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Unfeasible cry over clinical waste fiat - Hospitals see pollution peril in JSPCB's one-facility-one-incinerator recommendation

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  • Published 3.01.12

Desperate to expunge the biomedical blot on cleanliness, the Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board (JSPCB) may have promptly directed big private hospitals to set up their own incinerators, but what it seems to have conveniently overlooked is the feasibility factor.

Most of these heal hubs are located right in the heart of cities and incinerators on premises will only up the hazard quotient for residents. And a waste treatment plant on the outskirts is an enormous financial burden that few hospitals are willing to take.

In April-May last year, the JSPCB had announced a central bio-waste treatment facility with five units in Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Dhanbad, Daltonganj and Deoghar. Each incinerator was to cater to a radius of 150km and take care of the over 5,000kg clinical waste generated across the state every day. However, the handpicked agency from Delhi backed out and another from Nagpur has been roped in instead. The latter is yet to begin work.

Two months ago, at a meeting with hospital representatives from Ranchi, Jamshedpur and Dhanbad, the JSPCB had asked all big private hospitals to set up incinerators, while small nursing homes and clinics were directed to use these facilities on rent.

The Jharkhand Hospitals’ Association, an apex organisation in the state, on Monday voiced its displeasure, saying the directive was impractical particularly in the capital because private hospitals in Jamshedpur had incinerators.

“Any hospital with 100 beds is classified as big. In Ranchi, we have Raj Hospital, Seva Sadan and Gurunanak Hospital in this category. All are centrally located and if each sets up an incinerator, local residents will breathe uneasy. Therefore, we do not accept the JSPCB recommendation,” Jogesh Gambhir, the chairman of the association and owner of Raj Hospital, told The Telegraph.

“Installing an incinerator on our premises isn’t a problem for us in the short run. But after some years, the JSPCB itself will label us as polluting agents and shut us down. What will we do then? The cost of setting up an incinerator runs into lakhs, we will incur heavy losses,” he added.

On why the plant could not be installed on the outskirts, Gambhir claimed financial restrictions. “Buying land, installing an incinerator and daily transportation will cost a fortune. Besides, availability of acres is an added headache,” he explained.

Chief administrative officer of Seva Sadan Dr S. Choudhary too agreed that it wasn’t economically or practically possible for every hospital to have its own incinerator.

“An incinerator within city limits will wreak environmental havoc. The latest hi-tech incinerator needs a minimum investment of Rs 2 crore and, if we set it up elsewhere, patients may feel the pinch of the hospital’s increased financial burden,” he said, suggesting that the state should set up its own plant and charge private clinics for bio-waste disposal.

The association also criticised the JSPCB guideline to install only diesel incinerators and not electric ones. Though diesel-run incinerators ensure proper burning temperature and are more reliable than electric ones, given the power situation in the state, hospitals claimed the guideline contradicted blaze prevention norms.

“According to fire safety rules, only five litres of spirit can be stored on hospital premises. But to run a diesel incinerator, we will have to store 80-100 litres per day,” contended Gambhir.

Caught in a quandary, hospitals in the capital have approached Ranchi deputy commissioner K.K. Soan. “During a workshop on fire safety two days ago, we apprised him (Soan) of the situation. He is the chairman of the district environment committee and has assured us that he would raise the matter with JSPCB officials,” Gambhir said.

JSPCB member secretary S.K. Sinha insisted that hospitals should pool in resources and set up incinerators on the outskirts.

But Soan admitted that incinerator for every hospital might not be feasible. “One option is to identify a hospital in a sparsely population area and set up an incinerator facility to treat biomedical waste from the capital. We will soon chalk out a way after talking to JSPCB officials,” he said.