New Delhi: A fire broke out at the Ghazipur landfill, one of the three garbage mountains in Delhi, on Monday (June 12) afternoon. According to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), the cause of the fire was the generation of methane gas and high temperature in the national capital Delhi. These landfills, which are technically dumpsites, have all sort of waste – wet, dry, biomedical, sanitary and even electronic waste. While biodegradable or wet waste decomposes over time, the anaerobic decomposition (breakdown of organic waste in the absence of oxygen) of organic waste generates methane gas, which is flammable and generates heat. That’s the reason why dumpsites in Delhi, especially in summer, often catch fire. If not fire, then these are always smoldering in patches.
“By evening, about 60-70 per cent of the fire was doused. It was not allowed to spread further,” the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) said in a statement, as reported by news agency PTI.
Talking to team Banega Swasth India about the health hazards of landfills catching fire, Dr. Richa Singh, Deputy Programme Manager, MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) team, Centre for Science and Environment said,
Mixed waste (at dumpsites) catching fire releases dioxins and furans, toxic chemicals which are carcinogenic in nature. There are other harmful gases like Methane and H2S (Hydrogen Sulfide), as well as high levels of Particulate Matter and Ammonia.
Ghazipur Dumpsite May Continue To Be A Ticking Time Bomb
This is not the first time the Ghazipur dumpsite has caught fire. According to the data received from Delhi Fire Services, between 2019 and 2022, the Department received 23 fire calls from the Ghazipur dumpsite.
Last year, on March 28, a major fire broke out at a dumpsite in the Ghazipur area. While the incident caused no casualty, it led to a massive spike in pollution levels in the national capital. It took 50 hours and required the efforts of around 100 firefighters to douse the fire.
After this, two more such incidents were recorded in less than a month, polluting the capital’s already toxic air.
The back-to-back fire incidents at dumpsites across Delhi prompted the PM to raise an alarm on rising temperatures. In an online conference with the heads of India’s state governments, PM Modi said, “Temperatures are rising rapidly in the country, and rising much earlier than usual.”
We are seeing increasing incidents of fires in various places – in jungles, important buildings and in hospitals – in the past few days.
Ghazipur Dumpsite – A Notorious Site
Ghazipur dumpsite is one of the three dumpsites in the national capital Delhi. The other two are Okhla and Bhalswa dumpsites. Spread across 72 acres of land, Ghazipur, the oldest dumpsite in Delhi, was commissioned in 1984 and crossed the permissible height of 20m in 2002. It has been overflowing since then and stands at around 40 meters, as per the MCD. As per the data received from the MCD, 280 lakh tonnes of legacy waste has been dumped on the three dumpsites as of July 2019, with 140 lakh tonnes on the Ghazipur site alone.
Keeping up with the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016, the MCD decided to opt for bio-mining of legacy waste. On November 3, 2022, the MCD awarded tenders to three companies to process and dispose of 30 lakh tonnes of legacy waste at each of the three sites in 18 months that is by May 2024. When this target is met, the contract will be renewed for additional 15 lakh MTs.
Sudhakara Infratech is responsible for managing legacy waste at Ghazipur, GreenTech Environ Management for the Okhla site and Alfa Therm Limited for Bhalswa. The three companies have adopted tromelling – the process of sieving the waste through trommel machines and segregating it into three categories – to sort the legacy waste.
Since 2019, 16.46 lakh tonnes of legacy waste has been bio-mined at Ghazipur, out of 140 lakh tonnes. Delhi government has set an ambitious target of clearing up the site by December 2024. The state government is targeting to remove the three garbage mountains in two years and is offering Rs. 850 crore for flattening the sites.
According to the calculations done by Dr. Singh, Delhi will require five to six years to remediate legacy waste. Dr. Singh said,
The cumulative installed capacity of the trommels at Delhi’s dumpsites is reportedly 22,000 tonnes per day. If we consider that there are nearly 245 working days in a year (excluding three months of monsoons), to clear 280 lakh tonnes of legacy waste (dumped as of July 2019), Delhi will require five to six years to remediate all three sites provided that no fresh waste is getting dumped there.
On one hand, the efforts are on to reduce the amount of legacy waste and reduce the height of the man-made mountain of trash, on the other, fresh waste is dumped regularly. The fresh Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) coming to Ghazipur has reduced to around 1,500 Tonnes Per Day (TPD) from 2,000-2,200 TPD until very recently.
Plan After Plans To Fix Ghazipur Dumpsite
As reported by news agency Press Trust of India (PTI), Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai last year launched a nine-point action plan to prevent incidents of fire at landfill sites. The plan involved the construction of a peripheral road around the dumpsites to facilitate the movement of vehicles, patrolling teams and fire tenders and a four-metre high boundary wall with barbed wire fencing to prevent unauthorised entry into the dumpsites.
Under the plan, the MCD has been directed to involve an agency for the segregation of waste being dumped at the landfill sites to prevent unauthorised entry of ragpickers.
Perforated high-density polyethylene pipes will be installed to prevent the accumulation of the highly flammable gas and a dedicated surveillance squad will keep a strict vigil over the activities going on at the dumping sites.
Going forward, it is a game of wait and watch, to see if any action will materialise.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – theLGBTQ population,indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the currentCOVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water,SanitationandHygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fightmalnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health,adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues likeair pollution,waste management,plastic ban,manual scavengingand sanitation workers andmenstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India wheretoiletsare used andopen defecation free (ODF)status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched byPrime Minister Narendra Modiin 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.