The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has proposed to initiate a waste to energy (WTE) project at Timarpur that uses incineration. The Timarpur Waste Management Company Pvt. Ltd. (TWMCPL), a subsidiary of Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd. (IL&FS) plans to generate 6 MW of electricity from the project at Timarpur, Delhi. It plans to process and treat 214,500 MT of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) and produce 69,000 MT of Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) in a year as per company's project design document. The project requires an investment of Rs.580 million. The promoters claim that the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance has agreed to provide 20% of the project's cost as a capital grant.

TWMCPL is a subsidiary of IL&FS and has been created only for Timarpur project. A Memorandum of Understanding between MCD and IL&FS was signed in March 2005 by D K Mittal, the CEO of TWMCPL and Rakesh Mehta, the then Commissioner of MCD. On 14 March 2005, MCD said that it plans to earn carbon credits from the project. TWMPCL has since applied for approval from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change's (UNFCCC) Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Executive Board to earn carbon credit. The project got listed before the board on 23 May 2006, and the board sought comments until 21 June. TWMCPL had submitted its project design document.

The CDM Executive Board of the UNFCCC supervises the Clean Development Mechanism part of the Kyoto Protocol, and is accountable to the Conference of Parties (COP), the decision making body for the protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005, after which the CDM Executive Board started registering projects. The board is based in Bonn, Germany, at the UNFCCC Secretariat.

The Chair of the CDM Executive Board is José Domingos Miguez. There are two Indian members as well in the Board, out of its 10 members from the parties to the Protocol. The Indian members are Sushma Gera and Rajesh Kumar Sethi. In addition, there are 10 alternate members in the Board.

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The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) allows industrialised countries to meet their emission reduction targets by paying for green house gas emission reduction in developing countries. Say that a company in India switches from coal power to biomass and that the CDM board certifies that by doing this, the company has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 100,000 tonnes per year. The company will be issued 100,000 Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs). One CER corresponds to reduced green house gas emissions by one tonne of carbon dioxide per year. For example, if a project generates energy using wind power instead of burning coal, and saves 50 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, it can claim 50 CERs.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the United Kingdom (a developed country) has to reduce its green house gas emissions by 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. Continuing with the example above, if the UK purchases the 100,000 CERs from the Indian company, its target goes down from 1 million tonnes/year to 900,000 tonnes per year, making the goal that much easier to achieve. Developed countries are expected to buy CERs from developing countries under the CDM process to help them achieve their Kyoto targets. CERs are therefore a "certificate", like a stock and help achieve trading of emissions credits.

A significant point to note is that in India, income from CERs are not taxed. MCD and TWMCPL are arguing that since they propose to generate electricity using a non-conventional energy source instead of fossil fuel, the Timarpur project must be deemed a renewable energy project and for which carbon credits be given to them. TWMCPL wants to receive CERs for this project to earn revenue by selling those CERs.

Problems galore

The central problem with the Timarpur proposal is that waste burning technology cannot automatically be deemed a renewable energy project. If anything, MCD and TWMCPL's attempt to classify the WTE plant as a CDM project is far fetched and misleading. Waste incineration is itself a greenhouse gas emitter and cannot qualify as CDM project. Incineration of waste violates Kyoto Protocol because as per the Protocol waste incineration is a green house gas emitter.

For a project to qualify as climate change mitigating project it is necessary that it excludes waste incineration -- including waste pelletisation or RDF, pyrolysis, gasification systems -- technologies. Incineration produces pollutants which are detrimental to health and the environment. Incineration is expensive and does not eliminate or adequately control the toxic emissions from today's chemically complex municipal discards. Even the latest incinerators release toxic metals, dioxins, and acid gases. Far from eliminating the need for a landfill, waste incinerator systems produce toxic ash and other residues. Such projects disperse incinerator ash throughout the environment and subsequently enter our food chain.

Two, the design document deliberately chooses not to mention emission of dioxins and heavy metals and thus does not mention the method to deal with such emissions. Dioxins are the most lethal Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) which are associated with irreparable environmental health consequences.

Three, less known is the fact that a similar incinerator-cum-power generation plant at this very site had failed several years ago and the reasons are worth going into. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) had also conducted an enquiry after the Delhi High Court ruled in April 2001 on the plant's failure. The court had taken issue with the procurement of the incineration plant at a cost of Rs.20 crores from a Danish firm Volund Milijotecknik in the mid-1980s and said that "No order should have been placed for procurement of the plant unless its utilities were completely known."

A Ministry of Environment and Forests 1997 white paper had gone into the orginally failed waste incineration plant at Timarpur, a project initiated in the mid-80s.

The MoEF paper said that the failure supported the fact that thermal treatment of municipal solid waste is not feasible in situations where the waste has a low calorific value.

It added: "A critical analysis of biological treatment as an option was undertaken for processing of municipal solid waste in Delhi and it has been recommended that composting will be a viable option."

In June 2005, Gurudas Kamat (MP, Congress, Mumbai North-east), Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy wrote to the MNES seeking review of its WTE programme, citing similar reasons.