Monday, November 7, 2016


Yesterday morning I was pleasantly surprised to get an e-mail through the from the Govt. of NCT of Delhi requesting to share suggestions on the biggest challenge on hand – deteriorating Air Qaulity. Come to think of it, we have reached a stage of development where mere ‘bijlee, sadak and pani’ are no longer the issues, now we are facing the threat to our fundamental right to breath clean air ! The following submissions have been made for their consideration and I thought it would make a good reading for the members of this group. I hope you find this interesting and would like to share your feedback!

There are multiple aspects to the current problem of air pollution in Delhi. I will focus only on the issue of solid waste - MSW, construction debris and fly ash. First of all let us recognise that the mountains of garbage on the outskirts of the city at Gazipur, Bhalaswa and Okhla are not the 'LANDFILLS' s as wrongly termed by municipal officials, journalists and politicians alike. They are OPEN DUMP SITES and they represent one of the major sources of air pollution - waste is spontaneously burning all the time due to the methane that is getting generated underneath as a result of the rotting organic waste. They are also equivalent of 'biological bombs' as trillions and trillions of bacteria and viruses breed there and spread out with wind in adjoining and distant residential areas. As regards these disposal sites, Delhi Govt. has to recognise that it cannot continue with 'business as usual'; instead it has to develop 'SANITARY LANDFILL SITES' (SLF) to ensure safe disposal of waste. An SLF constitutes an essential infrastructure for any modern and healthy city as it offers a safe repository for disposal of all offensive, rotting, objectionable and pathogenic waste. An SLF is most robust, reliable, dependable, affordable, elastic and forgiving facility which works in all weather conditions, 365 days. One of the reasons for the sorry state of waste management in the city and the country as a whole is that there is not a single SLF worth its name.

Secondly, the GoNCTD has to recognise that MSW is NOT a 'misplaced resource', instead it is a public health liability and its safe disposal has to be paid for. In this respect it has to recognise the fallacy of the paradigms of 'segregation of waste', 'waste to wealth', 'waste to energy' and 'garbage to gold', etc. Any putrefying, rotting, offensive and objectionable matter that has come to the 'end of life' stage cannot be a 'resource', instead it is a major threat to public health as is becoming evident in the recent months with the outbreak of viral diseases of epidemic proportions, followed by bird flu and now incidence of serious air pollution. The problem of municipal solid waste in NCT Delhi is huge - we have about 10,000 MT of it generated every day, and therefore simplistic solutions will not solve the problem. After some point, 'resource recovery' through composting, etc. is impractical and not financially viable. As a matter of fact, when poorly implemented, such facilities themselves become threat to the environment, public health and the socio-economic setting of surrounding areas - take the case Okhla Compost Plant which causes severe odour nuisance in Ishwar Nagar, New Friends Colony, Holy Family Hospital, Apollo Hospital, Shahin Bag and Sarita Vihar localities.

Thirdly, since composting is not viable and there isn't land for setting up a decent sanitary landfill site for 'dignified burial', it has to be recognised that commingled MSW in such a large quantity then only deserves 'dignified cremation' in the form of 'mass burn'/ 'incineration' supported by state-of-the-art pollution control facility. In this respect, it has to be recognised that the main objective(s) of an incineration plant (and for that matter any other technology based waste treatment plant) are to (a) reduce the nuisance value of the waste and thereby safeguard environment, (b) eliminate chances of breeding of disease vectors and thereby safeguard public health, and (c) reduce the volume of waste for safe and economical disposal into an SLF. Further, it has to be recognised that during the process of incineration any net positive 'energy' that gets generated is incidental - its only a bonus, and not the main output of plant. The main outputs of an incineration plant are the intangibles as listed above and therefore, it should not be perceived as a 'waste to energy plant', as made out to be by technology providers. Therefore it has to be recognised that if the operation and maintenance of a 'waste to energy' plant are to be sustained over long-term, then the local government has to place a premium on the intangibles and pay for all the waste that gets incinerated there. Otherwise the operator has no incentive in running the pollution control system or in ensuring its long-term operational sustainability. Currently the municipal bodies are not offering any incentives in the form of tipping/gate fee to the operators of the three incinerator plants and as a result there are concerns as regards the measures taken for emission control as well as for upkeep of the plant to meet future challenges over its life cycle. In this context, if GoNCTD intends to safely get rid of its huge quantity of MSW in the coming decades then it must consider creating additional capacity for waste incineration using state-of-the-art technology and offer genuine and appropriate financial incentives to the operators. It could set up new plant(s) under DBO (Design, build and Operate) or BOT (Build Operate and Transfer) formats of Public Private Partnership, but it must recognise its financial responsibility in return for the intangibles delivered by such plants. To this effect it must mobilise resources through user charges in return for offering an improved quality of life to its residents.

The flyash ponds next to the Indrapasth and Badarpur Power Plants are the other major scars on the urban landscape. In summer months they contribute a great deal of dust (PM10 and PM 2.5) into the environment. We cannot go on neglecting them. Genuine and effective solutions (e.g., maintaining water layer or providing vegetative cover) need to be developed for them.

Lastly, GoNCTD has to recognise the challenge of horticulture waste. In terms of green canopy/ tree cover and lawns, while Delhi claims to be the greenest city in the country, this tag also comes with the challenge of handling a large quantity of brush/ horticulture waste (dry leaves, fallen trees and branches, grass cuttings, etc.). This is not a waste, but a resources given in 'segregated form' by the mother nature. Unfortunately it is seen that instead of collecting and stocking this 'resource' separately, municipal workers typically set it on fire in residential, commercial and institutional areas alike. While there is tremendous misplaced emphasis laid in the revised MSW Rules, 2016 on 'segregation' of putrefying food waste from residences and establishments for 'resource recovery', it is ironic that the municipal bodies do not give importance to this 'segregated resource' which is literally found on the roads and which can be easily converted into value added products such as leaf-mold and mulch which help improve soil productivity conserve soil moisture. It is ironic indeed because this 'segregated resource from the mother nature' gets disposed of into the same open dump sites at Bhalaswa, where it contributes to the might of the fire that has been always burning. If GoNCTD is serious about waste management and control of air pollution, then it must initiate on priority a set of measures to prevent burning of brush and its treatment as an independent stream.

I hope you find the above submissions of interest and use. Should you desire, I will be happy to present a comprehensive analysis on the challenges of treatment and safe disposal of MSW and how the city can meet its objectives. This is coming out of countrywide experience of dysfunctional treatment plants and overseas functional plants and working in the domain for last 30 years.

Re: Action at the individual level

Given the size of the city; the diversity of its people - their backgrounds, perceptions, concerns and level of commitment towards the environment; and the chaos that prevails year round, there is not much one can do at individual level and expect to bring about any tangible improvement in the short- to medium-terms. Nevertheless, I would like to recommend promotion of the practice of Home Composting as an Individual Environmental Responsibility (IER). Under this paradigm, all food waste from a household is composted at home and thus there is potential to arrest a large quantity of putrefying organic waste at the place of generation. I am practicing this as a gardening and Earth Friendly Green Hobby for last 15 years; and enabled over 600 families embrace the same under a small pilot supported by the GoNCTD during 2007-08 (for more details please visit our website Among others, there is a need to scale up this initiative all across the capital city, if we genuinely and sincerely want to solve the problem of MSW in an integrated and effective manner. 

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