- Bandhwari landfill on Gurugram-Faridabad road is threatening the biodiversity and health of people in villages in Haryana.
- A recent report by a government institute found that groundwater is highly contaminated in many villages around the landfill. This landfill and waste management plant is situated in a highly sensitive Aravalli region and hasn’t got any environmental clearance as yet.
- Despite so many environmental concerns, the issue is not high on the agenda of the candidates in the 2019 Haryana Assembly elections that are scheduled on October 21, 2019.
Even as there are concerns around the future of ecologically sensitive Aravalli range running through Haryana’s Gurugram and Faridabad area, a new mountain, the Bandhwari landfill, is rising.
Spread across 32 acres on the Faridabad-Gurugram road, the Bandhwari landfill receives almost 2,000 tons of solid waste every day, from Gurugram and Faridabad. For the last few years, the inhabitants of the villages around Bandhwari waste treatment plant are demanding this landfill to be removed, as it is polluting the air and contaminating the groundwater, but no progress has been made so far.
The landfill is estimated to have about 3.5 million tonnes (35 lakh tonnes) of untreated waste.
“Earlier, the air in this area was clean and there was no pollution. Since this dumping yard has come up here, we are facing a lot of problems. It is difficult to breathe when the wind blows because it brings a very foul odour with it. The people are falling sick here,” said 40-year-old Rajkumar, who lives in Bandhwari village.
“The water smells very foul here. It is causing a lot of diseases. Several people have been diagnosed with cancer. Our animals are also falling sick and they are dying,” rued 62-year-old Satto of the same village.
Bandhwari, one of the biggest landfills in north India is situated in an ecologically sensitive Aravalli forest region. Several hundred trees were cut for this landfill and a dug-out area – left after mining – was chosen to dump the solid waste. Local activists state that the site and nature of this landfill make it dangerous for the health and environment.
“The landfill was started by the authorities in a 250-feet deep mining pit. It means right from the start they are filling the dangerous waste in the belly of the earth which is bound to contaminate groundwater,” said Vivek Kamboj, an activist and petitioner who filed a case against it in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2015.
Several reports have indicated contamination of groundwater in this area. First, in 2017, a report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) suggested that groundwater in the villages around this landfill is polluted. In 2019, the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) collected 14 samples from different locations of Manger, Baliwas and Gwal Pahari village around the waste dumping yard.
The NEERI report confirmed that water of all the samples was found to be highly contaminated in terms of bacteriological parameters. The investigation also found the presence of heavy metals in the samples of water collected.
“Presence of other metals like lead, chromium, copper, cadmium, barium, zinc, iron etc. and ammonia, and bacteriological parameters indicate contamination due to industrial mixed wastewater/sewage from the vicinity area,” said the report.
Rekha Singh, a solid waste management expert who works with an infrastructure consultancy services firm, Voyants Solutions Private Limited, in Gurugram stressed that authorities need to take strict action after this report.
“Groundwater is getting polluted because of the leachate coming of the dumping yard. I have visited the site and it shows that not only municipal (waste) dumping is going on but bio-medical waste is also being dumped out there. If you go to the jungle areas around it you will find the bio-medical waste there. It is against the law because there are different rules and standards for bio-medical dumping compared to municipal waste dumping,” Singh told Mongabay-India.
The NEERI report had recommended that water must be treated for removal of metals and also must be disinfected for pathogens before its use for any domestic purposes. But experts say given the pace of urbanisation and with no structured solid waste management system in place, the problem will only increase in the coming years.
Political action awaited on waste
Haryana has 90 assembly constituencies and 10 Lok Sabha seats. Together Gurugram and Faridabad areas account for 18 of those 90 seats. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had dominated the 2014 Haryana legislative assembly elections and formed the government.
The Bandhwari landfill comes under the Sohna assembly seat which was won by the BJP in the 2014 Haryana elections. This time round, the main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, has now promised in its manifesto for the 2019 Haryana legislative assembly elections that they will establish “solid waste management (SWM) systems in every city” of the state.
“In those cities, where solid waste management has stopped, it will be started again. We will make proper efforts towards the cleanliness of villages located near SWM plants,” the Congress has promised in its manifesto.
“It (Bandhwari landfill) is causing a lot of health issues and environmental problems. It has to be dealt with immediately. If our government comes we will address the issue sincerely,” said Shamsuddin, who is Congress’s candidate from the Sohna assembly seat. He is also a member of the Haryana Congress’s manifesto committee.
The indiscriminate dumping threatens wildlife
Another area of concern is that this indiscriminate dumping could impact wildlife as well. In 2017, the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) confirmed the presence of wildlife around the landfill. The WII report speaks about the presence of leopards, striped hyena, jackal, nilgai, porcupine, palm civet, Indian grey mongoose, ruddy mongoose, peafowl, hare and rhesus macaque around Manger which is close to the landfill. In the same report, the WII recorded species nilgai, palm civet, peafowl, wild pig and porcupine in Bandhwari. In fact, as per the WII report, sambar recorded in camera traps in their study is the first record of the occurrence of this species in Gurugam (Aravallis, Haryana).
According to a report of the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA), Haryana generates about 4,249 tonnes per day (TPD) of municipal solid waste and this quantity is likely to be more than 7,675 TPD by 2035, assuming the rate of increase of per capita waste generation is in proportion to increase in urban population.
It is expected that Faridabad and Gurugram alone will generate around 4,000 tons of waste every day by 2035 – which means more than 50 percent of the whole state. The only way to deal with this problem is the proper segregation of waste at the source level. But activists point out that the rules regarding this are not being enforced at the ground level by the municipal authorities.
For Bandhwari landfill waste management, the Gurugram Municipal Corporation (GMC) has decided to make energy from this waste but experts say it will be a futile exercise as this will cause more pollution in an already choked city.
“No norms are being followed. The solid waste management 2016 rules are not followed which makes it is mandatory for every household to segregate their garbage. The MCG (Municipal Corporation of Gurugram) is not doing anything about it but they are ready to spend millions of rupees in managing the mixed waste. Half of the problem would have gotten solved had they ensured the segregation at the household level,” said Vaishali Rana Chandra, an environmental activist.
In March 2019, the NGT directed the municipal corporation of Gurugram (MCG) and Ecogreen Energy – the company which collects, transports and disposes of the municipal solid waste – to get environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) for the Bandhwari landfill.
Rajesh Kurup, the chief operating officer (COO) of the Ecogreen Energy admitted that the environmental clearance for the Bandhwari plant has still not been obtained “in writing”.
“We haven’t got it (the environment clearance) as yet but we will get it soon,” Kurup told Mongabay-India.
When asked about the non-compliance of solid waste management rules Kurup said that they, “have covered the landfill to prevent rainwater mixing with leachate.”
“We have made seven leachate ponds of (a total of) 40,000 cubic meter. We will store the leachate there and then treat it,” he emphasised.
But until the segregation of waste starts at the household level waste management remains a humongous task and problems like Bandhwari will never be managed.
When asked about it, the officials of the Haryana government said they are creating awareness for this.
Banner image: The Bandhwari dumping site in the ecologically sensitive Aravalli region has not received any environmental clearances. Photo by Hridayesh Joshi.