In two weeks, the contract of the capital’s oldest biomedical waste treatment plant, which caters to around 1,600 hospitals, will expire. Together, these hospitals produce six-seven tonnes of waste daily.
Two years ago, the Delhi High Court too had ordered the plant, being run by the Synergy Waste Management, be closed, citing its proximity to residential areas and possible health hazards. But the Delhi government is yet to make any alternative arrangements to treat the huge quantity of hospital waste.
Health Minister Satyendra Jain did not respond to repeated calls and text messages.
The plant, known as the Common Bio-Medical Waste Treatment Facility (CBWTF), was set up on land provided by the government in Okhla in 2005 with a 10-year contract with the Directorate of Health Services (DHS). The contract expires on May 18.
Initially, the plant catered to the entire city, lifting, transporting and treating waste from government hospitals free of cost. But over the last 10 years, two more biomedical waste treatment plants have been set up, one on GT Karnal Road and the other in Nilothi on the outskirts of the capital. Currently, the Synergy plant caters to hospitals in south, southeast, east, northeast and Shahadra districts.
In 2008, residents of Sukhdev Vihar near Okhla approached the High Court to close or shift the plant, arguing that the Delhi Master Plan prohibited hazardous industries in proximity to residential areas.
The residents, in their plea, said the plant, situated less than 30 metres from their colony, was affecting the health of 10 lakh people. Six months after the High Court ordered its closure in January 2013 after the state government and Synergy Waste Management failed to shift the plant, a contempt petition was filed by the residents.
The government then suggested an alternative site within Okhla in 2013, which was barely one km away. The DHS directed Synergy Waste Management to shift the plant to this site or face closure.
But residents of Haji Colony, another residential cluster situated close to the new site, approached the National Green Tribunal (NGT). As a result, the plant could not be shifted to the new location either.
With its contract set to expire, residents of Sukhdev Vihar and representatives of Synergy Waste Management told The Indian Express that they had been trying to approach the Health department with an alternative plan to treat the biomedical waste.
“We have failed to get any response from the government despite trying for the last two years. We have no idea where the huge quantity of biomedical waste transported and treated by us will be sent now. In 2013, we wrote to the Health department, asking that the government either provide us
Rs 4.5-6 crore, the estimated cost of shifting the plant, or give us a 10-year extension to help us break even if we shift our whole set-up, including an incinerator and autoclave facility, elsewhere. But the government refused,” a senior official at Synergy Waste Management said.
According to CPCB guidelines, a biomedical waste plant can only cater to a maximum of 10,000 beds. So, sources said, moving the waste to the other two plants was not possible. In March this year, a three-member committee, including members of the Health department and the DPCC, said for “minimum movement of waste from healthcare facilities to the treatment plant, better management and monitoring” among others and “multiple sites of CBWTF (at least three) are better” for the capital.
Synergy officials said they wrote to the DPCC on April 16 and the DHS on April 18, suggesting that until an alternative arrangement was made, the waste be sent to another plant run by them in Meerut.
Residents of Sukhdev Vihar said they had met the health minister several times, but to no avail. According to them, if the contract for the plant was extended, they would approach the court again. “The toxic fumes from the plant have made it impossible for us to live. For the last two years since the court order to close the plant, the government has just been sitting idle. We were hopeful of a decision after the AAP government came to power, but nothing has changed. We will go to the Supreme Court if they extend the licence of the plant further,” Vimal Monga, a resident, said.
Health department sources said a meeting was likely to be held “within a few days” on the issue. Dr T K Joshi, chairperson of the Biomedical Waste Management (BMW) committee, said, “We will be deciding on an alternative arrangement for the biomedical waste within the next few days before the contract expires.”
Sources said the licence of the plant in Okhla was unlikely to be extended.