Why The Yamuna Weeps- How Suez failed 564-MLD Okhla Wastewater Project

In this three part series on the key projects on the Yamuna that remained unfulfilled, leaving the river to be polluted by Delhi's waste, we start with the biggest of them all, the 564 million litre per day Okhla Wastewater treatment plant project. Touted to be Asia's biggest once completed, the bottom line on this project has been consistent delays. After repeated extensions, the only certainty on this project has been the missed completion dates.

Suez India – a Suez International joint venture – has failed to deliver Okhla WWTP project despite multiple extensions in deadlines. An IAmRenew investigation of YAP-III brings to you a three part series of articles that reveal how Suez has failed to complete Asia’s largest WWTP. A thorough study of the documents reveals the anatomy of delays that speak of Suez’s failure and complacent approach to what is allegedly an issue of urgent concern to all.

The 564 MLD Okhla Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) – which is going to be Asia’s largest and world’s fourth largest in capacity was awarded to Suez four over years ago under Yamuna Action Plan – III and the company has missed several deadlines till date.

Okhla WWTP Project

Assisted by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Okhla project is slated to have the biggest impact on water quality in the Yamuna. The National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) is funding the project (85%) and Delhi Jal Board is executing authority. The cost estimate of the project is Rs 942.18 crores (capital expenditure). Suez also secured one year DLP and 10 year operation and maintenance (O&M) of the project.

It has already been more than 14 months from the original deadline mentioned in the contract agreement for Suez India no guarantee as to when the company will complete and commission the project.

Perpetual delays and unending construction work by Suez India

The investigation by IAmRenew reveals how deadlines were missed, extended and again missed.

  • The official contract agreement decided June 19, 2019 as the starting date of Okhla WWTP project. The entire project was to be completed in three years’ time as per the contract agreement. June 18, 2022 was the completion date of the WWTP which wasn’t realized by Suez.
  • The second deadline was decided as December 31, 2022 and Suez failed this time line too.
  • The third deadline was decided as June 30, 2023 and Suez again failed.

When Suez failed to deliver the project even by June 30, 2023, IAmRenew accessed the “Progress Report” of Yamuna Action Plan created by the Project Management Consultant (PMC) which is in a way the monitoring authority, which speaks volumes on how the project has suffered.

 

Okhla WWTP STP Suez India failure
Pic: Incomplete structures at Okhla WWTP, Asia’s largest

 

As per the official contract details, the construction work was to have started on June 19, 2019. The entire Okhla WWTP project was supposed to be completed in three years by June 18, 2022. More than a year beyond the deadline, the project remains incomplete

In June 2022 (the original deadline), Suez India could complete only 61% of the WWTP work. It is evident from the Progress Report, that when the original contract period was on, the timeline was extended to December 31, 2022. It’s not clear from the Progress Report why this long extension was given to Suez or why other extensions were given to it. During the construction, ‘Second Revised Planned Progress’ was introduced and the deadline was extended to December 31, 2022.

 

Graph: Sluggish work by Suez at Okhla WWTP depicted by graph in the official report.

 

In June 2023, a year after the lapse of the original deadline, Suez could complete only 89.70% of the project. A letter from the project management consultant (PMC) or the monitoring authority dated June 16, 2023, says, “As per the present status of E&M erection & supply, progress is very slow and hence not satisfactory.”

Minister’s Word Also Counts For Little

In April, 2022, Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat rode 12-km on a boat with with full media coverage from Chhath Ghat of ITO to the Okhla WWTP site to inspect the construction work. In the presence of NMCG Director General, G Asok Kumar, the minister said, “After December 2022, a difference will certainly be felt in the quality of River Yamuna in Delhi.”

After assuming office in 2015, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that his government will clean and revive Yamuna in five years. The Delhi Jal Board that comes under Delhi Government is the executing authority of Okhla WWTP.

Both the governments have failed to ensure that the WWTP projects under YAP-III are completed in time and contractors don’t run from their contractual responsibilities. This year also, the pollution level in Yamuna has remained beyond permissible levels mostly and unfit for human consumption even after conventional treatment.

How Exactly Suez Messed-Up Asia’s Largest WWTP

A perusal of the report has found multiple reasons that are directly responsible for such a long delay in the Okhla WWTP project.

The official documents say that the biggest reason behind the failures was that the company (SUEZ) always employed lesser workers in the project than it committed to. The shortfall in manpower means that the civil infrastructure in WWTP suffered. The concrete construction has been very slow. Many structures that are considered ‘critical’ for the functioning of the WWTP were not complete despite several extensions in timelines.

Civil design documents were not tendered by Suez with authorities and many critical infrastructures were not even initiated. Many essential supplies are yet to be received at the plant when the project is already delayed by more than 14 months from the original contract deadline.

 

Okhla WWTP STP Suez India failure

Pic: Aerial view of Okhla WWTP

 

Not heeding to authorities

A study of Progress Report reveals that when Suez failed its extended deadline of December 31, 2022, by completing just 76.50% of the work, the authorities finally woke up. Efforts were expedited from the Central Government and Delhi Government but to no avail. An extension was given to Suez to accomplish the remaining developmental work by June 30, 2023.

In February 2023, the Officer on Special Duty (OSD) of the Lt. Governor of Delhi visited Okhla plant. Subsequently, Executive Director (ED) of Projects of NMCG and DJB Member (Drainage) also visited the project and it was projected that the work will be completed by June 30, 2023. Three months past that deadline, the workforce shortfall has continued and delivery is still not in sight

After failing to meet the June 30 deadline given at a  progress review meeting held on February 23, 2023 under G Asok Kumar, Director General of NMCG, on May 02, 2023, the Vice Chairman of Delhi Jal Board, Somnath Bharti inspected Okhla WWTP along with Ajay Gupta, DJB Member (Drainage) and chaired a review meeting. He had told Suez to raise its efforts and complete the project by June 30, 2023. It was categorically held that no extension would be granted to Suez India now onwards. The officials further told that a penalty would also be imposed on Suez India. It seems that the warnings fell on deaf ears and Suez faltered again.

By June 2023, Suez India could complete only 89.70% of the project. We are in September now. The Rs 942 crore project stands in limbo and the documents say that a new timeline is being given to Suez India. The travesty is that even at this juncture, no stakeholder is confirming by when Okhla WWTP will be complete.

 

Okhla WWTP STP Suez India failure
Pic: Incomplete structures by Suez India at Okhla WWTP

 

Suez never caught up: wide gap between targeted and actual progress since day one

The worrying part here is that the Okhla WWTP has been missing deadlines despite the fact that it is being monitored directly by the Prime Minister Office (PMO), National Green Tribunal (NGT) and National Mission on Clean Ganga (NMCG).

While it is unclear whether some specific issues or operational challenges have caused the delay, the progress report shows that the construction work had been very slow from the day one of the project.  The difference or gap between the original planned progress and actual physical progress by Suez India increased from March 2020 itself.

In March 2020, when the Covid-19 lockdowns started , the work slowed not for just 2-3 months but 7-8 months. Workforce had returned to most of the businesses but why Suez couldn’t speed up the work is not known.

Despite three extensions being given to the company, the gap between the required progress and the actual progress continued to grow wider. Suez India, Delhi Jal Board and NMCG did not reply to the questions of IAmRenew. They didn’t answer as to what is the ‘cost escalation’ due to these delays by Suez. From the original deadline as per contract agreement, it’s a delay of 14 months, from the second extension it’s a delay of 6-8 months.

A new timeline in horizon

Now the documents seen by IAmRenew say that the new deadline for the completion of Okhla WWTP has been accepted as September 30, 2023. This new deadline excludes the six months period for trial run and commissioning. The work speed at the plant site is ‘very slow’ found by the monitoring authority or PMC. Concretization speed is a worry. Even the essential supplies and installations are awaited at the plant.

 

Okhla WWTP Suez India failure
Pic: A dirty Yamuna continues to flows through Delhi-NCR

 

Yamuna Action Plan: a gist

Yamuna Action Plans (YAP) were created with the objective of creating sewer networks, catching wastewater and treating it before releasing it into the Yamuna river to ensure that river is cleaned. Previously, YAP-I and YAP-II were executed but the pollution level in Yamuna has gone from bad to worse. The river doesn’t have any life in a stretch of 22-km in Delhi; its literally dead.

Now the Central Government has come with YAP-III which envisages construction of three major WWTPs in Okhla, Kondli and Rithala. All of them have missed their multiple extended deadlines and Yamuna continues to bear the brunt of it. A huge quantity of wastewater is out-falling into Yamuna untreated. Okhla WWTP is being built to South Delhi, NDMC area and other parts of Delhi to benefit over 40 lakh residents.

YAP-III is an integral part of the broader initiative to cleanse the Ganga river system, recognizing the vital importance of a clean Yamuna River as a major tributary to the Ganga.

In next article of the exposé series, IAmRenew will reveal the exact discrepancies by Suez that are cumulatively delaying the project and raising the miseries of Yamuna.

 

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