Okhla waste-to-energy plant here was on Thursday allowed to function by the National Green Tribunal which said it need not be shut down or shifted as it is non-polluting now but directed it to pay an environmental compensation of Rs 25 lakh for its deficient operation earlier. A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Swatanter Kumar while passing a slew of directions in the “interest of public health and environment”, said environmental compensation (EC) be paid to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) in equal shares for utilising for prevention and control of air pollution in the area.
The bench, in its 142-page judgement, said the Okhla plant should not be directed to either shut down or shifted to another site as there is definite evidence before it to arrive at a finding that the project proponent is compliant and non-polluting. The bench said the project proponent, M/s Jindal Urban Infrastructure Ltd, is liable to pay EC of Rs 25 lakh in terms of provisions of the NGT Act for the pollution resulting from deficient functioning/operation of ‘waste-to-energy plant’ and its stack emissions being in excess of prescribed parameters upto the period of December 18, 2014.
“The waste-to-energy plant would be permitted to operate till further orders of the tribunal and/or CPCB/DPCC, as the case may be. The plant shall operate to its optimum capacity and would not cause any environmental pollution,” it said.
The tribunal’s verdict came on a petition filed by residents of Sukhdev Vihar alleging that the plant was releasing “toxic” emissions which had affected their health.
The residents had submitted that the plant had obtained an environmental clearance, authorisation and consent to operate (CTO) on the condition that it would use refuse-derived fuel (RDF) and biogas technology to convert waste to energy. But contrary to its promise, it has allegedly been incinerating mixed waste which has lowered the efficiency of the plant and is causing air pollution.
The bench made it clear that if the plant is found to be deficient in its operation or violates prescribed standards of emissions, it would be “liable to pay environmental compensation of Rs five lakhs per incident, in addition to such other order or directions that may be passed by the regulatory authorities and this tribunal including closure of the plant”.
The bench, also comprising judicial members U D Salvi and Raghuvendra S Rathore and expert members Bikram Singh Sajwan and Ranjan Chaterjee, dismissed the claim of applicants challenging the environment clearance granted to the project proponent by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on April 21, 2007, saying it was time-barred.
It said that the plant’s emissions should be strictly compliant with the prescribed standards imposed by CPCB or DPCC in the consent to operate or joint inspection reports and added that the plant will be permitted to operate subject to the stringent standards and regular inspections and monitoring by the joint inspection team constituted by it on March 13, 2013.
The bench asked the joint inspection team to conduct monthly inspection of the plant and file before it a detailed report for appropriate directions.
“The joint inspection team shall take stack as well as ambient air quality samples and analyde them in two different laboratories i.e., CPCB and DPCC laboratories. The project proponent should construct an automatic segregation plant, operative within one week from the date of pronouncement of judgement, if not, made operative by January 31,” it said.
It directed the project proponent to ensure that its brick manufacturing plant, utilising fly ash is operative to its optimum capacity and to minimise transportation of fly ash generated from the waste-to-energy-plant to a landfill site.
“The transportation of fly/bottom ash shall be carried out strictly in accordance with the rules while ensuring that there is no fugitive release of ash into the air either during the loading, unloading and transportation,” the bench said.
The bench also directed the Delhi government and other local authorities to make it mandatory for all construction projects, be it public or private, to use the bricks manufactured from fly ash in their construction activities.
“Every effort should be made by all government authorities including DPCC to popularise the use of ash bricks and to provide incentives, thereof. The Government of NCT Delhi, DPCC, the joint inspection team and other authorities concerned would issue clear directions with regard to utilisation of fly ash bricks in construction and allied activities, quality, quantity and percentage of such use,” it said.
The bench said, “CPCB, DPCC and MoEF&CC shall direct the NCT Delhi as well as all the local authorities concerned to provide more landfill sites in Delhi and such sanitary landfill sites should be maintained and utilised strictly in accordance with the Solid Waste Management Rules of 2016.”
It also directed the Centre, the Delhi government and other local authorities to make contribution to ensure establishment of more waste-to-energy plants at appropriate sites.
“Existing landfill sites should be improved, their heights should immediately be reduced and bio-stabilisation of all the landfill sites should be expedited. The reusable material particularly plastic waste should be recovered and utilised for construction of roads (national highways) and embankments in NCT of Delhi or any other area,” it said.
It also directed the plant owner to improve the green belt by planting trees all around the site.
The bench noted that Delhi is generating 14,100 metric tonnes of mixed waste every day, which indicates the magnitude of problems related to handling and disposal of municipal solid waste (MSW) in the national capital.
“The need of the hour is to ensure processing of the municipal waste with least residue by recourse to developed and tested technologies in that behalf. This waste is going to increase by the day. The local authorities ought not to take it as a commercial venture but should be very cautious of the fact that it is their statutory duty to process the MSW in accordance with the Rules of 2016 and ensure that there are no adverse impacts on public health and environment.
“They need to tackle this huge problem with utmost sense of sincerity and objectivity. Similarly, the public at large should not propagate the principle of ‘not in my backyard’ that too founded on no scientific data but only on mere apprehensions,” it said.