New Delhi: For years, those living near the landfill sites at Ghazipur in East Delhi, Bhalaswa Jahangirpuri in North Delhi and Okhla in South Delhi have been breathing toxic air.
The sites are surrounded by garbage dust and when it rains, these mountains of waste let out a stench which makes people keep their doors and windows shut several kilometres away. These dumps also attract a large number of birds of prey whose droppings can be seen all around. And one can often spot these ‘hills’ smouldering as civic agencies try to make space by burning the accumulated garbage, even if this means polluting the air and threatening the lives of people living around them.
While waste-to-energy-incinerators and landfills in densely populated sites are clearly environmental and health hazards, alternative solutions that have been debated have also so far failed to take off due to conflicting claims and arguments between stakeholders. One such impasse is over a proposed landfill site at the Asola Bhatti Mines on the southern edge of the Capital, which the Municipal Corporation of Delhi claims will take care of the city’s solid waste disposal needs for the next 25 years. The Bhatti Mines issue has been before the courts – first the Supreme Court and then Delhi High Court – for over a decade and a half now.
City planners blame the environmentalists for the delay, while the latter say they cannot be faulted for raising concerns. Former Delhi Chief Secretary and Municipal Commissioner Rakesh Mehta said that the project had been recommended by the UN, and a feasibility study was carried out by a Danish consulting agency, as well as by a Pune-based institute. However, the idea was opposed by environmentalists on the ground that the Bhatti mines site was in an important water recharge zone. Gopal Krishna of Toxics Watch Alliance insists the MCD’s proposal to build a landfill there ignored the risk of contamination of water resources from leaching. The proposed landfill also lies in the vicinity of sensitive locations like the Asola Wild Life sanctuary and two villages, Sanjay Nagar and Balbir Nagar. He cited an IIT professor’s study that had negatived the idea of this landfill site by pointing out the dangers of dumping garbage in an ecologically sensitive area.
Mehta, however, defends the MCD proposal, saying “The site was to be an engineered one. It would have been lined with concrete to prevent leaching or contamination of underground water due to seepage of garbage water. Also the construction debris and plastic waste would have been segregated beforehand and there was to be a composting plant for treating the organic waste.” He added that the reason the project hadn’t moved ahead was because “the government is wary of such protests and wants to take goody-goody decisions.”
Krishna admitted that the IIT study had not done a comparative analysis of the amount of leaching, air pollution and water pollution taking place due to the three existing garbage disposal sites in Delhi, which have far outlived their use and have now turned into 40-metre-high mountains of garbage. “The Asola site was a landfill site while the three existing sites are garbage disposal sites, so they cannot be compared,” he asserted.
The MCD version is that an Environment Impact Assessment study conducted on the recommendation of the Ridge Management Board (RMB) had found that the sanitary landfill site was not in the Asola Sanctuary. The Corporation had also declared to the court that on closure of the landfill site at the Bhatti mines site, the area would be converted into forest according to the Municipal Solid Waste Rules, 2000.
MCD officials say the site would have taken care of the garbage disposal needs of Delhi, currently a massive 10,000 metric tonnes of solid waste per day, provided a one-point disposal site away from densely inhabited areas, done away with the need for installing toxic incinerators in the city, and addressed the massive ground water contamination and air pollution taking place due to the Ghazipur, Jahangirpuri and Okhla sites.
However, their claims do not seem to have convinced the court. On April 17, the High Court directed the Delhi Government, DDA and the Railway Board to expedite allotment of land to municipal corporations for creating landfills at different places in Delhi like the 100-acre Container Corporation of India premises at Okhla Phase I, which belongs to the railways, Sultanpur Dabas in North West Delhi, and Tehkhand in South East Delhi. Several sites identified earlier in places like Jaitpur in South East Delhi and Bawana in North West Delhi had witnessed strong protests by locals and villagers who did not want garbage dump facilities to come up in their surroundings.
Either way, the lack of proper waste disposal is causing huge environmental hazards which need to be addressed on an urgent basis.