Proposal rubbished

Delhi government draws flak over gasification plant

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

a recent in-principle clearance to a gasification plant in Delhi has fuelled a major controversy. While environmental groups are up in arms about the "polluting and extravagantly expensive" project, Energy Developments Limited (edl) India -- a subsidiary of edl Australia and the company that is setting up the plant -- claims the technology is clean and tested. The Union ministry of non-conventional energy sources (mnes) is maintaining a studied silence as it is yet to get a detailed report. And the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (mcd), smarting from the Timarpur incinerator fiasco (it failed on both economic and ecological fronts), is going over the proposal with a fine-tooth comb.

The project is a part of the waste-to-energy (wte) programme, wherein refuse that is burnt or thermally decomposed generates energy. Subject to getting the go-ahead, it will fall within the ambit of the mcd. The Delhi Government would provide the land and the mnes is to give the final nod. To be sited in Ghazipur, the 21-megawatt gasification plant will process 1,000 tonnes of waste daily.

It has been contended that the very process employed in such plants is questionable. Gasification is the thermal decomposition of organic matter in an oxygen-free atmosphere, producing gas. "In actual practice, gasification does not occur in the complete absence of oxygen. Rather, it takes place merely in an oxygen-depleted environment. The oxygen which is still present among the molecules of waste produces carbon monoxide, dioxins, furans and particulates," says Madhumita Dutta, central coordinator of New Delhi-based non-governmental organisation (ngo) Toxics Link. "These are overkill technologies that cause more problems than they solve," she adds.

"What is inexplicable is that they also run contrary to the civic authorities' policies. On the one hand, the mcd is propagating waste segregation with the assistance of ngos and on the other it is opting for a plant which functions on the mixed waste principle," points out Neena Gulabani of Asian Centre for Organisational Research and Development (acord).

Environmentalists are astounded at not being included in the planning phase of the project. "Consultants from abroad were part of the meetings, but experts within the country had no representative," laments Ravi Agarwal, coordinator of ngo Srishti in New Delhi.

ngos are also concerned about the sops being doled out to multinational companies. "Why are wte projects getting subsidies, when compost plants do not enjoy such benefits? Why is the government not thinking of reviving compost plants and using the compost to reclaim degraded land in the country? Why not invest Rs 200 crore in a solar-powered plant, which is sustainable and non-polluting?" are Agarwal's posers to the administration. Sunand Sharma, managing director of edl, however, denies getting any subsidy from the government. The company plans to involve communities while preparing the project and conduct an environment impact assessment (eia), he says and adds that the price of power would be in accordance with the rules of the Electricity Regulatory Commission. But Uttam Vaswani, joint director (sanitation), mcd, feels that the authorities are chipping in financially. "We are obtaining land worth more than Rs 200 crore from the Delhi government on the company's behalf to set up the plant. The Timarpur land was leased out for 30 years and is lying idle. We need to be more careful this time," he says.

It appears that the most prudent way to resolve the row would be for all parties concerned -- ngos, authorities, industry and the civil society -- to evolve a broad consensus on a long-term waste management policy. Any intransigence may result in yet another opportunity going down the drain.

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