What went wrong in west Delhi's Mayapuri?

On April 13, a team of government officials, police and paramilitary personnel, came under attack from local scrap dealers while conducting a sealing drive on polluting units in west Delhi’s Mayapuri. The incident triggered a political blame-game and the exercise was put on hold after the High Court directed the Delhi Pollution Control Committee not to take any coercive action against the scrap units till April 26.

The scrap market, though peaceful at present, faces the inevitable question — what will happen after the HC breather gets over?

Experts say the situation came to a head because of the laxity of various government agencies in implementing the guidelines of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and inaction on repeated orders passed by the National Green Tribunal.

NGT orders

The sealing drive was undertaken following a stern order by the NGT on April 11 when it pulled up the Delhi Chief Secretary and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) for not taking steps to curb pollution caused by the scrap units in the Mayapuri market. The NGT directed the officials to show cause as to why their civil imprisonment should not be directed.

The NGT has issued four orders in the last four years — May 2015, October 2018, January 29, 2019 and April 11 — directing that all “illegally operating scrap industries in Mayapuri, generating chemicals, oils and poisonous fumes resulting in air pollution, deaths and diseases at large scale” be closed down.

What went wrong in west Delhi's Mayapuri?

Meanwhile, Inderjit Singh Monty, legal counsel for scrap traders in Mayapuri, said that no notice was issued prior to carrying out the sealing drive. The DPCC notices that were found outside some of the factories were pasted after being sealed and a public notice issued by the area SDM was pasted on the evening of April 13 when the violence broke out, he said.

Claiming that the green tribunal’s order was one-sided as it had not allowed the traders to be heard, Mr. Monty said traders in the area have decided not to carry out scrapping work without taking licenses and would follow the CPCB guidelines for scrapping.

Bharati Chaturvedi, founder of Delhi-based NGO Chintan, said, “The government has had this issue on its table for years now and it did not do anything about it. Suddenly, it acted in haste. There has been no implementation of the guidelines issued by the CPCB.”

The CPCB guidelines being referred to by Ms. Chaturvedi are the ones issued in January 2019 pertaining to how vehicles have to be dismantled and scrapped. These guidelines were formed by updating the 2016 CPCB norms.

For instance, talking about the health problems caused by asbestos in brake shoes, the CPCB guidelines states: “Brake shoe clutch plates/discs contain asbestos that is carcinogenic and hazardous to human health. Asbestos are crushed with the vehicle and are not removed for reuse in vehicle recycling. If brake shoes and clutches are not removed, asbestos particles shall become airborne while shredding.”

Then the guidelines mention how it should be handled: “Brake shoes or clutches shall be removed using specially designed low pressure spray equipment... to help prevent asbestos from being released.”

The guidelines have such problems and steps for other components that can cause hazards such as oils, fluids and refrigerant gases among others.

No binding law

The “Guidelines for Environmentally Sound Facilities for Handling, Processing and Recycling of End-of-Life Vehicles (ELVs)”, however, accept that there are no “separate laws” for it.

“At present, there is no separate policy or law governing the management of ELVs. However, the environmental compliances for recycling activities could be in accordance with the prevailing laws,” it reads.

Vivek Chattopadhyaya, senior project manager at Centre for Science and Environment, said, “CPCB guidelines are non-binding and there should be laws on it [scrapping of ELVs]. Largely, the dismantling of vehicles in India is done by the informal sector and it is crucial that the CPCB guidelines are implemented.”

What went wrong in west Delhi's Mayapuri?

Whose responsibility?

When it comes to taking action, officials of different agencies pass the buck on who is responsible to implement the norms.

A senior DPCC official, privy to the developments in the Mayapuri issue, said: “The units do not have to be closed down as it is an industrial area and if they follow norms they can be permitted to operate. Even if they have to be shifted, it’s the responsibility of either the Delhi Development Authority or the Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Corporation.”

However, senior officials of the DDA maintain that they cannot take action as the traders are not violating land-related issues but environmental norms.

“The traders in Mayapuri have leases through which they are permitted to deal with scrap in the area. The problem is that instead of simply buying and selling scrap, they are also processing them which is leading to pollution. It was because of the toxic fumes emanating from the scrap that the NGT passed the orders,” said a DDA official.

The official added that while the Master Plan for Delhi-2021 does not have separate provisions for operation of scrapyards, it does permit service markets in industrial areas where scrap-related activities can be carried out. Additionally, there are no current proposals to include “scrapyards” in the next master plan which is under preparation now, the official said.

Multiple calls and messages to Environment Minister Imran Hussain went unanswered.

Land issues

The DDA official said, “Land in Delhi is of prime nature. It is not possible to allocate a parcel of land only for the purpose of a scrapyard. We are awaiting communication from the State government. Even if it wants to set up a scrapyard, it will most likely have to explore options outside Delhi. The demand has not been that high for the DDA to consider allotting land for the purpose of setting up junkyards in Delhi.”

The CPCB guidelines also highlight the health hazards faced by workers involved in dealing with scrap-related activities.

What went wrong in west Delhi's Mayapuri?

Health hazards

According to the guidelines, the recovery of scrap is of concern: firstly, their recovery is often harmful to the health of the workers; and secondly, they cause environmental contamination if improperly dismantled. At present, nearly all the automobile scrapyards in India are managed by the semi-formal sector.

“Semi-formal recyclers use crude methods to recover materials and are poorly organised among each other and with the other stakeholders of the ELV value chain,” the guidelines read.

Elaborating on the health hazards Ms. Chaturvedi said, “There are many health hazards. For example, inhaling acid fumes and other toxic fluids is dangerous to health. Also, workers dismantle old vehicles and their brake pads contain asbestos. The brake pads are not scientifically disposed of and often thrown as garbage. Even a small fibre of asbestos can cause asbestos cirrhosis.”

Mr. Chattopadhyaya said, “Fluids are taken out and dumped in the drains. Workers are not even aware that they are harmful. The metal oxides can be harmful to the workers and neighbours. More study has to be done in such areas to understand the impact.”

Corruption concerns

Sidharth Bansal, a scrap unit owner in Mayapuri, however, contended that over the years “municipal officials have been taking bribes and not doing anything” about the scrap materials lying on the roads. As a result of this, an attitude of continuing to work in the same manner has been created in the area.

Some scrap unit owners have even purchased potted plants to keep outside their showrooms on the instructions of local officials, another trader said.

The civic body officials, meanwhile, maintain that since the October 2018 order of NGT, they have been hauling away the scrap materials lying in the open.

Special drives

Deputy Commissioner of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation’s West Zone, Purva Garg, under whose jurisdiction Mayapuri falls, said that as part of the Special Task Force set up in October last year, following the NGT orders, the civic body has been undertaking regular encroachment removal drives along with more intensive drives.

Some scrap unit owners said that as a result of the encroachment drives, work in the area had dried up, forcing the labourers to head back to their villages.

On how the issue at hand can be dealt with, Ms. Chaturvedi said that the government should incentivise scrapping of vehicles and also use a “stick and carrot” method for its implementation. Vehicle manufacturing companies should also be made responsible by EPR (Extended Product Responsibility), she added.

“There should be investments to upgrade the sector. You cannot just close it down,” said Ms. Chaturvedi, adding that there is a need to focus on workers’ safety and scientific methods of disposal, like those in Japan.

‘Land pooling option’

The DPCC official, however, suggested, “The traders should pool in their land and form bigger units which can follow the CPCB norms. Almost every unit is very small. It’s 20 gaj (square yard), or 50 gaj, or at times 100 gaj. But it is not enough to follow the procedures,” the official said. He also added that while two scrap units have already paid a fine of ₹1 lakh each, the proceedings are currently on hold till the matter comes up at the Delhi High Court on Friday.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 4:42:41 PM |

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