Poison in the air: Perilous life at Chandigarh’s largest wasteland

  • Tanbir Dhaliwal, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: May 16, 2016 12:39 IST
Nearly 20-ft gigantic heap of garbage is lying in the open at the dumping ground spread over 45 acres in Dadumajra. (Gurminder Singh/ HT Photo)

Rajeev Kumar regrets listening to his only son who requested him not to shift their house from Dadumajra until he completes his secondary education. Today, Himanshu, 19, is lying on the bed with his pale eyes wide open. He is diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) and Rajeev blames the toxic air in the area that houses the city’s biggest dumping ground for his son’s sickness.

Nearly 20-ft gigantic heap of garbage lying in the open at the dumping ground spread over 45 acres is a cause of anger and fear among over 25,000 people residing in its vicinity.

Toxins, heavy metals and carcinogenic elements, released in gaseous form in the air through fire are taking a toll on the health of the area people, including children who have stopped playing outdoors in the evening because of the severe stench and toxicity in the air.

After interviewing several families, HT found almost every family has one or two members suffering from several health disorders, including breathing problem, and most blame it on the dumping ground.

Sixty seven-year-old Surjit Singh says he has sent both his sons to other cleaner areas as he does not want them to live in a “hell”. “There is poison in the air we breathe. I have been living in the area for 30 years now, and have been affected with a number of diseases. I do not want my children’s health to suffer, hence I forced them to leave this area,” said Singh.

Experts say that when it comes to health issues, people residing around the wasteland are more prone to health-related disorders as they are directly exposed to toxins and heavy metal substance in the air.

Dr Shveta, medical officer at Dadumajra Civil Dispensary, said every day around 140 people visit the OPD with multiple health disorders but most number of cases are of breathlessness and skin infections.

“Breathing problem is taking a toll on these people. This is the reason that ours is the only civil dispensary which has a nebuliser, a device for producing a fine spray of liquid various purposes, including inhaling a medicinal drug,” she said.

At the beginning of the week, the municipal corporation (MC) had organised a health camp, and it found that nearly 39.2% of the people examined were at the risk of cardiovascular (heart) diseases.

At Dadumajra, those living in the dumping ground’s close proximity can be seen fuming with anger as their demand of closing it is falling on deaf ears.

Locals say the wasteland is always on fire during summer. One can see smoke billowing from it anytime during the day or night, and looks like several lamps lit at one place, they add.

Several fire incidents have been reported at the dumping ground; a major one was reported in the beginning of this month.

“These sudden fires are sparked by the methane gas released in the air as part of the natural decomposition process,” said Balwinder Singh, whose house is just next to the dumping ground’s boundary wall. Singh is also suffering from the breathing problems for the past two years, but what worries him more is the health of his 15-year-old son Harpreet, who, he says, has also started complaining of breathlessness.

“I find it difficult to breathe even when I am sitting idle. I have to put extra effort. It’s annoying, as I can’t play games with my friends because of it,” said Harpreet.

The residents want that the dumping ground be properly filled and shifted from the residential area. They have held several agitations, blocked roads and submitted many memorandums but to no avail.

“The future as well as childhood of our kids is in danger. We can’t do anything except waiting for the administration to act,” said Satwinder Kaur.

‘Adopt multiple technologies for better waste mgmt’

In a Swot (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of waste management practices in the city by Panjab University and the PGIMER, some loopholes have been found in the current system. The study ‘Swot analysis of waste management practices in Chandigarh’, conducted by Sumar Mor, Kamalpreet Kaur from the PU and Dr Ravindra Khaiwal from the PGIMER, has been published in the Journal of Environmental Biology.

“Using the Swot analysis, the study aimed at identifying gaps in the existing municipal solid waste (MSW) management practices and ways to improve them,” said Dr Khaiwal.

The city generates around 350 tonnes MSW per day. The major waste components include organics (52%), inerts (21%), plastic, paper, cloth (18%), glass (1.4%) and others. Around 16% waste is combustible — and the city has the provision of processing and converting it into fuel, termed as refuse derived fuel (RDF). This public-private venture partially reduced pressure on the landfill.

However, the Swot analysis highlighted a single technology (such as RDF) is not effective for a complete solid waste management, and hence city-specific combination of technologies (like bio-methanation plant, composting, vermi-composting, etc) should be adopted for sustainable waste management and to reduce its adverse impact.

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