Mumbai’s biggest dumpyard has been burning for four days with thick toxic smoke billowing out of the 326-acre Deonar choking local residents.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which manages the landfills, says it will take one more day to douse the blaze. This is the third such fire at Deonar since January with many more small pocket fires reported.
But why are authorities struggling to tamp down on the raging problem?
Some fires are deliberate, set off by scrap pickers who burn dumped electrical cables to extract the metal wire inside.
Other blazes are accidental, sparked by a burning cigarette or a beedi butt tossed into the garbage by municipal workers and scrap pickers. Whatever the cause, the methane released by the decomposition of organic garbage can turn minor fires into conflagrations.
If the BMC wants to stop the frequent fires at its landfills, two remedial measures are imperative: Stop unauthorised persons from entering the dump and a mechanism to extract the methane trapped under the garbage.
The BMC has been told what to do.
In 1996, following a public interest litigation filed by residents of localities around the dump, the Bombay high court, with the help of experts, suggested a list of steps that the municipal corporation needs to take to control the fires.
Among the solutions were a wall around the dump, a fire station, a police outpost and more lights.
In February, when HT spoke to the petitioners – The Smoke Affected Residents Forum – to find out whether any of these steps have been implemented, the findings were disappointing.
The compound wall, according to the BMC’s admission, has been only partially built, allowing waste pickers, including children, to enter the place unhindered. The police post is unoccupied and the fire station is yet to be built. Crime syndicates that control the scrap trade are also responsible for the dump’s mismanagement.
In its budget for 2016-17, the BMC announced it will build a wall around the dump, more lights, CCTV cameras, employ more guards and install more high-mast lighting to deter trespassers.
It also plans to build a ‘waste-to-energy’ plant at the site to extract fuel from the garbage. If
Mumbai is to be spared the choking fires from its landfills, BMC will have to quickly implement the plans; it is already 20 years late.