Video Producer: Maaz Hasan
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
The Aravalli forests and the hills surrounding India's National Capital Region are home to many leopards, nilgais, jackals, civet cats, reptiles, birds, and other wildlife. They are also the biggest source of recharge for Delhi-NCR's groundwater and have the potential to push 2 million litres of water per hectare into the ground every year.
For the water-starved areas of Gurugram, Faridabad, Delhi, and the rest of NCR where groundwater levels are falling dangerously low, the Aravallis are a lifeline.
But unfortunately, the existence of the Bandhwari landfill in the middle of the eco-sensitive Aravallis is poisoning this lifeline, affecting the water security of millions of people living in the NCR.
Accumulated over a period of 11 years, the Bandhwari landfill, with an estimated 35 lakh tonnes of untreated, toxic mixed waste, has become taller than the surrounding Aravalli hills.
The landfill was formed in the year 2009 in an abandoned 250-foot-deep mining pit, which is very close to the groundwater aquifer that feeds Delhi, Gurugram, and Faridabad.
Two thousand tonnes of Gurugram and Faridabad's unsegregated mixed waste is dumped in this landfill every day. Plastic, electronic, and biomedical waste have created a toxic mix, which pollutes the soil, air, surface water bodies, and groundwater.
Because of the negligence of the authorities, every time it rains, the toxic leachate rife with poisonous substances is allowed to flow into the surrounding Aravalli forest.
Over the last two years, the Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement has carried out many on-ground protests, taken out social media and email campaigns, met the local MLAs and Haryana's chief minister over the mess that the Bandhwari landfill is creating, and suggested sustainable solutions. But there seems to be no political and administrative will to solve the problem.
In early January this year, we got to know that solid waste from the Bandhwari landfill was being dumped in mining quarries and protected forest areas in different locations across the Aravallis in Gurugram and Faridabad.
'CSE Reports Raises Severe Concerns'
We reached out to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) to seek redressal. On 14 January 2022, I was present at the location with Dr Vinod Vijayan, the head of CSE's Environment Monitoring Lab.
The solid waste thrown in the Aravalli forest – just a few metres from the toll near Bandhwari landfill on the Gurugram-Faridabad road – had an extremely foul smell; noxious fumes were seen coming out of it. It was extremely difficult to stand there as Dr Vijayan collected the sample.
It had rained the previous day and we saw a stream of leachate flowing into the forest adjoining the Bandhwari landfill. One of the Aravalli Bachao team members stepped into this toxic pool to collect a sample that we requested the CSE lab team to analyse.
The two reports from the Centre for Science and Environment confirmed our worst fears. The concentration of toxic heavy metals in the solid waste dumped in many locations in the Aravallis was way above the safe limits.
The level of chromium was 262 and that of nickel was 128, against the safe limit of under 50. Pathogens such as fecal coliform and E.Coli were also found to be way above the prescribed standards.
The leachate sample report revealed that along with a very high count of pathogens, the Biological Oxygen Demand and Chemical Oxygen Demand were also extremely high.
I met with Dr Richa Singh, a waste expert at the Centre for Science and Environment, to understand the implications of these results.
"Toxic metals which are found in the solid waste are extremely hazardous to the health of the entire ecosystem in the Aravallis because they have an inherent property to get bioaccumulated in plants as well as animals. So, whatever is dumped over there, it is going to get into the ecosystem and the food chain. The level of pollutants that we found in the leachate sample was 100 times more polluting than in urban wastewaters. So, this is very hazardous to the health of the Aravallis as this contaminated water will ultimately reach the groundwater, making it unfit for drinking."Dr Richa Singh, Waste Expert, CSE
'Authorities Should Look Into The Matter'
In March 2022, the Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement shared the two reports from the Centre for Science and Environment with the government authorities. Thereafter, on 29 March and 17 May 2022, we visited the site from where the leachate samples had been collected in January. At the end of March, the leachate pool was still standing in the forest adjoining the Bandhwari landfill.
Sunil Harsana, a grassroots conservationist and wildlife researcher, accompanied our team. He showed us the scats of a carnivorous wild animal right next to the leachate pool.
"In the summer season, there is shortage of water. The wild animals living in the Aravallis drink this poisonous leachate and die."Sunil Harsana, Conservationist & Wildlife Researcher
In four months, the authorities have not managed to get their act together and this landfill full of toxic heavy metals, as shown in the CSE report, is continuing to percolate into our groundwater aquifers, putting the health of 30 million people living in the National Capital Region at risk.
I met with Dr Shyamala Mani, a solid waste management expert, to explore solutions.
"Such a dumpsite, which is having such toxic substances, should not be there in the eco-sensitive Aravallis at all. The authorities must do bioremediation on war footing to remove the Bandhwari landfill and restore the forest. The solution for the fresh waste that is being generated every day is segregation at the source and decentralised waste management. Only domestic hazardous waste must be given to the municipalities. And a proper secured landfill site away from our eco-sensitive areas must be created for this kind of limited solid waste, which is non-compostable and non-recyclable."Dr. Shyamala Mani, Solid Waste Management Expert
We hope that the government will look into the issue and resolve it, as it affects humans, wildlife, and the environment alike.
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