Delhi landfills are ticking time bombs waiting to explode and it needs a political solution

The landfill problem in Delhi is not new, but it is high time for the political parties to come together and settle this issue

Sayantan Ghosh April 29, 2022 15:23:27 IST
Delhi landfills are ticking time bombs waiting to explode and it needs a political solution

Landfills have become a source of politics and pollution. Image coutesy News18

A large fire broke out on Tuesday at the Bhalswa landfill in northern Delhi. It occurred during an extreme heatwave in the north of India, including Delhi. It has been four days and the fire is still on. It was the fourth such fire this year. Last month, around three fire incidents occurred at the Ghazipur landfill site. On 28 March, the Ghazipur landfill site witnessed a fire which took 50 hours to douse. The landfill problem in Delhi is not new, but it is high time for the political parties to come together and settle this issue.

Delhi has three humongous landfills at Ghazipur, Okhla, and Bhalswa. The Ghazipur landfill in Delhi has a height of 65 meters. It is also Asia's tallest garbage mountain. The general cause of landfill fires is increased methane production by decomposing waste due to the summer heat. The local people who live near the Bhalswa landfill have complained of breathing problems after the fire broke out on Tuesday. Landfills have several effects on the environment of a city. It is pertinent to note that Delhi is the most polluted capital in the world.

How landfills have an impact on climate change and heatwaves

Delhi is also witnessing a massive heatwave as are many other states of India. Experts believe that heatwaves have a direct connection with climate change. Whatever position a political party takes on the issue of climate change, it is a reality. One of the primary causes of global warming is climate change. Climate change, according to environmentalists, is linked to the current heatwave. According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) records, this March was the hottest in India in 122 years.

According to research conducted by the IMD Department, the frequency of heatwave days has increased dramatically in India over the last few decades. This suggests that global warming has already begun to alter the country's ambient temperature. Because local climatic conditions play such a large role in climate change, landfills have become extremely important in this context. In addition, landfills have a severe negative impact on the local environment.

According to a research article, "The Hidden Damage of Landfills," written by Kayla Vasarhelyi of the University of Colorado, "The most pressing environmental concern regarding landfills is their release of methane gas." As the organic mass in landfills decomposes, methane gas is released. Methane is 84 times more effective at absorbing the sun’s heat than carbon dioxide, making it one of the most potent greenhouse gases and a huge contributor to climate change.

Why is the condition of Delhi landfills dangerous?

The status of Delhi's landfills is hazardous for several reasons, the most serious of which is a poor waste management system. Second, the current political administration is unwilling to assume responsibility for the waste management system. There is also a great deal of apathy when it comes to comprehending the implications of landfill dangers. In 2017, a significant portion of the Ghazipur landfill collapsed, killing two people.

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For example, since its inception in 1994, the Ghazipur landfill, which is filled with the garbage of Delhi's 20 million residents, has grown to occupy 80 acres and reach a height of 65 meters. Several decades ago, the Ghazipur landfill reached its saturation point. However, 2,500 tonnes of rubbish are thrown on it every day.

Landfills are the ultimate waste management solution in India.

Landfill fires, especially in the summer, contribute significantly to Delhi's air pollution. According to solid waste management recommendations established in 2016, garbage must be separated at the source and only non-recyclable material should be disposed of in landfills. However, because a system of waste sorting and recycling is not in place, all types of trash are dumped at landfill sites. The landfills of Delhi have become tinderboxes as a result of this irresponsible behaviour.

What is the Delhi landfill politics?

The landfill issue is one of the many unsolvable problems because of politics. Delhi, as India's capital, has a unique political structure. The Environment Department, which looks after pollution sources, comes under the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government. The waste management system comes under the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Municipal Corporations of Delhi. On the other hand, land under the control of the BJP-ruled Central government is needed to find alternative landfill sites. The AAP keeps claiming that the BJP-ruled MCDs have created these mountains of shame. Whereas the BJP claims that the AAP government does not provide any necessary funds to them using which they can change the situation.

The Supreme Court of India was forced to step in on many occasions, but the outcome has been zero because there is no political will. At a hearing, the apex court asked, "Who is ultimately in charge of garbage management in Delhi? Is it the office of the chief minister or the Lieutenant Governor or the Centre? "

The political parties do not want a solution to this problem because these are the key issues on which the political mudslinging is based. For example, after his victory, East Delhi MP of the Bharatiya Janata party Gautam Gambhir, declared that Asia’s largest garbage mountain, which is the Ghazipur, was down by 40 feet in just one year under his persuasion. Earlier, he tweeted, “Delhi has to decide! Drama or Development? For the first time in 25 yrs, 3 lakh metric tonne legacy waste has been processed at Ghazipur. 50% of remaining 140 lakh will be done by March 2023 & rest by Dec 2024!”

The AAP did not waste any time. MLAs and councillors rushed to the Ghazipur landfill to prove Gambhir wrong. The AAP claimed that the East Delhi MP was attempting to mislead the public by providing false information and that the BJP is responsible for this mountain of shame. On the one hand, there is the AAP-led Delhi government's pollution department, which continuously slams the MCD for not doing their work in terms of waste management, and on the other hand, there is the Delhi Assembly committee for the environment, which keeps on asking officials of the BJP-ruled MCD to appear before it. The outcome was again zero.

What is the solution

The air pollution in Delhi is a long-standing issue. All the political parties blamed each other for this issue. However, the key to dealing with this issue is by identifying the local sources of pollution and controlling them. Several environmental studies have concluded that landfills or significant contributors to air pollution.

The most important way to deal with this issue is by showing political will. To find a solution, all stakeholders, including the Delhi government, the municipal corporations of Delhi, the central government, all agencies involved in this matter, and experts, should convene. Fragmented power structures, political blame games, and electoral benefits are hampering the public health of the citizens of Delhi. If political parties do not demonstrate a willingness to find alternatives to these landfills, India's capital will remain polluted. And the people will keep suffering while the politics continue to play. Today, the option in front of the political parties in Delhi is either public health or political mudslinging.

The author is an independent journalist based in Kolkata and a former policy research fellow at the Delhi Assembly Research Centre. Views expressed are personal.

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