Okhla Waste-to-Energy Plant Using Experimental Chinese Technology Back in Spotlight

Okhla waste-to-energy plant. Credit: Flickr/IndiaWaterPortal

Okhla waste-to-energy plant. Credit: Flickr/IndiaWaterPortal

New Delhi: Drawing attention to the halting of plans for a trash incinerator project by authorities in China’s eastern Zhejiang province after protests by residents, Toxics Watch Alliance (TWA) has demanded that the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) bring to the notice of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) at its next hearing on May 4 the use of “experimental Chinese technology” at the Okhla waste-to-energy (WTE) power plant operated by M/s Jindal Urban Infrastructure Limited.

The environmental rights organisation has charged that the plant poses a serious health hazard to those living in the vicinity due to the air pollution caused by it. The Wire had reported last May how Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar had also forwarded a complaint about the Okhla plant – that it was not meeting emission standards and was using unapproved technology – to the CPCB.

In a letter to A.B. Akolkar, member secretary of the CPCB, Gopal Krishna of TWA observed that the news of the developments in Zhejiang was “relevant to the goings on in Okhla.” Global experience, he said, demonstrated without any dispute that incinerator-based WTE plants do not resolve the issue of the non-availability of land and landfill sites. “Incinerator-based WTE plants constitute a meaningless and misplaced option. The fact is that it is not a solution, it is a problem creator. It gives birth to the problem of what can be deemed as landfills in the sky.”

“A bizarre situation has emerged because the arguments for Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) incineration technology that was advanced by the company and the law officers of the previous central and state governments are no more relevant because the plant is using an experimental Chinese technology,” he said about the Okhla plant.

Recalling that it was the report of the CPCB’s technical evaluation committee, of which Akolkar was a member, that had disclosed that the Jindal power plant was using “unapproved technology,” Krishna pointed out that there was no mention of this technology either at the “time of submitting the project proposal or in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report based on which a so-called public hearing was conducted in Saket in the presence of two officials only as per records.”

This CPCB report, TWA has claimed, was a “challenge to NGT’s proposition that environmental clearance given to Jindal’s plant has not been disputed.’’

Krishna said TWA has been highlighting the “dangerous implications of this plant since March 2005”. Stating that he had appeared before the Supreme Court’s WTE committee, headed by D. K. Biswas, and that his submissions were part of body’s report, which formed the basis of apex court’s May 2007 order, Krishna said the court had permitted the “Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources (MNES) to go ahead for the time being with 5 pilot projects chosen by them”. However, he said, the order applied specifically to biomethanation technology and it had been revealed through an RTI that Delhi’s WTE incinerator projects were not among the five pilot projects nor were they based on the recommended technology.

As such, Krishna held that the NGT’s September 2013 order refusing to close the Okhla plant needs to be challenged because it had made factually incorrect propositions, and misrepresented and misinterpreted the high court’s order by stating “It may be noticed at the very outset that this plant came into existence as a result of a decision being taken by the Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Resources to establish pilot projects dealing with the municipal waste.”

The letter further states that the Okhla plant, located in an ecologically sensitive and thickly populated area, has “violated all the rules in the rule book” and goes on to cite how it violates provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972; the Master Plan of Delhi, section 3(2) (v) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986; rule 5 (ix) of the Environment (protection) Rules, 1986; and guidelines for the establishment of industries issued by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF).

Yet, Krishna said, the plant, which generates 16 MW of power, was benefiting monetarily too, by way of assistance of Rs 1.5 crore/MW, despite the Supreme Court staying the sanction of any further subsidies for projects on energy recovery from municipal solid waste.

Krishna also accused the Delhi government of falsely claiming in the high court that Okhla was one of the five projects cleared by the Supreme Court. Although, based on this response, the high court had dismissed a petition filed by residents, it restored the petition when it found the claim to be untrue.

Krishna urged Akolkar to consider these points before the next hearing on May 4 so that it “reconsiders and revises its propositions and assumptions about Jindal’s waste incinerator based power plant in Sukhdev Vihar, Okhla to save present and future generation of residents of being enveloped in a gas chamber as a consequence of the tried, tested and failed approach adopted for waste management.”

An advocate appearing in the case said a team comprising the environment and power secretary of Delhi, the member-secretary of CPCB, Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), a senior scientist from MoEF, a senior officer from the irrigation department of Uttar Pradesh (for the Ghazipur plant) and chief engineers of municipal corporations had been directed by the NGT to inspect the three WTE plants in Delhi, and is expected to submit their report before the hearing.

“The issue is Delhi produces about 8500 metric tonnes of waste each day of which 500 tonnes is construction debris which is used to make bricks. Of the remaining 8000 tonnes, about a fifth is incinerated at the 1950 MT capacity Okhla plant while the 1350 MT capacity Ghazipur plant was operationalised last year to take off some more of the load. But the Ghazipur plant stopped functioning a couple of months ago due to technical objections raised by the authorities. The Bhalswa WTE plant, would be the third in Delhi, with 1550 MT capacity. So together these three plants are expected to take care of over half the city’s garbage load,” said the advocate.

“The idea is to improve the functioning of these plants as they are seen as a long term solution to the problem of treating waste. The garbage generation in Delhi is expected to double in about 10 years’ time and so urgent solutions are needed,” he added.

Incidentally, earlier this month, the Centre amended the municipal rules governing the disposal and treatment of solid waste. The new Solid Waste Management (SWM) Rules, 2016 have replaced the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000. Although rules covering the management of plastic waste, e-waste, biomedical waste, and hazardous and construction and demolition waste have also been notified within days of each other, experts insist that they still do not pay heed to major concerns.