Waste-to-energy projects figured in the election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party during the recent civic polls in Delhi. BJP hoardings across the city declared that “the citizens will not be charged to generate power”. It seems the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) is obsessed with the idea of generating energy from garbage. Despite ample evidence that the technology is a failure and people’s oppositions to the projects, three waste-to-energy projects are under way in the capital city. The Okhla plant has been functioning on a trial basis since January, despite a public interest petition against it in the Delhi High Court, which is being heard since 2009. Construction work on another plant in thickly populated Ghazipur is in full swing. MCD plans to begin work on the third one in Narela-Bawana shortly.
This is despite the fact that the country’s first waste-to-energy plant was set up in Delhi’s Timarpur area in 1984, and was rendered defunct within 15 days of its functioning. Incinerating waste to generate electricity not only releases toxins, such plants are unviable as the country’s municipal waste has a low calorific value. As per the Manual on Municipal Solid Waste Management of the Union urban development ministry, 44 to 53 per cent of the waste in India comprises materials that do not burn, construction debris for instance. Incineration of such waste produces toxic ash that requires special landfills for disposal (see ‘Unfit to burn’, Down To Earth, March 1-15, 2007).
Together, the three plants aim to incinerate some 8,000 tonnes of municipal waste the city generates daily and produce 62.2 MW of electricity; Delhi consumes around 4,800 MW of electricity every day. “It’s like killing two birds with one stone. We will get a clean city and additional power,” says a BJP spokesperson, explaining why the party supports the technology.
Residents of Ghazipur say the plants will bring more trouble than benefit. A few residents from Kabadi Basti in Ghazipur on April 7 cornered BJP candidates over the waste-to-energy plant during their campaign to the colony. “We let them go only after they promised to look into the matter and stop the plant once voted to power,” says Varun, a Basti resident. Kabadi Basti is one of the six slums that lie within a kilometre of the plant. The plant also faces a Delhi Development Authority (DDA) colony and shares its walls with the city’s largest butcher house on one side and a veterinary hospital on the other. A cluster of dairy farms is located barely 15 metres from the plant.
“The area is already contaminated with waste like decomposed skin, fur, flesh and blood released by the slaughterhouse. The incineration plant, releasing more toxic pollutants like dioxins, furans and heavy metals will lead to further contamination,” says Shashi Bhushan. He works with ragpickers and heads non-profit All India Kabadi Mazdoor Mahasangh. Dioxins, furans and heavy metals are known to cause cancer, birth defects, hormonal disorders, respiratory ailments and skin infections. “The toxins might also find their way into the cattle milk,” says C B R Nair, a resident of the DDA colony.
On March 24, residents from the DDA colony and slums organised a citizens’ hearing near the plant. “But the police intimidated people and ensured a low attendance,” alleges Sant Ram, president of the residents welfare association of the DDA colony. The residents claim no consultation has been done for the plant. An analysis of the rapid environmental impact assessment (EIA) report of the project by Delhi-based NGO Hazards Centre shows the plant obtained clearance based on faulty claims (see ‘Ghazipur plant’s faulty EIA report’). In November last year, the DDA residents had approached the Delhi High Court for a stay on the waste-to-energy plant. The court declined to stay the project, but will hear the case on April 24.
|Ghazipur plant’ s faulty EIA report
- As per the report, the facility is being constructed on a two-hectare plot next to the garbage mound. The waste will be segregated at the site. Of the 2,000 tonnes of waste the landfill receives daily, the facility will process 1,300 tonnes to generate 433 tonnes of refuse-derived fuel. To convert it into power, there will be a power plant. Given the operations, two ha is inadequate. To illustrate, a plant to incinerate 700 tonnes of garbage in Malaysia requires 11.3 ha. By India’s own standard, Okhla plant is set up on 6 ha
- Despite sharing a wall with slaughterhouse, EIA report does not mention it. The report claims the plant will dispose of its effluent after treating it. The claim sounds hollow as there is little space
- The report claims consultations were held with the local community. People supported the project as it will generate employment and improve the environment. But it does not mention the dates on which the consultations were held and other details like how many people participated in the consultation. It also remains silent on how many jobs the plant can generate
- The report claims to follow the Central Pollution Control Board norms on emissions. But it records high levels of suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) at the plant site—maximum of 460 and minimum of 378 within a day. This is way above the limits of 140 SPM for residential area and 360 for Industrial area. The plant will exacerbate the pollution levels
P K Khandwal, superintendent engineer of MCD, says there has been no opposition to the Ghazipur plant. He adds that the Okhla plant has already treated 800,000 tonnes of waste and generates 8-10 MW a day. Project report of the Okhla plant states the plant would generate 16 MW.
Why the patronage?
Delhi is not the only city where waste-to-energy plants are being built. Earlier this year, Bhagalpur municipality in Bihar received half a dozen proposals from private companies to set up a waste-to-energy plant. Last year, Jindal set up a similar plant in Jalandhar amid stiff opposition by residents. The Bengaluru municipality is also setting up a waste-to-energy plant.
Analysts say this is mostly fuelled by the incentives offered by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), municipal corporations and the prospects of getting international funds through the clean development mechanism (CDM) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). MNRE provides subsidies between Rs 50,000 and Rs 1 lakh per MW generated by a plant. Since the projects are implemented under public-private-partnership, the city civic body offers land at a subsidised rate. Gopal Krishna of Toxics Watch, a Delhi non-profit, says all waste-to-energy plants are in violation of the Supreme Court order of 2005, which states, “...we hope that till the position (environmental impact of waste-to-energy plants) is clear, the government would not sanction any further subsidies.”
UNFCCC recognition of waste incineration to generate power is a double standard, says Dharmesh Shah of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. In the garb of renewable energy, UNFCCC has given the dirty technology legitimacy. Several international organisations are fighting against this, he adds. Despite MNRE and CDM grants, tariff of electricity generated by a waste-to-energy plant is over twice that of the power generated by a thermal plant. For instance, the Ghazipur plant claims its power tariff would reduce from Rs 6.64 to Rs 6.15 a unit following MNRE aid. Taking the CDM grant (assuming the value of 1 CER is 15 euros) into account, the tariff would come down to Rs 5.44, way above the conventional tariff of Rs 2.15.
With inputs from Sugandh Juneja
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