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Gurugram incinerator plant 'illogical' in Indian scenario: Activists tell public hearing

By Ena Zafar*

The government’s plan to set up a Waste to Energy (WtE) incinerator plant at Gurugram’s Bandhwari landfill has brought into debate the effectiveness of such plants in managing solid waste. Setting up an incinerator plant is “illogical” in the Indian scenario, according to several experts. Residents from various sectors of Gurugram and from surrounding villages expressed disapproval of the “waste to energy plant” and its expansion from 15MW to 25MW.
Activists from the Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch (DASAM) along with various NGOs, social and environmental groups, including the Citizens for Clean Air, NCR Waste Matters, Warrior Moms, members of the Aravali Bachao Citizens Group etc. were present and marked their protest for the plant a public hearing organized for the plant's expansion.
The hearing was called by the civic bodies on the subject of waste to energy plant expansion on August 31, 2021. Despite heavy rain, more than 200 people from Gurugram, Faridabad and nearby villages around the landfill came to attend the public hearing.
A waste-to-energy plant (WtE) is a waste management facility that combusts waste to produce electricity. This type of power plant is sometimes called a trash-to-energy, municipal waste incineration, energy recovery or resource recovery plant. What is not accounted for is the large amount of noxious gases, the products of low temperature combustion of unsegregated waste, being spewed out by the plants into the city’s already polluted air. An expert compared this process with creating landfills in the sky.
WtE by incineration is a non-viable, non-feasible technology. It will force the operators and governments to slowly divert more and more waste towards the incinerators because it is a very expensive technology and can be economically feasible only if 50-60% of waste goes into it.
Solid municipal waste (SWM), if not handled scientifically, has the potential to damage the health of the environment and become a public health hazard. The emphasis of waste management policies should transition from disposal to source separation to recycling and finally to waste prevention.
Nearly half of India’s WtE plants, meant to convert non-biodegradable waste, are defunct. Further, the country’s inability to segregate waste has resulted in even the existing plants working below capacity, according to an analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment.
The authorities are viewing waste only from a ‘trading’ point of view and not its management. Instead of monetising aspect alone, there should have been mention of due processes for handling of recyclables and a list given of empanelled recyclable agencies to meet with the objectives of SWM rules of resource management.
The dry waste should be going to designated Dry Waste Collection Centres for optimum resource recovery for recycling purposes with authorised agencies. The Vendor Agreement is a serious reflection of the civic mess and failed SWM practices in the city of Gurugram. The agreement also resonates with the unaccountable and insensitive nature of waste handling activity being carried out in the city by the sole waste concessionaire of Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG).
Ruchika Sethi from the Citizens for Clean Air mentioned about the worsening air quality of Gurugram. In 2017, in order to address the prolonged exposure of Gurgaon citizens to poor air quality (5-9 times the safe level of PM 2.5), we submitted a petition signed by 25,000 concerned citizens. We also gave a road map to address the local sources of year-round pollution such as the rampant practice of waste dumping, levelling in open grounds and burning of waste (including plastic, municipal, e waste) in open areas. But the suggestions were ignored. She said that once this incineration begins, we won't be able to undo the damage done to the air quality.
Shashi Bhushan from the DASAM spoke about Integrating waste pickers, scrap dealers, aggregators, recyclers at ward level and augment their work and provide infrastructure support either by way of some basic machines which will help stack and aggregate the dry waste as well as allocate land to work as secondary sorting sheds or dry waste collection centres. 
If waste is from different parts of Gurugram and Haryana, why should Bandhwari village suffer?

 He raised questions about the implementation of SWM Rules which are not being implemented by the municipal corporations. He demanded that Material Recovery Facility (MRF) centres to be set up at ward levels thereby following the SWM Rules. He alleged that this plant will destroy the only source of livelihood for thousands of waste pickers.
Environmentalist Saurabh mentioned about the Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) plant which was built in collaboration with Angel Biotech a few years back but later burned. The plant was set up using the taxpayers money and later burned using the same.
He questioned the panel and asked them about the things found in household waste which will be burned to produce energy. He added that he has been working since the last 13 years to develop greens and clean our environment but we’ve received no support from the government.
Environmentalist Vaishali Rana asked the authorities that if the waste is from different parts of Gurugram and Haryana, then why is the waste not sorted at their originating point only? Why do the people of Bandhwari village have to face the impact of the huge landfill site? She alleged that the environmental clearance which was taken by the company is based on false information.
The report submitted by the company for clearance of 2019 doesn't mention that the area which is sought for the plant comes under Aravali which falls under ‘gair mumkin pahar’ (uncultivable hill) and is notified under Section 4 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA). For the same, they need to seek permission from the Central Government and not the Haryana Forest Department, she said.
Knowledge support was provided by Shibu K. Nair of the Global Alliance for Incinerator 

Alternatives (GAIA), Dr Shyamala Mani and many environmentalists who backed the opposition to the plant.
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*National Coordinator, Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch (DASAM)

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