NGT reserves final verdict on Jindal’s hazardous Okhla ‘waste to energy’ plant, residents await relief
Takes cognizance of violation of Supreme Court’s order, unapproved Chinese technology used by waste incineration based power plant
Lawlessness rules the roost in Okhla amidst public health crisis
January 23, 2017: The final hearing in the case pertaining to unapproved Chinese incineration technology based Waste-to-Energy plant of The Timarpur Okhla Waste Management Company Pvt. Ltd. (TOWMCPL), M/s Jindal Urban Infrastructure Limited (JUIL), a company of M/s Jindal Saw Group Limited at Sukhdev Vihar, Okhla has been completed and the judgement has been reserved as per National Green Tribunal (NGT)’s order dated December 23, 2016. In the meanwhile, prior to the pronouncement of the final verdict, NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar called the parties again on January 16, 2017 for a final round of clarification. NGT asked the Jindal company whether, the plant in question is a Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) plant? Is it one of the five Supreme Court approved pilot projects based on biomethanation technology? It inferred that the plant was neither a RDF plant for which approval was taken nor is it a Supreme Court approved pilot project. The plant is situated in the vicinity of Okhla Bird Sanctuary, public institutions and residential colonies.
The NGT’s Principal Bench of Justice Kumar, Judicial Member, Mr Raghuvendra S. Rathore, Expert Member, Bikram Singh Sajwan and Expert Dr. Ajay A Deshpande passed the following order titled ‘Orders of the Tribunal Supplementary matter’:
“Learned Counsel appearing for the parties submit that the original project was with regard to Waste Processing Plant at Timarpur and Okhla. RDF was to be generated at Timarpur and pallets were to be brought to Okhla to be used as a fuel for generation of power. The Timarpur Project never took off. Infact, it never was established as proposed. Bio-methanisation did not commence as wet/green waste from Azadpur was not available to the plant. It is also commonly agreed that principal challenge of the Applicant to the issue of change in technology is that the plant, to which the Environmental Clearance, consent to operate, establish was granted was to the process waste/bio-methanate/ RDF and energy which was changed without amendment of Environmental Clearance or taking consent and that it was changed to waste directly to incineration in boilers and generation of power.”
It must be recalled that it all began with a proposal of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) for a waste to energy (WTE) project at Timarpur with The Timarpur Waste Management Company Pvt. Ltd. (TWMCPL), a subsidiary of Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd. (IL&FS). A Memorandum of Understanding between MCD and IL&FS was signed in March 2005 by D K Mittal, the then CEO of TWMCPL and Rakesh Mehta, the then Commissioner of MCD. On March 14, 2005, MCD said that it plans to earn carbon credits from the project. In a subsequent development, Unique Waste Processing Company (UWPCL), a subsidiary of the IL&FS had incorporated the Timarpur Waste Management Company Pvt. Ltd (TWMCL) – through a public-private partnership (PPP) initiative – as a ‘special purpose vehicle’ for developing the waste-processing project at Delhi’s Timarpur site.
Later, the management took a decision to also include the Okhla site and, hence, had the name of the company changed to TOWMCL. The original project proponent IL&FS incorporated a company named UWPCL as a 100% subsidiary for developing municipal waste processing projects. Then, UWPCL established a company namely TOWMCL for implementation of this project which was to be run by a Project Developer selected on the basis of competitive bidding.
The project proponents remained unmindful of the fact that RDF, a co-incineration technology is completely inappropriate for Indian urban waste, which is largely biodegradable in nature. They extract a very high cost for the energy, which the plant claims to generate. The cost–benefit scenario projected by the proponents does not include environmental and health costs caused by toxic releases. These technologies also use valuable resources that can be recycled, such as plastics and metals, and support a massive recycling sector in the country. RDF is a thermal and combustion technology, mainly used to prepare waste for mass incineration. Burning of mixed waste will create problems of very toxic compounds such as dioxins and furans, heavy metals, and other pollutants. The calorific value for the waste comes from material such as plastics and metals. Plastics, especially chlorinated plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), when combusted gives rise to these highly toxic pollutants like Dioxins. PVC plastic combustion, which is part of the mixed waste, is banned in India by regulations both in the municipal and bio-medical waste-handling rules.
The order in the Sukhdev Vihar Residents Welfare Association Vs State of NCT of Delhi (Original Application No. 22 (THC) of 2013) dated December 23, 2016 reads: “Arguments heard. Judgment reserved” by the order of NGT’s Principal Bench of Justice Swatanter Kumar, Chairperson, Judicial Member Mr U.D. Salvi, Judicial Member Mr Raghuvendra S. Rathore, Expert Member, Mr Bikram Singh Sajwan and Expert Member, Ranjan Chatterjee.
In a related development, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) wrote Lieutenant Governor, Government of NCT of Delhi on January 2, 2017, on the subject of “Lawlessness in Okhla after expiry of consent to operate & provisional authorization too expired on December 31, 2016”.
The letter drew his attention towards the specific case of the lawlessness in Okhla that is setting a very bad precedent now that the after expiry of consent to operate, even the provisional authorization of for municipal solid waste (MSW) based thermal power plant of Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Co Pvt Ltd (TOWMCL) of M/s Jindal Urban Infrastructure Limited (JUIL), a company of M/s Jindal Saw Group Limited has expired on December 31, 2016.
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 quite clear from this minute that after the expiry of consent to operate, provisional authorization too has expired on December 31, 2016.
The official documents reveal how conditions of Land Allotment to New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), the municipal council of the city of New Delhi imposed by Delhi Development Agency (DDA) have been breached to facilitate “land grab” for a hazardous waste to power plant in Okhla endangering public health. It may be noted that Indian waste has hazardous waste characteristics.
A letter dated June 18, 1980 sent from DDA to NDMC on the subject of allotment of land at Okhla for compost plant. The letter specifically states the conditions for the allotment. The letter reads: “The land shall be used by N.D.M.C. for the construction of compost plant and for no other purpose whatsoever.” It further reads: “The land shall not be transferred to any other Department without prior permission of DDA obtained in writing.” Another letter from DDA dated August 4, 1995 sent to N.D.M.C. reiterates: “The allotted land shall be used for the purpose of compost plant and no other purpose whatsoever”. These letters reveals that the allotment of land to NDMC was a conditional allotment subject to compliance with the stated conditions. Given the fact that NDMC has violated these conditions in an apparent exercise of facilitating “land grab” for municipal solid waste (MSW) based thermal power plant of Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Co Pvt Ltd (TOWMCL) of M/s Jindal Urban Infrastructure Limited (JUIL), a company of M/s Jindal Saw Group Limited. In a significant disclosure it has come to light that there are two lease deeds for a total of 13.5 acres. NDMC has violated the conditions imposed by DDA with regard to both of them.
A September 2008 document of Infrastructure Leasing & Finance Services (IL&FS) Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd focused on Timarpur-Okhla integrated municipal waste facility referred to contractual framework and mentioned about “Land License Agreement for Okhla and Timarpur land for use of land for 25 years” and Shri Anurag Goyal, the then Director Projects, NDMC was recorded saying, “NDMC provided land as its equity to the project.”
It is noteworthy that Appellate Tribunal for Electricity for New Delhi headed by Justice Surendra Kumar and Mr Rakesh Nath recorded on 19th May, 2015 a submission about “Land leased by NDMC on nominal rate” as part of “promotional steps were taken to promote Timarpur Okhla’s Plant” as part of its Judgment in Appeal Nos. 251 of 2013 and 325 of 2013. The company Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Company Ltd (TOWMCL) Old NDMC Compost Plant, Behind Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), Mathura Road, New Delhi was appellant.
The documents from 1980, 1995, 2008 and 2015 create a compelling logic for DDA to cancel the land allotment to NDMC and ensure that the land from TOWMCL is taken back and given to DDA.
It is an established practice that even a minor change with regard to land use is required to published in the Gazette notification but the same has not been done. Had DDA permitted changes in land use at Okhla, it would have published a similar Gazette notification.
Residents and environmental groups like ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) have been at a loss to comprehend as to why have Delhi Government and Central Government not acted to save public health in the face hazards from 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 has been 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 has been 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.
This power plant of TOWMCL was supposed to use RDF technology but it has been 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 22th March 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.
In a related case in an 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”
This plant occupies some 10 acres of green area under the Master Plan of Delhi. In view of the above submission, the letter has sought intervention of Lt Governor to ensure compliance with conditions imposed by DDA, relevant environmental rules and consider closure of the Dioxins emitting power plant located in a residential and ecologically sensitive area.
Residents and environmental groups who have been struggling against the proposal of such hazardous technology based plant since March 2005 await the final verdict of NGT with bated breath.