Residents at war against bad air

Residents at war against bad air

Ash enters homes; the elderly fall ill near Okhla waste-to-energy plant

Residents at war against bad air

Several of my neighbours have vacated their flats here and moved to different localities. I built this flat as per my convenience. Where can I afford to go at this age?” 78-year-old Sharat Chandragupta says.

A resident of Sukdev Vihar, Pocket A, for 20 years, Chandragupta is among several others whose health has been affected by the waste-to-energy plant in Okhla. The plant is owned by Jindal Urban Infrastructure Ltd, a company of Jindal SAW Group Ltd.

Residents have protested against the plant, which has been emitting excessive toxic ash. “Even if we let the windows open for a while, there will be a thick layer of ash inside the flat. Sore throat and breathlessness are regular health problems now,” Chandragupta adds.

“What is more of a menace is that the waste is burnt at odd hours. So if you are getting ready for an early morning walk, you will be greeted with toxin fumes,” Saurabh Gupta, the elderly man’s grandson, says.

P K Mozumdar, 66, doesn’t remember the last time he went for a morning walk.
“Morning walk sounds like a luxury. I have to take my wife to the doctor every month these days. It was never like this before. People with weak health are the worst affected by the plant fumes,” the president of Sukdev Vihar Pocket B Residents’ Welfare Association says.

Another resident Manju Mantry, says it is an embarrassment every time she has guests at home for the balcony and terrace are covered with “flying ash”.

“And how can you ignore the crematorium like smell once you open the windows? It is worse after rains. Something as basic as drying clothes in the balcony is a problem for residents here,” the 54-year-old woman says.

Kanika Verma, a PhD student who moved into the area after enrolling at CSIR Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, has been regularly suffering from irritation in eyes and breathing problems.

“Plus there is a whiff of stinking air whenever you step outdoors,” Verma says.
In February, Holy Family Hospital, Okhla Road, had written to the PMO drawing immediate attention for relocation of the incinerator plant.

F R George, director of the hospital, had written that the plant poses health hazards such as asthma, respiratory problems, heart diseases, cancer, reproductive anomalies and skin allergies to residents of colonies that are in proximity to the plant. The other two major hospitals in the plant’s vicinity are Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in Sarita Vihar, and Fortis Escorts Heart Institute on Okhla Road.

“Over 100 doctors have signed a petition seeking relocation of the plant. There have been several protests outside the plant, which burns mixed waste produces. So far there has been no relief,” says Jasleen, a law student who mobilised protest groups.
The incinerator is supposed to burn 1,950 tonnes of solid waste sent by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation and the New Delhi Municipal Council every day to produce 16 MW of electricity.

Residents have been fighting the waste-to-energy plant through a PIL filed in the Delhi High Court. In 2009, they moved the National Green Tribunal. The plant started operating in 2012.

The Delhi Pollution Control Committee had earlier issued a show cause notice to the plant demanding that it be shut down permanently.

They carry on the fight

Currently, residents are planning to implead themselves in the landmark Almitra Patel case, filed in 1996, which produced the Municipal Solid Waste Handling Rules of 2000. These rules made it illegal to incinerate chlorinated plastics and wastes chemically treated with any chlorinated disinfectant.

“The location of Sukhdev Vihar residential colony is within 100 metres of the project site. This is also not the only colony affected by toxic emissions. In the vicinity are other densely populated areas such as Jasola Vihar, Ishwar Nagar, Gaffar Manzil, Noor Nagar, Mashih Garh, Johri Farms and Sarita Vihar,” says Vimal Monga, president of Okhla anti-incinerator committee.

“Residents of the area are planning to file an impleadment on the ground that the municipal waste incineration is a source of highly toxic and carcinogenic compounds. Seven scientific publications have given ample demonstration of the toxic impacts of incineration on human health,” Monga says. The plant authorities, however, have maintained that only segregated waste is burnt.        

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