Skip to main content

Incineration is not the solution for Chennai’s solid waste management problem

The controversial Timarpur-Okhla incineration plant in New Delhi could serve as an example of why incineration is not the answer to Chennai's solid waste problem. Last year, The Wire carried a story on how the National Green Tribunal had fined the incinerator at Okhla for polluting the air with high levels of dioxins. The plant has been accused of violating a host of provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, and the guidelines for the establishment of industries to name a few. As if that weren’t enough, it was accused in the High Court for substituting an approved technology with an illegal, experimental Chinese technology, which was creating severe air pollution. Citizens of Okhla got an independent air sample test done, which showed the air to have dangerously high levels of particulate matter including high levels of the toxic metal lead as measured against the Indian Ambient Air Standards.

Not only is the plant facing a several legal battles but it is a financial drain: the incinerator generates 16 MW of power and receives financial support of Rs 1.5 crore for every MW. It has also been blamed for continuing to operate despite the expiry of licence to operate.

In addition, waste pickers’ organisations in Delhi and the residents of Okhla have collectively protested against the harm caused by the incinerator to the former’s livelihood and the latter’s health. Residents have gone to court about the plant’s violation of the Delhi Master Plan since it was located in a densely populated area and could thus potentially affect a sizable number of people. Finally, after years of shifting courts from the High Court to the Supreme Court, the National Green Tribunal fined the plant for its mismanagement and commanded for regular inspections with strict standards and consequences for non-compliance, it did not however call for its closure.

I hope that by now, in the face of such a combination of financial drain, legal issues, environmental and health consequences as well as public displeasure, you would have changed your mind about incineration as a solution for Chennai’s solid waste management problem.  

In July this year, there was a stakeholders’ meeting where residents expressed their reservations about investment on incineration over options such as biomethanation and composting plants. This makes sense as a pilot study of a ward (173) in Chennai has shown that a whopping 74% of household waste is organic and therefore useful for both biomethanation and composting. As a result of that feedback, the Corporation has decided to include biomethanation to their revamped solid waste management plan. However, CAG, as a civic body, need to take this a step further and spread awareness about the considerable downsides of incinerators in order to generate an even stronger pushback against incineration plants in the two dump yards of Chennai. So whether you were totally unaware before this or knew but weren’t worried, let’s do our bit and spread the word to oppose this plan!

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.