The big mountain of trash on the Gurgaon – Faridabad road, now higher than the surrounding Aravalli hills witnessed loud cries of ‘Remove this Polluting Landfill from our Aravalli Forest’ and ‘We do not want a Toxic Waste-to-Energy Plant in our Aravallis’ by more than 60 adults and 30 children on Sunday, 24th January 2021. The motley group gathered at the Bandhwari landfill hailed from the cities of Gurgaon, Faridabad and Delhi as well as the surrounding villages of Manger and Bandhwari.
“The theme of our campaign is Green vs Black. The adults have come dressed in green attire to show that our generation has been blessed to enjoy the beauty of nature, whereas the children are all wearing black to signify the dark future that they will be inheriting as a result of the upcoming waste to energy plant which will be the final death knell for the toxic air we breathe all year long,” said Anu PD from the Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement which organised this citizens’ protest. Members from Citizens For Clean Air participated in the protest as well.
The landfill site reverberated with slogans such as ‘If Waste Is Burnt Here, We Will Not Be Able To Breathe’, ‘Enforce Solid Waste Management Rule’”, ‘Burning Mixed Waste Is Not A Solution’. A few children did a street play on the hazardous impacts of single-use plastic and asked people to use cloth bags.
Effects of the landfill
The Aravalli Bachao team members sang a Hindi song asking Manohar Lal Khattar, the Haryana Chief Minister to stop his government’s ecocidal plan to pollute NCR’s last remaining green lungs and critical water recharge zone with poisonous emissions and ash that the waste-to-energy plant will generate.
“Ever since this landfill came up here 10 years ago, it has completely poisoned our groundwater. Around 50 to 60 people have died of cancer in our village and many are still suffering from this disease and other health issues. Waste to energy plant will only make matters worse,” said Dhir Singh, a resident of Bandhwari village.
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“Dioxins and Furans, generated by WTE plants are amongst the most toxic substances known to man. Inhaling these can lead to respiratory disorders, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer,” said Dr Sarika Verma, an ENT doctor from Gurgaon.
Ash created by burning waste in WTE plants is also extremely toxic and when it is dumped in the open, it contaminates the soil, air, surrounding water bodies and groundwater as well.
The Swachh Bharat Guide by the Ministry of Urban Development puts waste to energy and landfill at the bottom of the hierarchy and emphasises on Reduction, Recycling and Composting. If the hierarchy is followed, only 10-20% of a city’s non-recyclable and non-compostable waste should go to a WTE and/or landfill.
“An approved 15 MW WTE plant at Bandhwari and proposed WTE to generate 25 MW is clearly designed to process much more waste than 10-20% of Gurgaon and Faridabad’s total waste, which means that the government is not following its own guidelines and the focus is to burn more than 50% of both the cities’ waste in the WTE, which as per SWM rules should be recovered through recycling and composting,” said Neelam Ahluwalia from the Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement.
Why incineration is a failed model
Waste incineration is a completely failed model in India. More than 60% of the Indian waste is food waste which has high moisture content.
“Calorific value of mixed waste in Indian cities including Gurgaon and Faridabad is too low to be burnt efficiently. Many WTE plants across India have closed down for this reason and the fact that they sell electricity at double the rate of electricity from solar and coal and thus prove to be financially unviable,” said Zenith Choudhary, an Aravalli Bachao campaigner.
The few WTEs that are operating in Delhi and other cities are majorly flouting environment norms, polluting the air badly and causing ill health to people.
“We are living in the most polluted region in the world. The smog is so bad that most children and teenagers suffer from breathing difficulties & allergies of all kinds. The state of Haryana has the lowest forest cover in India, just 3.6%. Why is our government hell-bent on destroying our few remaining forests and ensuring that we walk around with oxygen cylinders and drink poisonous water,” said Aanya Jain, a student member of the Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement.
Rich in wildlife
This stretch of the Aravalli forest between Bandhwari and Damdama is very rich in wildlife acting as a corridor between Asola Bhatti wildlife sanctuary in Delhi and Sariska in Rajasthan. The Wildlife Institute of India has confirmed the presence of leopards, hyenas, jackals, nilgais, porcupines, palm civets and many birds around the landfill.
“The government needs to declare this entire stretch from Asola to Sariska as a wildlife sanctuary, not make polluting waste to energy plants in our Aravallis,” said Jyoti Raghawan, an Aravalli Bachao campaigner.
Toxic landfills and waste to energy plants are not the solution to our waste problems.
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How can waste be better handled?
Composting, biogas installation and bio-methanation of food and horticulture waste and recycling of dry and electronic waste will help in reducing the waste sent to the landfill by 80 to 90%. Only 10 to 20% reject waste that cannot be composted and recycled needs to be sent to a waste processing site which must be scientifically designed and away from the Aravalli forest and other eco-sensitive zones and away from the cities and villages in some barren land that poses no harm to the people and environment around, even if it means incurring additional cost for transportation of waste.
“Strict fines and penalties must be imposed on individuals and bulk waste generators not adhering to solid waste management rules to stop the 2000 tonnes of mixed waste coming from Gurgaon and Faridabad to Bandhwari landfill every day,” said Gaurav Sarup, an Aravalli Bachao campaigner.
Rural and urban citizens of the National Capital Region have joined hands to protect the Aravallis and the future of their children. The question is: Will the government listen?
(This article is based on a PR issued by Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement and has been republished with minimal edits.)