jindal plant case)," says Vimal Monga, president of Sukhdev Vihar residents welfare associaton, the petitioner.

Court cites CPCB guidelines
The judgement observes that the guidelines of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) states that common bio-medical waste treatment facility should be located at a place reasonably far away from residential and sensitive areas so that it has minimal impact on these areas.

The Master Plan for Delhi, 2021, says hazardous waste processing including hospital/medical/industrial waste is amongst the industries, manufacturing of which shall be prohibited within National Capital Territory of Delhi. The order goes on to say it is not in dispute that bio-medical waste is a hazardous waste which can be highly injurious to human life.

“That precisely appears to be the reason for its being included in the list of prohibited/negative list of industries. Admittedly, incinerators are used in the facility meant for disposal of bio-medical waste. This has also been noted in the guidelines issued by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on treatment of bio-medical waste and installation of incinerator is a mandatory requirement for such plants.

Incineration is a controlled combustion from where waste is completely oxidized and harmful microorganisms present in it are destroyed/denatured under high temperature,” the order notes.
In its order dated January 15, the high court underlined the health hazards posed by the incinerator and directed officials to look for an alternative site. “We direct the government of NCT of Delhi and M/s. Synergy Waste Management Pvt. Ltd to shift the bio-medical waste disposal facility, being operated near Sukhdev Vihar, to a suitable site. It would be identified by the chief secretary within three months in consultation with the DDA and DPCC and the facility in question would be shifted within three months thereafter, i.e., within six months from today," it said. The court, however, allowed operation of the facility till a new site is found.

This has not gone down well with some residents. Asha Arora of Okhla Anti-incinerator Committee says the six-months period has given those operating the plant a window of opportunity to delay its closure. "Though it is a very positive judgement, the period can be used as a delaying tactic by the operator. He can simply approach the Supreme Court against the verdict and the closure will be further delayed," she says.

Gopal Krishna, convener of non-profit ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), however, says there is no going back. "It is a landmark judgement and will certainly serve as a precedent in the hearing of the case concerning the waste-to-energy incinerator which will come up on January 23. Two things are clearly established in this case: the illegality of locating waste incinerators in residential localities and their immense hazardous effects on public health. This is crucial," he adds.

K K Rohtagi, lawyer for the petitioners concurs. At the same time he also pointed out the legal differences in the two cases. "While the bio-medical facility is governed by bio-medical waste (management and handling) rules, the waste-to-energy facility needs to follow municipal solid waste rules. These factors have to be considered while weighing the legal prospects," said Rohtagi.

Despite repeated attempts, Jindal Urban Infrastructure Limited which controls the operator Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Co Pvt Ltd (TOWMCL) remained unavailable for comment.

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