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Waste-to-energy plant in Delhi draws flak

According to reports, the Timarpur-Okhla project, due to be commissioned by November, will use 1,350 tonnes of municipal waste every day to generate 16MW of so-called green electricity, an initiative that appears commendable on the face of it.

But the plant has drawn criticism from environmentalists who say the low calorific value of municipal waste is inadequate for power generation, besides which it violates zoning regulations that are part of the Delhi Master Plan.

The project, which was started in 2008, will be built and maintained by the Ecopolis unit of Jindal ITF for 25 years and is billed as a solution for Delhi’s waste problems. Jindal ITF is a unit of Jindal Saw Ltd, controlled by the O.P. Jindal Group.

The science doesn’t add up, according to Gopal Krishna, convenor of Toxics Watch Alliance, a non-governmental organization (NGO). The waste at the landfills is composed of 60% organic waste, while the rest is mostly ash, dust and sand.

“Municipal waste in Delhi has a calorific value of 800-900 kilo calories (kcal), while the generation of power requires at least 1,200 kcal if not more,” Krishna said. “Burning this waste will only add pollutants to the air, resulting in environmental lawlessness in the capital.”

The Delhi state government had set up a similar waste-burning plant in Timarpur in 1990 that failed to generate power. That precedent has fuelled a protest by residents in Okhla and led to a public interest petition in the Delhi high court.

The technology used at the new project will mean that power generation will be successful, said Indresh Batra, managing director of Jindal ITF.

“The calorific value of waste has moved up with the changing urban scenario. While our plants are built for power generation from (waste rated at) 1,100 kcal, our surveys prove that the waste we expect at the plant will be (rated at) approximately 2,000 kcal,” he said. “Waste-to-energy is a solution to the problem of open landfills, transport costs as well as space. Such projects are running successfully” in developed nations, he said.

The Rs. 300 crore plant, which has received no subsidies from the government, is hoping to recover the capital through the sale of power. The plant is also expected to receive approximately 3,000 carbon credits once it is commissioned.

Krishna is skeptical about the plant’s environmental benefits. “The ministry of new and renewable energy is pushing such projects to burn waste as a solution,” Krishna said. “They have exceeded their mandate and think that burning it will make it disappear.”

Dunu Roy, director of Hazards Centre, a research-based NGO, suggests an alternative method for mitigating the problem of waste disposal based on a proposal by the Ragpickers Association to the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC). This calls for the segregation of waste and will mean that the paper, plastic, cloth and aluminium can be recycled, while the organic waste can be composted, accounting for 75% of the total. The remaining 25% that’s not usable can be dumped in landfills.

“This is a far more superior solution to waste management,” he said.

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