Ragpickers oppose waste to energy plants

Say studies have shown that Indian waste is unfit for the purpose

By Moyna
Published: Tuesday 27 December 2011

With the fear of losing their means of living looming over them, waste pickers from across the country have opposed Delhi government’s plan to install three waste to energy plants in the city.

“How can the proposed energy generation of 40 MW justify the loss of 350,000 jobs,” asks Dharmendra Yadav, general secretary of All India Kachra Sharamail Mahasang (AIKSM) which organised a state-level meet of waste pickers on December 22.

“The companies that have been allotted the charge of waste collection are being given money and concessions to pretty much do what the waste pickers were doing. Why cannot the government find a way of integrating these people (see Misery stricken) into the system and providing them with skills that will help them live a dignified life?” asks Yadav.

The three plants at Ghazipur, Okhla and Narela-Bawana have already been approved and are at various stages of clearances and construction “It is estimated that all the three plants will require 7, 300 tonnes of waste per day to produce the projected amount of energy leaving only about 1,200 tonnes of waste to share between private contractors and waste-pickers,” says Gopal Krishna of Toxicswatch, a research advocacy group. Delhi municipal solid waste is said to be around 8,000 tonnes per day. The Okhla plant–under litigation–is proposed to treat 2,050 tonnes of waste, the one in Ghazipur is proposed to burn 1,300 tonnes while the one in Narela-Bawana is meant for 4,000 tonnes of waste.

The city’s municipal authorities have, since 2005, been systematically handing over garbage collection to private companies. These companies have been given contract for collection, segregation and disposal of waste in 12 different zones of the city.

The companies operating the waste-to-energy plants like Jindal, have also been given a nine month concession period, inclusive of the implementation period of 12 months from the date of signing the contract. The Jindal group gets a subsidy of Rs 2 crore for the production of each MW of electricity for their two plants at Timarpur and Okhla.  

Yadav says that the environmental hazards of incinerating waste to generate power have been long been debated. Studies have shown that Indian waste is unfit for waste to energy plants. “Look at the Timarpur plant itself, even government records show that the plant was operational for barely nine days,” he says.
Even experts question the move. They say the technology being used in the plants is the same as that of Timarpur. But) Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB refutes the claims. It says there are differences. The Timarpur plant was based on incineration not coupled with energy recovery, they say. Now energy recovery is a mandatory in all new plants after the Municipal Solid Waste rules came into force in 2000. The new plants are based on gasification and incineration coupled with energy recovery.

Also, Indian municipal solid waste consists of 40 per cent biodegradable waste, 40 per cent inert material like dust and debris. After removal of hazardous material, only 20 per cent of the total waste is left for use in these plants. “The main basis of these waste-to-energy plants can be brought under question as the calorific value of Indian waste is very low,” says Krishna. It is claimed that the calorific value of Indian waste is between 600 to 800 kilo calories. The requirement for waste to energy plants is between 1,000 to 1,200 kilo calories.

Misery stricken

Phul BasTwenty-two-year-old Phul Bas grew up in the settlements along the banks of river Yamuna. He now lives in Rithala in north Delhi. He started working at the age of 12 and supports a family of six along with his father and brother. Life has become tough for him in the past two years since the garbage collection of colonies was given to contractors. “I used to earn Rs 200-250 per day as previously we used to get waste directly from the houses, segregate it and sell recyclable waste to kabadiwallas, but now we have to buy it from the contractor. One carrier for the garbage costs me Rs 100 and it sells between Rs 150 to 200. I only make Rs 50 to Rs 100 now.”

AlkashAlkash Moim moved to Delhi 12 years ago because the daily wage in his village was barely Rs 40. In Delhi he could earn upto Rs 90. He lives in Rithala and has three unwed daughters. He sifts through garbage with his son and earns barely enough to keep his family of six afloat. “The situation is so bad that often we borrow money from the man we are going to sell the retrieved garbage too,” says Moim. Most families have zero savings. They go to the big kabadiwallas and borrow money. “When we sell him the waste we segregate, he deducts the borrowed money leaving us with minimal earnings,” he explains.

Runa Biwi Runa Biwi looks barely 16 years old and is nursing an eight month old baby while feeding a six year old boy. She was born in Delhi and lived in Jahangirpuri till she was shunted to Shahbad dairy under slum rehabilitation programme. “I can afford to feed my children because we are a small family and both my husband and I work over 18 hours a day.” Economically a bit better off than her companions she explains how they rent a vehicle at Rs 20 per day or Rs 500 per month and collect waste from houses that the contractors have not taken over. “We make about Rs 200 together,” she adds. “The children come with us on the rented rickshaw to collect garbage. It is all I know how to do,” she says.

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