A landfill will add to the already toxic levels of the river and spell disaster in case of floods.
Can things get any worse for Yamuna in Delhi? It appears so. At least, if the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) has its way. The idea is to create a landfill site to manage the solid waste collected in the area that comes under the civic body. The site chosen for the landfill is in Ghonda Gujran Khadar village in Shastri Park, North East Delhi, on the east bank of Yamuna.
To put things in perspective, the area under EDMC is 105 square kilometres in size, inhabited by roughly 45 lakh people and it generates around 3,400 million tonnes of solid waste per day. In kilograms, it comes out to be around 3,400,000 kgs of solid waste daily.
The land that is the east bank of Yamuna is about 150 acres. The EDMC is planning to create a Sanitary Landfill (SLF) site on over 49.24 acres. The project also involves an 11-acre construction and demolition waste processing plant and a waste-to-energy plant of over 15.20 acres. The site will also have a compost plant covering 10.45 acres and a green belt, roads and other infrastructure of over 30 acres.
Authorities say the inadequate infrastructure for solid waste management is the reason they want to create the new landfill site.
“If you have to dispose of 2,200 to 2,500 MT of garbage daily, then you need land,” EDMC Director (Press and Information) Yogendra Mann told Newslaundry.
Currently, Gazipur landfill is the only solid waste dumping site in the EDMC area. That means the entire amount of waste is dumped there – every day.
The contention of the corporation is that – and rightly so – the Gazipur landfill has “outlived its normal lifespan”. In fact, the current height of the site, which is 45 meters, is more than twice its intended height of 20 meters.
The need for a new waste disposal infrastructure, then, cannot be denied. But what is highly questionable is the place the EDMC has chosen to build this on — the Yamuna floodplain. The corporation has in fact sought the National Green Tribunal’s permission for this. The Tribunal has prohibited any construction activity on the Yamuna floodplain and has formed an expert committee to decide on the issue.
But what does creating a dumping site on the banks of a river mean? Ravi Agarwal of Toxics Link – an environmental justice organisation – says, “Landfills have leachates. That’s why you never have landfills near water bodies, especially those that have a direct connection with underground water table.”
Leachate is a liquid that drains or “leaches” from a landfill. It has dissolved harmful substances that can very well seep into the ground water, especially when you have a landfill site on the muddy banks of a river. Studies conducted by Toxics Link have found that leachates in landfill sites in Delhi – Bhalswa, Ghazipur and Okhla – are major contributors to groundwater contamination.
In fact, Toxics Link’s findings are reflected in separate studies carried out by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). Although unpublished yet, Swati Sambyal, Solid Waste programme manager of CSE, told Newslaundry that its results are shocking. “In all the landfill sites in Delhi, just take water from any of the hand pumps and the water looks exactly like Coca Cola,” she says.
The idea of a landfill on the Yamuna floodplain becomes more problematic when you consider the fact that the area has experienced incidents of flooding in the past. “We are amazed at the planning capabilities, both of the EDMC and the DDA, where they have no clue while planning, of the fact that the site has actually gone under deep waters during the recent flood in river Yamuna in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013,” Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan states in a letter to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal regarding the issue.
Thus, creating a landfill site will not only pollute the river in case of flooding, it can also lead to serious disaster management problems.
So, where should the waste of EDMC area go?
Not in a landfill site, if CSE’s findings are anything to go by. A study that was carried out by CSE for its book, “Not In My Backyard – Solid Waste Management in Indian Cities” found that at the current rate, by 2047, the area of land under landfills across the country will be the combined size of Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai. “In a country of 1.2 billion you cannot depend on land for dumping waste…We don’t have land for landfill,” Sambyal says and suggests alternatives.
Rather than using land to dump waste, it should be used to build waste treatment plants, she says. “You go for decentralized waste management wherever possible. For big cities like Delhi, some colonies can opt for segregation of waste at source or treatment at source. Waste to Energy plants can also be installed for clusters of colonies.”
As things stand now, whether the landfill will be created depends on the expert committee report and NGT’s decision. Meanwhile, the already poisonous Yamuna continues to flow past lifelessly through villages in North East Delhi.