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Okhlaiites breathe poisoned air and nobody is talking about it

Although National Green Tribunal (NGT)’s Bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar has been hearing the case of a incinerator technology based municipal solid waste (MSW) based thermal power plant of Timarpur-Okhla Waste since February 2013, even after more than two and half years residents of Delhi’s Okhla will continue to be denied the right to breathe fresh and clean air at least till December 31, 2016, writes environmentalist Gopal Krishna.

Besides violating all the environmental clearance conditions and conditions laid down in the No Objection Certificate under Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the plant Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, this plant has violated the Battery Limit as well.

It is not in dispute that Delhi’s municipal waste has hazardous waste characteristics. It is noteworthy that the waste incinerator based thermal power plant is located exactly in the vicinity of the residential colonies.

Prior to the ongoing hearing in the NGT, the case faced 28 dates of hearing in Writ Petition No. 9901 of 2009 at Delhi High Court between 2009 and 2013. The residents have been denied relief by NGT between 2013 and 2016 so far.

The minutes of the meeting held on 24/06/2016 under the Chairmanship of Chief Secretary, Government of NCT of Delhi to implement the orders of National Green Tribunal in the matter of Original Application No. 22/2013 reveals that “Regarding Okhla plant it was informed by the DPCC, that as per the decision taken by Consent Management Committee (CMC) in its 26th meeting held on 11/3/2016 the plant may operate on provisional basis and improve its emission standards to 30 mg/Nm3 as per direction of DPCC/Hon’ble NGT for transitional period till 31/12/2016. The Chief Secretary, Delhi, desired that the Chairman DPCC should take a meeting with all the stake holders, and an all out effort should be made to improve emission standards before 31/12/2016”. (Source: Department of Urban Development, Government of NCT of Delhi dated 06.07.2016 (F.N 13/56/CC/MB/UD/2016/1327-1341).

It is intriguing as to why Delhi Government is so indulgent towards a highly polluting plant which has violated every environmental norm and caused serious public health crisis.

Unmindful of the demands of the environmental groups and residents who seek closure of the plant, the Chief Secretary is evidently paying lip-service about making efforts to “improve emission standards.”

This is manifestly misleading given the fact that emission standards fixed by law have to be complied with and in the case of non-compliance the plant has to be shut down for good. The legality of allowing the plant to operate with “provisional” consent following withdrawal of consent to operate is highly questionable. Given the fact that all the relevant clearances were granted for RDF technology, not for the unapproved Chinese technology which has been used by the company, the grant of provisional consent demonstrates collusion and connivance of the DPCC and Delhi Government. Its reference to NGT’s order for doing so is an exercise in creative construction of legal argument to justify the environmental lawlessness in the national capital.

The plant is amidst residential colonials and institutions of national importance like Central Road Research Institute, Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology and the Indian Institute of Information Technology. Such toxic emissions from the plant in an ecologically sensitive area and thickly populated area has become a routine affair with all the concerned authorities turning a blind eye towards this illegitimate and illegal act. Besides violating the Master Plan, this plant has violated all the rules in the rule book including environmental clearance conditions.

This power plant of TOWMCL was supposed to use RDF technology but it is using an unapproved Chinese technology brought to light by the report of Technical Experts Evaluation Committee headed by Chairman, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) prepared pursuant to March 22, 2011 dated order of the Union Minister of Environment & Forests. This constitutes deviations from approved technology. The Chinese technology provider is from Hangzhou New Century Company Ltd of Hangzhou Boiler Group. The High Powered Technical Experts Evaluation Committee of CPCB in its 31 page report on the Timarpur-Okhla Waste to Energy Incinerator Plant brought to light the illegalities committed by Jindal’s TOWMCL. The report was communicated on March 22, 2012. This report is based on three meetings of the Technical Experts Evaluation Committee held on April 26, 2011, August 11, 2011 and September 22, 2011 under the chairmanship of Chairman, CPCB.

Although these facts have been brought on record in the NGT so far no action has been taken against the culprit.

In a related case in an earlier order Delhi High Court has observed, “10. In Master Plan for Delhi, 2021, notified on 07.02.2007, hazardous waste processing viz. hospital/medical/industrial waste is amongst the industries, manufacturing of which shall be prohibited within National Capital Territory of Delhi.” The Court observed that “This is a mandatory requirement of the guidelines issued by CPCB, that such facility should be far away from residential and sensitive areas”

Notably, substitution of technology is prohibited under the provisions of the Environmental Clearance. It is deemed dangerous to according to a report of CSIR-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). What is also important is that the consent to operate clearly mentions biomethanation and RDF as the route to energy production and does not provide for incineration at all.

It is puzzling as to why Delhi Government and central government are allowing this plant to exist despite it being a habitual offender and violator of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the plant Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.

(The author is an activist and for years, he has been running peaceful campaign with residents of Okhla to shut the plant)

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the write-up are of the author and OKHLATIMES.COM should not be held responsible in any way

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