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Issue 39
, 2013
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Sreelatha Menon: Who will clear the garbage?

Source: Business Standard, Date: , 2013

As cities struggle to clear their wastes, companies like IL&FS are ready to do the job

Urban India is moving towards some sort of nirvana as far as consumption is concerned. We are consuming like never before. And too many of us are consuming at the same place — urban perches like Delhi, Mumbai and other cities. This is resulting in the generation of much more garbage than we ever did. We have mountains of waste, such as the one in Ghazipur on the outskirts of Delhi.

In Bangalore, Kochi, Thrissur and wherever urbanization is rampant, people are up in arms against authorities over the gathering waste.

Smelling opportunity, the industry has stepped in – in a big way – in the waste management sector. This has rung alarm bells among environmentalists. The Jindals started a waste-to-energy plant in Okhla, Delhi but people in the neighborhood, along with environmentalists, moved court saying fumes from incinerators would kill them.

Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS’) environment wing has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Delhi municipality to process the waste in Ghazipur. The project will generate 12 MW of power from the incoming waste. It remains to be seen if fumes would terrify the people in the area, too. IL&FS Managing Director (Environment) Mahesh Babu is optimistic.

“We will ensure no fumes come out and the monitoring will be so transparent that no one would complain,” he says. He is ready to allow any non-governmental organization (NGO) to perform third-party monitoring to assure themselves, and others, about its safety. The main activity of the plant is processing, and the energy it generates is only a byproduct.

He believes that India should follow the Chinese model and subsidize power bought from such projects. However, the Rs 230 crore project raises skepticism in environmentalists like Rajeev Betne, the senior programme coordinator at NGO Toxics Link.

He questions the wisdom of turning wastes into a business input, saying it would lead to an unsustainable growth model that encourages more consumption.

As for the dilemma between a mountain of wastes being constantly refurbished and an incinerator that promises not to let out fumes, he says without the assurance of transparent monitoring and segregation at source, one would never know what goes into the plant and what comes out. It might include industrial wastes, plastics, mercury and other materials, which could produce fumes causing deadly diseases, he says.

Out of the 2,000-tonne capacity of the plant, 1,300 tonnes would come daily from the Delhi municipality. Babu dismisses the fear of “dangerous inputs” into the plant as “irrational”. “We want NGOs to help us, and not prevent processing of wastes. Our pre-segregation equipment and workforce would ensure that no dangerous inputs go for incineration. We would follow Euro Norms on our outputs,” he says.

If nothing was done, the city would face a deluge of wastes, he warns, and urges environmentalists to be scientific rather than irrational. “How can we make people consume more?” he asks. The plant would be open for anyone to inspect and daily outputs would be displayed on the company’s website for all to see, he adds.

Thus, a city struggles to get rid of its wastes amid trepidation whether the medicine would be worse than the disease.