The Heap That Collapsed Was Just 1% of the Giant Ghazipur Landfill

East Delhi’s Ghazipur landfill, which holds 130 lakh tonnes of solid waste, was supposed to shut down in 2008. 

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The Heap That Collapsed Was Just 1% of the Giant Ghazipur Landfill

The tonnes of garbage at the 'over-saturated' Ghazipur dump-yard which collapsed on Friday claiming two lives, is estimated to be just one percent of the entire landfill, a senior municipal engineer said.

While the officials don't see it as 'big issue' yet, the site which was suppose to be shut in 2008, had been polluting air, water and soil since 1984, and it now poses a real time threat to people. As a heap of garbage fell into the Kondi Canal running parallel to the site, experts also fear adverse consequences and a medical situation for the locals in the long run.

The Ghazipur dumping ground holds 130 lakh tonnes of solid waste.

“Just a piece of the landfill has come down; its only one per cent of the total landfill. We had removed most of the dump and are putting it back to the site,” Pradeep Khandelwal, Chief Engineer, East Delhi Municipal Corporation told IANS.

Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal on Saturday banned the dumping of waste at the Ghazipur landfill site. Ghazipur site is the oldest and one of the three "un-engineered" dumping grounds located in East Delhi. The others include Okhla in South Delhi and Bhalaswa in North Delhi.

The yard at Bawana, which qualifies as a "landfill site" as it is the only "engineered solid waste dumping and processing site" in the entire National Capital, experts said, advising the authorities to wake-up and start working on "decentralised processing centres".

Delhi produces over 14,000 tonnes of solid-waste daily.

Explaining the reason of collapse, the municipal engineer said that the site was running out of space. The officials also underplayed the role of rains as the sole reason, as a joint effort of rains, fire and excessive pressure collectively brought down a small chunk of garbage mountain.

Khandelwal said:

The landfill had saturated long back and was holding more than it’s capacity.

Further speaking on the future, the official reiterated the year-old story that the solid-waste from Ghazipur will be used by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) for construction of 74 km of Delhi-Meerut Expressway. They however claimed that the tendering process had been done and procurement of garbage would begin from “mid-November” this year.

The Ghazipur dump-yard spreads over 70 acres and is 50 metres high. The other un-engineered sites – Okhla landfill spreads over 32 acres and Bhalaswa covers an area of 40 acres.

“Delhi has not learned anything and its high time to switch the process. Land is not at all a solution, there is hardly any left in Delhi anyway,” Swati Singh, waste management expert at Centre for Science and Environment told IANS

Calling the sites "dumping yard", she added that Ghazipur, Okhla and Bhalaswa were "not landfill sites at all", as they did not the follow prescribed norms.

According to the 2016 solid-waste management rules, a landfill site must not exceed 20 meters in height, must not be older than 22-25 years and must have a clay-lining at the bottom to save the land and ground water. She said:

Delhi has over 2,100 dhalaos (small dumping sites) which must be turned into processing centres. We should not use dhalaos anymore.

Stressing on the need for decentralised processing centres, where segregation of wet, dry and domestic hazardous waste is done and then treated, experts say that Delhi must follow cities like Pune, where such management system is in place. Singh said:

Bio-methanisation plant would be the ideal solution.
Warning that while the sites had been fuming toxic gases affecting the locals for years, risks of skin and gastrointestinal disease now stand increased.

All the three landfill sites had been catching fire in past, with the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and the Supreme Court pointing out the same in the past.

The DPCC direction to the EDMC, regarding Ghazipur landfill in November 2016, after the smog situation brought down Delhi's air quality to a 10-year low, said:

As per the rules, the operation of an un-engineered landfill site is not permissible. However, as an immediate step for controlling the fire, in view of severe pollution level in Delhi, you are hereby directed to use the sludge generated by water treatment plant.

The DPCC also asked the EDMC to cover up the entire Ghazipur landfill site with the debris from construction and demolition waste. However, the site, like the other three dumping grounds, continued as they had been doing since decades of its operation.

(This piece was first published on IANS and has been republished with permission)

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