- No prior clearance required from MoEF for solid waste management projects
- Construction of landfills will still require environmental clearance
- Projects expected to save up to six months with clearances not required
Solid waste management is problematic issue to deal with, especially in urban areas where the habit of dumping unsegregated waste in municipal vans which again dump these into landfills, is proving to be a tough cycle to break. With gradual shifting of focus to waste segregation at source, the Swachh Bharat Mission received a boost from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on July 17. All solid waste management projects from now on are to be given blanket exemption from taking prior environmental clearances.
Barring landfill sites, all waste management projects related to waste segregation, composting, waste to fuel and setting up of waste to energy plants up to 15 megawatt (MW) of energy generation will require no prior clearances from the MoEF. The move comes as a big boost to the Union Government’s Swachh Bharat Mission, especially the urban wing of the cleanliness initiative. Cities and towns in India are still victims of decades old waste management designs and lack of awareness among general population with regard to disposal of solid waste. With the announcement of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the Ministry of Urban Development has narrowed its focus to set up of waste to energy, waste to fuel and composting plants across cities and urban towns. The exemption will help upcoming projects by significantly reducing their time for completion.
The exemption will be highly beneficial for all the projects undertaken by us under the Swachh Bharat Mission. Earlier, clearances from the Ministry of Environment and Forests would take up somewhere between four to six months before work on a project could begin. With the exemption, we are expecting time worth six months to be saved on future projects, said Gopal Jha, Under Secretary, Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban).
The SBM guidelines state that environmental guidelines must be complied with when setting up a new waste management project. These include the usual environmental guidelines like avoiding ecologically sensitive areas and coastal areas, not affecting transport or communication systems and setting up the plant away from major settlements. In its mission to set up new waste to energy plants, the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) realised that due to requirement of separate clearances for each new projects, it took significantly long time for projects to get cleared and continue with construction. In February 2017, the MoUD wrote to the MoEF, requesting an exemption from taking prior environmental clearances before a project began.
Since we are focusing on changing behavioural practices with regard to disposal and management of solid waste, a waste management plant nearby is a big positive. If due segregation methods are followed, a waste processing plant will receive more waste and generate more energy or compost, said Mr Jha.
In June 2017, the MoEF formed an expert panel comprising waste management experts and high ranking officials from the ministry. The expert panel recommended that apart from setting up of landfills, no other projects would require prior environmental exemption. Landfill sites are justifiably not included as municipal bodies locate potential landfill sites away from habitation but often end up choosing a location which is eco-sensitive or rich in biodiversity. Removing prior environmental clearances for landfills would not have been a wise move, as reiterated by the MoEF in its declaration.
The downside to the MoEF’s exemption order is the possibility of projects under Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) flouting environmental guidelines. It must be noted that waste treatment plants require significant areas of land and power to operate. Setting them up in urban areas without flouting any environmental norms will be a significant challenge. Particularly, setting up a waste management plant in the vicinity of habitations without polluting the environment or causing any damage to the power or water supply to the area will be challenging.
We will definitely follow all environmental regulations and adhere to them even though clearances will no longer be required. The Swachh Bharat Mission is committed to ensure better waste management and sanitation, but not at the cost of environmental regulations, said Mr Jha.
The under utilisation of urban India’s waste recycling potential has been a concern for years as the balance between waste generation and waste recycling has shown huge disparity. Urban India generates a massive 68.8 million tonnes of municipal solid waste every year of which just about 20 per cent is treated for recycling. Annually, 5 lakh tonnes of compost is generated from waste, though the potential to generate is nearly 18 lakh tonnes. Waste is also used to generate electricity in India, but again the amount of 88.4 megawatt is way less than the potential of 511 megawatt, annually. The need to speed up India’s waste management projects is understandable and the exemption by the MoEF will assist in speedier completion of such projects.