Dharampal Singh lives on the eastern edge of the Capital, flanked by a mound that could easily be mistaken as a piece sundered from the Aravalli range in south Delhi. Except that it is a heap of garbage from where toxic air blows on windy evenings.
“The dust and smoke here cause breathlessness and irritation in our eyes. In the evening, when it gets windier, the air becomes more toxic. The shops are engulfed in dust,” says Dharampal, who has been living for decades in the dairy farm village next to the Ghazipur landfill, one of the three such in the Capital.
The other two landfills, which have become an election issue, are the Okhla landfill in southeast Delhi and Bhalswa landfill in northwest Delhi.
People living near these garbage mounds are exposed to several health risks. In fact, the Ghazipur landfill – is just eight metres short of the iconic Qutub Minar, which is 73 metres tall. The road alongside the landfill is covered with garbage, with dirty water leaking out of the landfill.
Pratap Singh, 54, who has been running a plywood shop at the dairy farm village in Ghazipur since the last 15 years, said, “The municipal corporation is not doing anything. If you ask someone to pick up the garbage, they say that we don’t have an order, we will pick it up when the order comes in writing.”
Pratap explains it further. “Until the cow dung dries up, it will not be picked. Till that time, it will remain like this. The drains are clogged due to cow dung which is overflowing on the streets. This landfill stinks and is also affecting our work and business. Elections are about to be held now, so these people are coming, asking for votes, making tall claims and promises. There is no response [from their side] after the elections,” he says.
While those in the dairy farm village are fed up with the landfill, those like rag-picker Mohammad Nasir are dependent on it. “Ghazipur landfill site is our only source of livelihood. If it stops we will starve to death,” he says.
Nasir, who lives in the slum area of Ghazipur, complains of the lack of basic amenities and doesn’t have much hope from the elections. “Now there is an election, so the leaders remember us. When they win, they will not be seen till the next elections. We struggle to live. Our children don’t have access to water or to schools. We get water by borrowing it from the dairy farm owners here. They abuse us but we have to endure since we know that the dairy farm owners are doing us a favour by providing us with water.”
Nasir says that neither the MCD nor the Delhi government has offered any help.
“First of all, MCD doesn’t help us. The Delhi government too doesn’t help us. During the elections, leaders come to visit us and promise us (slum-dwellers) clean roads and access to water. They also ask us to visit them if we face any difficulties. But when we approach them for help, they first ask us where we are from. When we tell them that we are from the Ghazipur landfill site, they make us wait outside for 2-3 hours, only to turn us away,” complains Nasir.
Saram, a resident of the dairy farm village, is tired of the environment in the neighbourhood. “It’s humid all the time and it stinks. It is hard to stay here. Some time ago, it was on fire because of gas. It was full of smoke with toxic gas everywhere. We just want this to end. Instead of this garbage mountain, a park should be made. The government is not doing anything, only comes to ask for votes at the time of elections. They only make promises and then forget,” he laments.
Shahzaib, another resident, says, “There is a problem in this entire area only because of this mountain [of garbage]. If there is any disease in the entire dairy farm, it is only because of this mountain. We are always afraid of what will happen if there is a fire again. We are always scared that this fire may reach our homes.”
Earlier this year The National Green Tribunal (NGT) asked the Delhi government to pay Rs 900 crore environmental compensation as a fine for poor solid municipal waste management.
It added that “people should not be forced to face an emergency scenario due to a lack of governance”.
According to a bench, chaired by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, around 80% of the legacy debris in the three landfill sites Ghazipur, Bhalswa and Okhla was not rectified. The legacy garbage at the three sites totalled 300 lakh metric tonnes.
According to numerous global research and experts, landfills are one of the leading sources of methane emissions which can lead to fires.
The waste that is landfilled undergoes anaerobic decomposition stage. Within a year, due to chemical reactions, methane is produced. Methane is combustible spontaneously at temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Celsius and can easily lead to fires in landfills in the summer.
A large amount of combustible waste such as plastic is also dumped on the premises. Therefore, the presence of methane, even in small amounts, can create raging hell. This is exactly what is happening in Ghazipur, according to experts.
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