- Three 75-feet-high mountains of garbage can be found at Pirana
- Fires and consequent toxic fumes are quite frequent at Pirana
- The landfill's sole treatment plant lies dysfunctional
It was a Sunday night in April 2017 when residents of Pirana in Ahmedabad complained of smoke and foul smell. The latter was not new for the residents as the city’s oldest landfill was barely 500 metres away from the residencies in Pirana. But the smoke kept flowing inside households throughout the night and only after sunrise the residents realised that the smoke originated from the landfill site at Pirana. The city’s oldest and most unsafe and unstable landfill had once again made news as toxic fumes from the landfill’s burning sites filled Ahmedabad’s air with pollution.
Landfills of India are under crisis and unfortunately, relevant authorities are only reminded of the crisis when some serious accident related to landfills takes place. Delhi’s 30-year-old Ghazipur landfill’s collapse on September 1, which resulted in two deaths, was a disaster waiting to happen as the 80-feet-high garbage mountain could no longer sustain the burden of garbage. Landfills in other metros such as Kolkata and Mumbai have long exhausted their capabilities to take in waste and Pirana in Ahmedabad is another addition to that list. Spreading over an area of 84 hectares, the Pirana landfill has been the city’s major dumping yard since 1982. Every day, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) collects approximately 4,700 metric tonnes of solid waste to dispose of at the landfill. The landfill is characterised by three 75-feet-high massive mounds of garbage, each weighing 69 lakh metric tonnes.
The stench from Pirana has been a continuous companion for residents, even the ones who stay two or three kilometres away from the landfill site. Ever since the landfill began operating in the 1980s, all of the city’s waste, unsegregated and often hazardous in nature have been just dumped in the landfills. Imagine what the landfill has become after 30 continuous years of disposal of waste, said P.U Asnani of Urban Management Consultants which identified Pirana as a case study for methane gas recovery.
Frequent Fires Make Life Miserable
It took nearly three days for the Ahmedabad Fire and Emergency Services (AFES) to control the April 2017 fire. Fires are frequent at Pirana and it takes thousands of litres of water to put down a fire as water penetrates slowly through the thick garbage mountains and operations cannot be stopped unless the fire dies down completely. Materials mostly found in the Pirana landfill are rubber, plastics, synthetics and discarded parts of mobile phones, electronics and other non-biodegradable items. Further, trapped methane gas below the garbage dump adds fuel to the fire, increasing its intensity.
The garbage shaped mountains make the occurrence of fires more frequent and difficult to put out. Due to lack of space in the landfill, the garbage is not spread out evenly and is dumped near the existing garbage mountains. The fumes emerging out of the fire are severely toxic in nature. Methane and carbon dioxide are the main gases in these toxic fumes. Daily visitors at Pirana, as well as the residents who have made the landfill site their home for several years are the worst sufferers as toxic fumes as lung and cardiac disease are common among Pirana residents.
The landfill belongs to the old class of landfills which come without any scientific method of treating garbage and are just large swathes of areas where garbage is dumped. When fires break out, it becomes very difficult to deal with them and the resulting air pollution is highly damaging for the environment. The garbage should at least be spread evenly if frequent breaking out of fires is to be tackles at Pirana, said D. Thara, Senior Member, Gujarat Pollution Control Board.
The Sole Earning Source For Some
While Pirana is often recognised as a stinking garbage dump across Ahmedabad, for the 300 odd families which reside in and around the landfill, it is their sole source of income. Rag pickers, garbage collectors and even metalsmiths have made their home in Pirana, collecting garbage from the landfills. Living on meagre Rs 150 to Rs 200 daily, many of Pirana’s residents struggle with daily walks across garbage mountains, only to bring out trash that they can sell and earn a livelihood.
Many of Pirana’s residents, some of whom are immigrants from Bangladesh have been staying here for 20 years. They collect scrap materials among extremely unhygienic conditions and sell it outside. Since they have led all their lives in Pirana, they frequently complain of lung diseases, cardiac problems but there has been no initiative on behalf of the state government to relocate them, says Kalim Siddique from the NGO INSAF Foundation, which has been working with the residents of Pirana.
The AMC has never carried out a health survey in the area and both the civic body as well as the Urban Development Board is yet to take a major step regarding the relocation of people in the area. Though the Solid Waste Management Rules of 2016 state that there should be a minimum gap of 500 metres between a landfill and a residential area, the presence of so many makeshift houses inside the landfill are itself breach of the rules. But no plans have been announced yet to relocate or provide temporary housing to Pirana residents.
What Needs To Be Done?
The immediate concern for the city’s civic body should be to clear as much garbage as possible from the landfill, and put a temporary pause on garbage disposal at Pinara. Instead, the AMC in March declared Pirana residents to be illegal, refusing to provide any relief if they are relocated somewhere else. Despite several reports from the state pollution control board, there has been no attempt to reconstruct the landfill site scientifically. The AMC says that at the moment, such a redesign initiative is not possible as the current garbage amount is too much to remove and even temporary closure of the landfill is not an option since the city has no other landfill to accommodate such an amount of garbage. Similar to Kolkata’s Dhapa landfill, the sole waste treatment plant in Pirana has long shut its doors due to the civic body’s inability to maintain it. The plant had a capacity of treating 700 tonnes of waste compared to the landfill’s daily intake of over 4,000 metric tonnes.
Pirana is a concern for us but what many do not understand is that we have limited options as a civic body. Closing the landfill will see the city full of overloaded garbage trucks and nothing else. Instead, we have introduced e-rickshaws which will collect segregated waste from households and bring it to the landfill. We have begun large scale campaigns to make people aware about waste segregation, so that the daily garbage generated is less, said an official from Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation’s solid waste management department.
Can Pirana Make a Turnaround?
In June this year, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani made an ambitious statement, declaring that the Pirana problem will be solved even if it cost Rs 500 crore. Though the financial scenario is of equal importance, the state government must realise that merely spending money will not solve the Pirana issue. The first step of clearing the existing garbage from Pirana will take months and that should be the immediate priority. The civic body meanwhile should continue with its work on waste segregation. The AMC has already discontinued collection of unsegregated waste from households and hopes that this will have an effect on the amount of garbage generated throughout the city. But the AMC needs to be on top of its waste management game because the Pirana landfill is gradually progressing towards the dangerous territory of becoming unmanageable, and Ahmedabad’s skies may be filled with toxic, polluted air if the city’s landfill crisis continues.