Centre okays expanding Okhla WTE despite residents’ qualms
The clearance granted says the total project will now cost ₹570 crore, with ₹270 crore as existing investment and ₹300 crore to carry out the expansion
After initially rejecting the proposed expansion of the Okhla waste-to-energy (WtE) plant from a capacity of 23MW to 40MW, the expert appraisal committee (EAC) under the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) has changed its stance, recommending that the plant be given environmental clearance for its augmentation, minutes of its latest meeting show.
In the November 30 meeting, the minutes of which were released on Friday, the EAC stated that clearance is subject to the plant following environmental norms and meeting standard environmental clearance conditions for thermal power plants. The committee had earlier on August 24 rejected the proposed expansion.
The Okhla WtE has been facing the ire of local residents ever since it became operational in 2012, particularly from the nearby areas of Sukhdev Vihar, Haji Colony and Sarita Vihar. After the latest decision by the EAC to recommend the plant’s expansion, several RWAs said they will approach the Supreme Court to challenge the decision, pointing to past pollution norm violations by the plant, along with its close proximity to residential areas.
The minutes of the meeting said, “The EAC after detailed deliberations on the information submitted and as presented during the meeting recommended for grant of Environmental Clearance to the project for expansion of Waste to Energy Plant up to 40 MW at Old NDMC Compost Plant, Behind CRRI, Okhla, New Delhi submitted by M/s Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Company Limited subject to compliance of following specific environmental safeguard conditions, in addition to the standard EC conditions stipulated for the thermal power plants.”
The clearance granted says the total project will now cost ₹570 crore, with ₹270 crore as existing investment and ₹300 crore to carry out the expansion. “Total capital cost earmarked towards environmental pollution control measures is ₹30.7 crore and the recurring cost (operation and maintenance) will be about ₹7.25 crore per annum,” the minutes said.
Bharati Chaturvedi, founder and director of Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, said Delhi does not require more WtE plants as its problem is wet waste and not dry waste -- a large chunk of which ends up at landfills.
“We are creating more WtE plants and expanding the current ones, instead of finding solutions for wet waste. It is this same wet waste which ends up at landfill sites to create methane and lead to landfill fires,” she said.
“Every kind of waste is being dumped in these plants, which they are not designed to handle. Despite violations, they are being allowed to expand,” she said.
Local residents, meanwhile, said a petition asking for the WtE plant to be shifted away from its current location is still being heard by the Supreme Court, and added that no corrective measures have been taken by the WtE, with the expansion being approved on the same site and not an alternative site.
“We will be filing for a stay order as the minutes of the meeting claim that there is no case pending, when in fact the matter is subjudice in the Supreme Court. A new WtE facility was also opened up recently in Tughlakabad, which can be readily expanded, yet permission is being given to increase this particular plant’s capacity, despite it being near a residential area,” said Upendra Bharadwaj, president of the Sukhdev Vihar Pocket B RWA.
Another resident of Sukhdev Vihar, on condition of anonymity, said the clearance also mentions that the WtE has not had any past violations, which was again incorrect. “The clearance has been granted on false information, as time and again, the plant has violated norms for dioxins and furans,” the resident said.
In February 2017, the Okhla WtE was fined ₹25 lakh by the National Green Tribunal after Sukhdev Vihar residents had filed a petition, questioning the plant’s proximity to the residential neighbourhood. The NGT had found the plant was not adhering to several pollution-related benchmarks, notably for dioxins and furans, a carcinogenic byproduct of chemicals released post-combustion from waste incineration.
More recently, it was fined ₹5 lakh by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee in August 2021, when several parameters, including dioxin and furan values were found to be around 10 times the permissible limit.