Ghazipur landfill collapse: Mere shifting of site won't end air pollution, diseases; scientific disposal only way out

New Delhi: Shamima is happy with the Delhi Lieutenant Governor’s decision to ban the use of the landfill site near her home in Mulla Colony in the capital city’s Ghazipur area. The stinking heap of garbage with the shape of a hillock as high as a five-storey building is the reason behind her misfortunes. She got infected by tuberculosis thrice during her teenage and lost two valuable academic years. All of her friends are studying in college now while the 19-year-old is still struggling to pass 9th standard with her frail health.

Ghazipur landfill site. Kangkan Acharyya/Firstpost

Ghazipur landfill site. Kangkan Acharyya/Firstpost

"If the garbage dump is removed from here, I hope none in Mulla Colony would be struck by misfortunes like me," she said. But she knows that the order banning the landfill site can do nothing to recover the loss she has already incurred in her academic career.

Shamima is one of the living examples of what the people of Mulla Colony with a population of more than 25,000 have gone through during the last 40 years after Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD)’s dumping ground was located here. Thousands of people young and old have fallen prey to toxic air that pervades in the locality near the Ghazipur landfill site.

The stench that emancipates from the landfill has made life miserable for the people living in the colonies adjacent to it.

"Many young boys and girls have suffered deadly diseases like tuberculosis, typhoid, dengue, malaria and encephalitis. Lives both old and young have been lost to diseases. The main reason of these diseases can be attributed to the infections spread by the garbage dump," said Salim Khan, a health worker in the locality.

He said that 30 percent of the patients he receives daily are inflicted with tuberculosis and many of them are teenagers.

"Other diseases like dysentery, asthma, bronchitis are lifelong companions for many in Mulla Colony and other residential areas near the dumping ground," the health worker said.

Mulla Colony in Delhi’s Ghazipur is resided mostly by rag pickers and daily wage laborers. The locality where breathing is always a struggle and life only means a fight against deadly diseases is in sharp contrast with the posh residential areas like Mayur Vihar in East Delhi where all the facilities of a metropolitan lifestyle are easily available.

There are a number of other localities near the Ghazipur landfill site that share the same fate with Mulla Colony. Ghaoli and Rajbir colonies are two among them.

No wonder the decision to ban the dumping ground was welcomed by one and all residing in these wretched localities. On 2 September the L-G ordered the ban on dumping garbage at the Ghazipur landfill site. The order which came a day after two people died due to the collapse of a mound of waste on them, also said that the garbage will be cleared within two years.

Though the ban is yet to be implemented due to non-availability of an alternative site, it was seen as a fulfillment of a four-decade old demand to stop dumping of waste in Ghazipur made by the local residents. But the cost of what the people living in these areas have lost during the last 40 years due to the ill-managed dumping ground is too high for such an order to fulfill.

The Delhi government itself clearly admits that the dumping grounds in Delhi including the one in Ghazipur are illegal. The Department of Environment said in a note on its website, "There are 3 landfill sites namely Bhalswa land fill site, Ghazipur land fill site, Okhla land fill site. Bhalswa Land fill site commissioned in the year 1994, whereas Ghazipur in 1984 and Okhla in 1996. In absence of availability of landfill sites, all the 5 Municipal Bodies are using these three sites for illegal disposal of MSW."

The landfill sites are seen in sharp contrast with the spirit of Solid Waste Management rules which said, "Land filing shall be restricted to non-biodegradable, inert waste and other waste that are not suitable either for recycling or for biological processing."

But none of the sites managed by the civic authorities follow this rule. All the landfills are heaped with both kinds of wastes resulting in an extremely high rate of air pollution caused by them.

As per a study published in 2015, the suspended particulate matter in Ghazipur was 1,124 micrograms per cubic metre, whereas the permissible limit was only 10 micrograms per cubic metre, reported The Times of India.

"Dumping of wet waste is the reason why often the landfills catch fire. Methane gas produced by bio-degradable waste causes fire and smoke emitted by it is extremely toxic," said Satish Sinha of Toxic Links, an environmental NGO.

Residents of the Mulla Colony say that they heard the sound of a blast from the Ghazipur landfill site before a huge mound of waste collapsed killing two people on 1 September and finally led the L-G to ban the site. They say that the blast might be caused by the gaseous substance in the garbage dump.

Not only the Ghazipur landfill site, all the dumping grounds in Delhi have caused similar hazards in public life due to mismanagement of the authorities.

"All the dumping grounds are on fire during the summer season due to the emission of methane gas from them. People living in the localities nearby such landfills are forced to inhale this poisonous gases," said Sinha.

The Ghazipur tragedy must have rung the alarm bell for the civic authorities to remind that it was high time to switch Delhi's solid waste management to a more scientific mode. But it is hardly the case.

"Rather than contemplating to opt for a scientific waste disposal system, the authorities are just trying transfer the dump yard from one place to another and also is facing public protest for it," said Chitra Mukherjee of Chintan, an NGO that has been working actively on solid waste management.

After the Ghazipur dump site was banned the East Delhi Municipal Corporation attempted to shift the site to Ranikheda. But the attempt was aborted after local residents resisted.

Though another site was proposed in Yamuna flood plains, that too faced protest from environmental NGOs.

"Shifting the dump yard is not a solution to the crisis. Rather the crisis should be used to bring in a solid waste management system, which is scientific," said Sinha.

He said that to adopt a scientific mode of waste disposal, the waste has to be segregated at the source into two parts -- dry and wet. The wet waste can be used for composting and the dry waste can be sent for recycling.

"But the MCDs till now has not made it compulsory for the households to segregate the waste, where lies the problem," Sinha said.

He also said that if the waste segregated at source are sent to processing units, a very small amount of non-recyclable waste will be left which can be dumped in a landfill.

"Everyday 8,000 metric tonnes of solid waste is generated in Delhi. If scientific waste management methods are used only 10 percent of this would reach the landfill," he said.

Mukherjee said that Bangalore has successfully implemented this method by making it compulsory for the gated communities to make provision for a composting unit within the compound. The recyclable waste and the manure produced in the composting units are sold in the market.

"This way only 10 to 15 percent of the waste generated daily goes to the landfill site," she said.

Sinha too said that much of the landfill used for dumping non-recyclable waste can also be recovered later on.

The solid waste management rules have also mandated segregation and treatment of waste, which has not been adopted by the MCDs yet.

Experts said that mismanagement of waste is a ticking time bomb for Delhi, which could explode if not dealt with care before it is too late.

Updated Date: Sep 06, 2017 18:40 PM

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