Delhi wastelands: 50 feet tall and growing, Ghazipur yard operates well beyond deadline

Residents of colonies such as Anand Vihar and Kaushambi that are near the landfill have petitioned the NGT on the emissions, groundwater contamination and stench from the landfill.

Written by Pritha Chatterjee | New Delhi | Updated: February 7, 2016 8:10 am

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Daily Waste: 9,000 Metric Tonnes

No. of landfills: 3 — Ghazipur, Okhla, Bhalswa

Agencies responsible: The three city corporations — Ghazipur by the East Delhi Municipal Corporation, Okhla by the south corporation and Bhalswa by the north corporation

At Ghazipur

The Ghazipur landfill in east Delhi, the oldest functional landfill in the city, was started in 1984. Spread across 70 acres, the landfill contains at least 12 million tonnes of waste. The landfill is now estimated to be at least 50 feet tall. It overshot its limit of 15 feet in 2002, but in the absence of an alternative site, the landfill continues to function.

Read: Wastelands of India – Here’s how metros manage their trash

“We used to call it a multi-storey building earlier, but how long do you keep counting? Five, 10, 15 storeys… now it is just too high,” says a computer operator at the site employed by the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC).

An EDMC notice at the entrance of a lane leading to the mound apologies to residents for the landfill continuing to operate beyond the expiry date. The notice also states that the landfill gets 3,000-3,500 metric tonnes (MT) of waste daily. It also gets sewage waste and construction rubble from east Delhi. Municipal workers at the site say at least 600-650 trucks go up the mound every day. Around 200 metres from here is the Ghazipur slum, home to about 1,500 families of ragpickers.

Around 8 pm on a week day, despite a strike by municipal workers, the dump looks as if it were lit by several lanterns. These are spontaneous fires set off by gases such as methane that get released as part of the natural decomposition process.

Environmentalist Bharati Chaturvedi, who has worked on health hazards and safety measures for ragpickers in the Ghazipur slums, says, “In Ghazipur, the design of the landfill was never right. Ghazipur meets none of the scientific requirements for a landfill. There is no leachate treatment facility, so byproducts released during the decomposition seep into the groundwater,” says Chaturvedi.

According to a statement by IL&FS Environmental Infrastructure & Services Ltd (IEISL), which is running a waste-to-energy plant on trial at the Ghazipur dump, “During the monsoon, around 1.4 million litres of toxic leachate run-off gets generated per day and flows into the Yamuna and contaminates the groundwater.”

It was in 2008 that the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) outlined guidelines for landfills — that the waste must be compacted, that it must be covered with at least 10 cm of soil every day, etc — but hardly any of it is practised in the Ghazipur dump.

Ravi Aggarwal, director of Toxics Link who was part of the panel that brought out the guidelines, says, “Since this is a very old landfill, there is no processing that happens here. Waste is just dumped here.”

The EDMC acknowledges unsegregated waste is simply brought here, compressed and dumped. In 2008, the CPCB conducted a study through the National Environmental Engineering Institute, which noted that Ghazipur, along with “most of the waste disposal sites in the country”, was an “uncontrolled dump”.

Residents of colonies such as Anand Vihar and Kaushambi that are near the landfill have petitioned the NGT on the emissions, groundwater contamination and stench from the landfill.

Around 2012, EDMC’s municipal engineers began looking for alternative sites for landfills. “We identified an area in Sonia Vihar, but that land was never made available to us,” says Pradeep Khandelwal, chief engineer HQ at EDMC.

Over the last decade, over 15 landfill sites in Delhi had started filling up and had to be closed by the corporation. Around 2007-08, the erstwhile unified corporation managed by the BJP had planned an ambitious project to reclaim about one-third of the land from the Ghazipur landfill within 10 years at a cost of Rs 25 crore. But after the trifurcation of the corporation in 2012, the alternative sites identified for these projects went to other corporations. All three corporations are managed by the BJP.

Only one of the three waste-to-energy plants cleared by the DPCC is functional. A waste processing unit was to have come up near Azadpur vegetable market in the north but that project has been stuck for 10 years.

Manik Thapar, CEO of Eco Wise Waste Management Pvt Ltd, a company that collects, segregates and recycles industrial and residential waste in many parts of east Delhi and NCR, says people need to be motivated to segregate their waste in their houses. “People are unwilling to touch waste or pay even Rs 100 to have their waste segregated. It is somehow ingrained in us that handling waste is something that the lower castes do for free. If waste is segregated, disposal systems are better organised,” says Thapar.

Without segregation, household and even industrial waste is dumped in the colony dhalons and municipal trucks take it to the landfills. Experts say that ideally, only 10-15 percent of total waste should end up in landfills.

Aggarwal of Toxics Links says, “Of the total waste of Delhi, wet or organic waste forms over 50 per cent. This can simply be segregated and composted. Construction waste, another 20-30 per cent, should also be removed and recycled in separate plants. Plastics and electrical waste have separate disposal mechanisms. Only what remains after all this should head to the landfill. Even then, landfills should be the last option for cities where land is limited.”