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Controversy over Burning Trash for Power, and Carbon Credits, in India

A proposal for a waste-to-energy plant in New Delhi has opponents up in the arms over pollution, but developers insist it will be cleaner-burning

By Ranjit Devraj

Feb 1, 2011

NEW DELHI—India is going full-steam ahead with plans to build a type of power plant that converts garbage to power, despite fears by some that it could amount to a pollution disaster in a country without strong air quality regulations.

Construction of cleaner-burning waste-to-energy facilities is gathering pace across Europe. But the situation in India is different, opponents say.

Whereas in Europe new plants generally must have state-of-the-art filters and scrubbers to catch toxins, India's environmental laws are too lax to force restrictions on the amount of pollution pouring out of smokestacks, they argue.

Indian developers of the plants deny such allegations and say pollutant traps will be in place.

Much of the current action is centered around Sukhdev Vihar, a wealthy residential area in the crowded national capital of New Delhi, less than four miles from the Indian Parliament, where a massive plant capable of handling 2,000 tons of municipal solid waste per day is rapidly coming up.

"Why are they siting this plant within 200 meters of our houses?" local homemaker Asha Arora demands to know, pointing to the 10-story-high superstructure now towering over Sukhdev Vihar.

A Worse Location for Trash Plant?

Experts say the government could not have picked a worse location for a plant that they claim will emit dioxins, furans, nox, sox, respirable particulate matter and other toxic chemicals associated with waste-to-energy plants that are designed to run on "rubbish-derived fuel" (RDF). 

Within a radius of about a half a mile of the plant, which is being set up by waste management company Jindal Ecopolis as a public-private partnership, there are four major health facilities: the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, Holy Family Hospital, the Fortis Heart Institute and the Cheshire Homes for the sick and elderly.

Also falling within a couple of miles are the Jamia Millia Islamia University, the Okhla Bird Sanctuary and residential areas ranging from top addresses, such as Maharani Bagh and New Friends Colony to densely populated residential areas, like Haji Colony and Ghaffar Manzil. 

Prominent bird photographer Clement Francis said he is dismayed by the project, which is likely to impact the 400-odd bird species, including migratory ones, which stop over at the park.

"This is typical of the so-called development projects that are being pursued, with little concern for the environment," he said.

Already, migratory birds foraging in the park, through which the highly polluted Yamuna river runs, have been found dead from mercury poisoning.  

Developer Dismisses Pollution Fears

Indresh Batra, a top executive with Jindal, dismisses those fears. He says the plant will have flue gas control systems designed to trap dioxins, furans, sox and nox, and that the fly ash and residues will be used for making tiles and bricks. 

Batra said confidently that the capacity of the project would eventually be doubled to handle 4,000 tons of trash, and that it would rank among the world's top 10 facilities of its kind.  

Because the plant would generate 16 megawatts of electricity from RDF, it has been registered with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to earn carbon credits through the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol.    

For some environmental advocates, this is where the problems begin.

"Annexure A of the Kyoto Protocol clearly says that waste incineration emits greenhouse gases," said Gopal Krishna, who leads the Toxic Watch Alliance campaign group.

"Municipal solid waste cannot be considered as renewable energy source because it's a mixture of substances that originate from renewable and non-renewable sources," Krishna said.

Trash is already burned in India

...only it's usually burned outdoors with no consideration for the amount of pollutants it puts in the air. In Trissur, Kerala, as in many parts of India, there is no municipal trash collection, so people burn their household trash daily in their own backyards. The air quality is extremely poor. Incinerators may not be the best solution, but it is a better solution than this. 

It is very worrying for the

It is very worrying for the environment.


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