More than 48 hours since a rescue operation was started by the police and fire team, in collaboration with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), to look for a 12-year-old girl buried in the Ahmedabad’s legacy waste site of Pirana dump, the family has had no option but to go back to their usual grind of sorting through carcasses and waste to find scraps worth a few pennies.
According to police, Neha Vasava had fallen when a pile of garbage she was standing upon collapsed at the Pirana dumping site. Seven-year-old Anil Marwadi, who had also fallen in the garbage pile along with Neha, was rescued by locals soon after the accident. However, the girl couldn’t be found. Anil escaped with some scratches on his nose and stomach.
Making games out of running the fastest to reach atop the trash mound was common for Anil and Neha, said Ramesh Marwadi (25), father of Anil.
“We got a bit late on Saturday, usually we get down from the mound around 5.30pm. We could not find our children (Anil and Neha) and we kept looking for them for two hours or so. Then we found Anil but not Neha so they (Neha’s family members) went to the AMC officials on site who then informed the police… Police said it will take two to three days perhaps to find her body,” Ramesh said.
Five cranes on site have been rummaging through the trash to find Neha. With little hope of her being found alive, a fire official on site said, “It is doubtful we will find even her body, with birds and dogs scavenging here.”
“Two teams of Fire Safety have been conducting a search operation for the past two days but we have not found the body yet. There is no specific site for us to search for the missing child as there is no input on it by witnesses. We are using JCB machines from morning to evening to remove heaps of garbage one at a time,” said Rajesh Bhatt, additional chief fire officer, Fire Safety Department, AMC.
According to a solid waste management official of the AMC, 4,000 metric tonne of waste is taken to Pirana of which 2,100 MT of waste is processed through compost, plastic waste processing, construction and demolition waste processing and the remaining stays at the landfill
No ID card is given to any of the rag pickers. “You come and go at your will, AMC is not responsible if you die… seedhi baat hai,” said Ramesh, who was born in Ahmedabad but his parents are native of Jodhpur in Rajasthan. He and his elder brother are the only earning members of his family.
With four children in tow, Neha’s mother Ranjanben Vasava (40) would often accompany her husband Manubhai Vasava, until he died two days before Holi (in March 2020).
Her second child, Kishan Vasava (15), said, “We don’t have time to wait for the authorities… we have anyway been told from day one that we can come here, take what we want and earnings are ours but AMC shall not take any responsibility if anything happens. Who will feed us if not ourselves? We have to stay alive first. We have to earn Rs 200-250 each day.”
Ramesh and Ranjanben have been scavenging for scraps at Pirana for the past 10-12 years on days when they don’t find daily wage labour. They are neighbours at Kamod village in Dholka block of Ahmedabad, nearly seven kilometres away from the site.
“We earn Rs 200-250 a day from selling scraps. If we find labour work at Narol naka, we probably earn Rs 300. During lockdown we would walk the way up to here and then take our scraps to the residence of the godown owners since the godowns were shut. We usually work from 8 am to 5 pm.” Anil doesn’t go to school nor does he help his father in his work, “bas khelta rehta hai,” said Ramesh.
A Danilimda police constable at the site said, “Every year during monsoon the trash slides down and covers the road. This is quite common… so what happened was not out of the ordinary when the garbage slid on the children.” The constable said that in case the body is found, a case of accidental death shall be registered. If not, then a missing persons’ report shall be filed.
Situated on the eastern bank of Sabarmati river, the dumpsite is in place since 1980s. Former municipal commissioner Vijay Nehra had in the 2020-21 AMC budget promised to clear the dumpsite by August 15, 2022.
The NGT had made strong observations on the polluting impact of the legacy dumpsite in July 2019, urging authorities to make clearance of the dumpsite as the highest priority. The NGT bench had also ordered a payment of Rs 75 crore from the state, in an escrow amount.
The Tribunal in July 2019 had also recorded that the legacy waste at Pirana has crossed 95 lakh metric tones and it covers 84 acre occupied by three 75-foot mountains of garbage which has been accumulating since 1982. According to an AMC official, as on date, of the one crore metric tonne of waste, 18 lakh metric tonne has been cleared and along with this clearance, 11-12 acres of land has been freed.
(With inputs from Vaibhav Jha)
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