According to reports, the Planning Commission has set up a task force to assess technology that can convert waste to energy—some experts have likened it to putting the cart before the horse.
In his budget speech in February, finance minister P. Chidambaram had announced support for such programmes.
“India tosses out several thousand tonnes of garbage each day,” he had said. “We will evolve a scheme to encourage cities and municipalities to take up waste-to-energy projects in PPP (public private partnership) mode which would be neutral to different technologies.”
The government is yet to determine whether there is suitable technology that can efficiently utilize waste generated by Indian cities.
The task force set up in June and headed by Plan panel member K. Kasturirangan will also design a model scheme for PPP projects. It met for the second time on Thursday.
“We are not in a position to go to the FM (finance minister) right now to tell him this is how you should translate your offer,” said Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. “We have to work on a scheme to have states vie for it, but the problem is that it is not the case that there is a well-tried technology that works.”
Experts were critical of the plan, saying that such projects haven’t been a success in the country.
Older plants in Vijayawada, Delhi, Hyderabad and Lucknow have been shut for reasons ranging from low calorific value waste to poor segregation to opposition from people living in the neighbourhood to lack of financial viability.
The government should have first evaluated all their technology options for disposal of solid waste before picking waste-to-energy plants specifically, said Ravi Agarwal, founder director at Toxics Link, a Delhi-based not-for-profit.
“It is also important to analyse technologies in the social setting,” he said. “We need a technology which can solve the waste problem in the country and, at the same time, will not affect the livelihood of the wastepickers in the country. The task force should look into it,” he said, adding that recycling was one of the best options for India.
Ahluwalia said the task force was seeking to determine a viable process.
“The experience is very mixed with respect to technologies—different cities have done differently,” he said.
Agarwal said waste-to-energy technology should not be implemented in the country without the control framework.
“These plants emit a lot of toxins and we don’t have a regulatory system in place. The government is imposing this technology without seeing the whole picture,” he said.
Germany took 50 years to develop a regulatory system for waste-to-energy plants and India hasn’t even started, Agarwal added.
“The experience in Delhi is just bad,” Ahluwalia said, referring to the waste-to-energy plant in the national capital.
“People claim there are far too much dioxins and furans. Delhi denies that but I am not sure there is any monitoring and that is the real problem,” he said.
An expert committee constituted by the National Green Tribunal recently found that a waste-to-energy plant operating at Okhla in Delhi received waste that was not sufficiently segregated and emitted particulate matter and dioxins and furans far in excess of permissible limits.
Segregation of waste is critical, Agarwal said. “You need to have different waste fields for the plant, not like here, where plastic, medical syringes and wet waste, all is thrown as one,” he said.
In his budget speech, Chidambaram had said the government would support municipalities in implementing waste-to-energy projects through repayable grants, low-cost capital and viability gap funding.
The ministry of new and renewable energy already has a scheme that provides a subsidy of Rs.2 crore per megawatt generated in waste-to-energy plants. An earlier version of the scheme was in operation since 2007.
A ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there are no guidelines on technology for its subsidy scheme, except a Supreme Court order against biomethanation plants where waste is not segregated at source.