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Tuesday, August 09, 2022

An Express Investigation – Part 1: Processing plant lying shut in Ludhiana; 21L MT legacy waste dumped at landfill site

The problem with Ludhiana’s solid waste management, the only city from Punjab that had made it to the first list of 20 “Smart Cities” way back in 2016 even before UT Chandigarh, however, is much more deeper and serious, and is turning huge with each passing day, literally.

Written by Divya Goyal | Ludhiana |
Updated: July 4, 2022 11:07:50 am
Heaps of the garbage turns into mountains at Jamalpur dump near Tajpur Road in Ludhiana. (Express Photos by Gurmeet Singh)

Around 11,00,000 kg, or 1,100 tonnes per day (TPD) — that’s the quantity of garbage or solid waste that the city of Ludhiana produces in a single day, the highest among 13 Municipal Corporations (MCs) in Punjab. Nearly 3,074 tonnes of waste is collected in Punjab every day by 13 MCs.

The problem with Ludhiana’s solid waste management, the only city from Punjab that had made it to the first list of 20 “Smart Cities” way back in 2016 even before UT Chandigarh, however, is much more deeper and serious, and is turning huge with each passing day, literally.

An investigation by The Indian Express revealed that for more than a year now, Ludhiana Municipal Corporation (LMC) has not processed a single kg of waste produced in the city with a population of over 16 lakh.

Heaps of the garbage turns into mountains at Jamalpur dump near Tajpur Road in Ludhiana. (Express Photos by Gurmeet Singh)

Ludhiana is now staring at mountains of legacy waste (old waste waiting for processing), weighing over a whopping 21 lakh Metric Tonnes (MT), lying dumped at its Jamalpur landfill site on Tajpur road spread across 50 acres. According to a senior MC official, the accumulated legacy waste could be nearly twice at 40 lakh MT, as a fresh survey at the site is yet to be conducted.

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On the ground, The Indian Express team found that the processing plant at the landfill site was lying closed and non-operational after the private company which the MC had entered an agreement with – for lifting and processing of solid waste – left work midway and the contract was terminated. According to the MC, while the company was “supposed to start processing plant within 526 days of getting all permissions”, it was made “partially operational”only by the end of 2016 and “fully functional by February 2020”, causing an “inexplicable delay” which led to accumulation of legacy waste in such huge quantity.

While the MC and the company are now locked in an arbitration battle and the blame game is on between both sides, the legacy waste of over 21 lakh MT along with the new compilation of 1,100 tonnes every day, according to experts, is leading to irreversible environmental degradation of water, air and soil – with no immediate solution in sight.

The Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) has also slapped a fine of Rs 3.80 crore on LMC for failure to process the legacy waste and therefore causing environmental degradation.

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What’s worse is that with processing plant not working, even the segregation of solid waste has been stopped and tonnes of waste – that is collected from nearly 4 lakh households and commercial units in Ludhiana every day – is now being dumped at the landfill without any segregation (i.e. without any distinction between dry and wet, hazardous and non-hazardous, or biodegradable and non-biodegradable).

Heaps of the garbage turns into mountains at Jamalpur dump near Tajpur Road in Ludhiana. (Express Photos by Gurmeet Singh)

It was on November 30, 2011, that an agreement was signed between the MC and Gurgaon-based A2Z Waste Management in PPP mode for a period of over 25 years (till 2036). The company was hired for complete solid waste management operations in Ludhiana – door-to-door collection in all 95 wards, segregation, and transportation and processing of the waste.

However, after several issues that cropped up between both sides, the company terminated the agreement midway and withdrew its services from February 5, 2021, after working for a little over nine years – bringing waste processing to a complete halt. The processing plant at the site – set up by the company at a cost of nearly Rs 49 crore, which included Rs 20 crore grant given by the MC – is now lying dead with heaps of waste still lying inside the processing machinery and its stench spreading far and wide.

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“We were paying a tipping fee of (rate per tonne for lifting garbage) Rs 395 per tonne (around Rs 1.15-1.25 crore per month) for entire management to the company, but there were shortcomings at several levels. The contract was terminated from their side,” says Harpal Singh Aujla, senior assistant manager and solid waste management expert, MC.

More than a year after the company left and the MC started managing the solid waste on its own, the reality on the ground is far from its ambitious plan of achieving 100% mechanized collection and processing. Thanks to MC’s extreme staff and logistics shortage, the civic body was forced to hire another private firm M/S Alliance Waste Management Company for lifting and transporting garbage from its 39 secondary collection points to Jamalpur landfill.

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Now, more than 90% door-to-door waste collection is being done by informal and unorganised sector by deploying around 2,200 rehras (carts) manually, as the MC has no manpower to start door-to-door collection on its own. The unorganised workers then transport the waste to the MC’s 39 secondary collection points, and further it is transported to landfill by Alliance Waste company workers which has deployed 29 tippers and nine JCBs for the purpose. Of the 39 secondary points, compactors are operational at only eight sites, and waste is still dumped in the open in the rest.

In the legal tussle that the MC is now locked in with A2Z, the civic body has accused the company of failing to run the processing plant and creating a backlog of 21 lakh MT of legacy waste in nine years which has become a major headache for the MC. According to MC officials, the plant was made operational “partially” in 2016 and fully only in February 2020, after an inexplicable delay of almost eight years, but even then “it hardly ever worked”. On the other hand, the company has accused the MC of perpetual delay in payments and failure in creating a market for Residue Derived Fuel (RDF), which was produced at the processing plant from the waste.

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Ludhiana MC commissioner Shena Aggarwal said that with the company leaving the work midway, a huge dump of more than 21 lakh MT legacy waste has been created. “Our daily waste collection is already 1,100 MT and the dump has at least 21 lakh MT of legacy waste. Right now there’s no mechanism for segregation of hazardous and non-hazardous waste and everything is being dumped together. We are trying to sort it out in two ways. Firstly, we are planning to clear legacy waste backlog through bio-remediation for which a tender process has already started. Secondly, we are trying to stop daily fresh waste collection from adding to the pile, for which source segregation has been started to divide it into dry and wet and process it simultaneously with efforts of in-house staff. We are also focusing on reducing daily waste production through awareness,” she said.

Solid waste management in Ludhiana

-Total waste production: 1000-1100 tonnes per day (1100000 kg a day) from nearly 4 lakh households

-90% door to door collection by informal sector using 2200 carts

– 39 secondary collection points of MC

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-Transportation from secondary points to landfill by private company M/S Alliance Waste

-Legacy waste at 50-acre Jamalpur landfill: More than 21 lakh Metric Tonne

-Processing plant shut, processing stopped since February 2021

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Daily Waste Production in Punjab by 13 MCs (Tonnes per day/TPD)

Ludhiana 1000-1100

Amritsar 725

Jalandhar 543

Patiala 279

Bathinda 125

Hoshiarpur 57

SAS Nagar 56

Moga 55

Batala 54

Pathankot 53

Abohar 49

Kapurthala 33

Phagwara 33

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First published on: 04-07-2022 at 04:03:42 am

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