New Delhi: The Deonar dumping ground fire in Mumbai has not just exposed the fast deteriorating living conditions in India’s financial capital but also rung the alarm bells for the most notoriously polluted city of India — Delhi.
With the rising height of dumped solid wastes in the three landfills taking the shape of hills, the national capital is on the verge of an accident due to fire in dumped wastes, which can occur any moment, like the one happened in Deonar.
The Firstpost team visited two landfill sites Bhalaswa and Ghazipur — though environmentalists like to refer to them as ‘dumping grounds’ —and found fire due to continuous burning of wastes at the top of the dumped solid wastes. The surrounding area was engulfed in thick choking smoke and unbearable stench of rotting solid wastes. Vultures and crows were hovering over tonnes of garbage.
A glimpse of the landfill site is itself alarming — as if a dormant volcano may come to life any moment!
Alarming statistics about Delhi
- 8,360 metric tonne: Garbage generated per day (Govt report).
- 18,000 metric tonne: Garbage per day by 2021 (HC-committee report).
- Only three landfill sites: Okhla, Ghazipur, Bhalswa. (Okhla closed; other two functional).
- No new landfill site has come up as per HC’s directions.
- More than 650 metric tonne of plastic waste generated daily.
- 5000 tonnes: Construction waste produced daily.
- 500 tonnes: Recycling capacity per day
Why is this alarming
“It’s just a matter of time and it might happen any moment. It’s in an alarming state, as we can see wastes burning continuously, which can break into a major fire. There is no basic safety at these landfill sites. Moreover there are residential localities close to these sites,” said Bharati Chaturvedi, director, Chintan Environmental Research & Action Group.
“It’s not just about the fire because fire keeps burning due to production of methane within the garbage, but it’s the smoke which is of concern due to its toxicity. Like in Deonar, all talked about fire, but analysis should have been done to find out what caused that choking smoke. This smoke is dangerous because we don’t know the burning of what kind of waste – organic, e-waste, plastic, chemicals or batteries led to that smoke,” remarked Ravi Agarwal, director, Toxic Links.
- The limits in these so-called landfills have exceeded and wastes are overflowing.
- Dumping of all kinds of wastes from organic to e-wastes take place.
- No system in place related to solid waste management – to get rid of the wastes. Resultantly, piled up garbage over the years has taken the shape of a hill.
- No safety measures in place to prevent outbreak of fire.
- Besides natural burning of wastes caused by inflammable methane gas generated within the dump, people also put fire to burn wastes. This may take the shape of a major accident.
- Groundwater contamination by the leachate generated in the waste dump and surface water contamination by the runoff from the waste dump.
- Acidity of surrounding soil.
- Spreading of epidemics and infectious diseases to people living in nearby localities.
Not landfills, but dumping grounds
The three landfills in Delhi are not landfills in the true sense. The environmentalists call it a garbage dumping ground, which makes these sites more prone to accidents.
“These are old dumping grounds and not landfills in the technical sense. The concept of landfill came only after 2005-06, when standards were set. Since then, no new landfill site has come up in Delhi. In a landfill site one can have control over solid wastes. There is process of segregation, recycling, minimizing wastes, etc in a proper landfill site. We can’t have hectares of prime land in the capital dedicated for dumping wastes,” added Agarwal.
No progress yet
A Delhi High Court-constituted panel had asked Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to identify new sites for two new landfills. The panel had recommended implementation of a policy focusing on the conversion of wastes to energy, compost and useful byproducts. But till date there has been no progress in this direction. The solid waste of Delhi-NCR is getting dumped in Bhalswa and Ghazipur sites.
“There’s a need to fundamentally alter waste management dealing in India and strict implementation of policies and regulations, or else it’ll become a menace. We’re already facing the heat. Dumping of wastes is continuing in two sites, without any management of the solid waste. Only dumps are getting created. There’s a legal ban on burning of plastics in Delhi, but people don’t care, which is adding to our existing air pollution level. The existing landfill approach is not sustainable, as there can’t be infinite waste. It has to be reduced through solid waste management approach, which anyway is not happening,” remarked Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
Need of the hour
Environmental experts opine that citizens need to adopt the practice of segregating wastes at source.
“Segregation of wastes should take place at the source—organic waste should be separated from plastic and e-wastes; absence of it is leading to dumping of all kind of wastes together at one site,” added Roychowdhury.
“Like in Mysore or Aurangabad, we don’t have any facility of segregation of wastes and no systematic recycling in Delhi. Secondary segregation is must. There’s no recycling of 60% of the organic wastes that can be used for making compost. Some private companies are paid to recycle wastes, but that’s not sufficient. There’s need for upgradation. Delhi government should create awareness and encourage citizens for primary segregation of wastes at home. There should be strict policy for manufacturers of battery, consumer packaged foods etc, to take back the packet of chips, drained batteries, etc at their own cost, as these can’t be recycled further,” added Chaturvedi.
Citizens at the receiving end
The conditions of people residing close to these three dumping sites are beyond imagination.
“Through the day and night there’s a foul odour in air. Whenever a strong wind blows, ashes and wastes from the dumping ground start floating in the air and land in our houses. Earlier, municipal corporation workers used to come and clean the locality. Now no one bothers to visit. The quality of groundwater of this area has also gone bad and we can feel it,” Mohd Muftar Alam, a Madrasa teacher of Kalandar Colony close to Bhalswa landfill told Firstpost.
“Due to continuous burning of garbage, choking smoke engulfs the area. You can see the smoke all around accompanied with a pungent smell. Even the water smells so bad. There seems to be no solution to this problem,” Virender Ram, a resident of the colony lamented.
Government’s role and take
The responsibility of solid waste management in Delhi is with the five municipal authorities. Right from generation, collection, storage, transfer, transport, processing to disposal of solid waste is done by different zones of the municipal corporation. According to the Delhi government’s waste management plan, in the absence of a proper landfill site, these five municipal bodies have been using the three garbage dumping sites.
The waste generated by North and East Delhi are dumped at Bhalswa and Ghazipur respectively; whereas that of South Delhi was dumped at Okhla. But, with the shutdown of the Okhla site, all the waste is dumped at the other sites. Looking at the condition of the three landfills, with garbage overflowing beyond its demarcated areas, the Delhi HC asked the Delhi government to look for sites for two new landfills, an order that has been stuck due to non-availability of land.
“Due to scarcity of land in Delhi, as it’s a premium commodity in the national capital, it’s very difficult to find land for a new landfill. Few locations were identified by the DDA but due to environmental, safety, legal and other issues, it couldn’t be pursued. So, the government’s focus is on waste-to-energy, waste-to-compost and waste-to-byproducts models. At Okhla and Bhalswa we have waste processing plants and electricity generation plant at Okhla. Construction and demolition malba (waste) is recycled in India’s only plant at Burari to make bricks and tiles. These are the only ways we can solve this solid waste management issue,” Dr PK Sharma, Director & MOH, New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) told Firstpost.
“As far as preventive and safety measures are concerned, to utilize methane gas that emanates from decomposition of garbage, a bio-methanisation plant is in the pipeline. To prevent spreading of fire in solid wastes, a process of regular sprinkling of water has been adopted,” Dr Sharma added.