At least half a dozen social and environmental NGOs, local representatives of various political parties and residents of various localities joined Bhagtanwala residents and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) legislator Inderbir Singh Bolaria through a seminar on Sunday to protest against a massive mound of garbage — not less than 10 million tonnes —sitting at the Bhagtanwala landfill since 1999 and the proposed Solid Waste Treatment Plant.
The theme of the seminar was ‘Save Shri Amritsar Sahib’ campaign and it was aimed at informing the residents of the ravages of living in close proximity of an incinerator-based garbage disposal unit.
A speaker stated that in 2014, there was an attempt to set up an electricity plant using garbage as raw material for the production power generation. By May 2014, the tender bid was almost final, but the tender could not be awarded. He said had the proposal been through, it could have created blackening of the Golden Temple and surrounding sarovars.
The Pollution Control Committee, an NGO, had filed an appeal before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on behalf of the aggrieved Bhagtanwala residents that the site for setting up of a solid waste management plant did not comply with the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW-2000) norms as it was surrounded by residential colonies, it was stated at the seminar.
A comparison was made with the Taj Mahal in Agra, which is visited by on an average 60 lakh visitors per month as compared to nearly 5 crore visiting the Golden Temple.
The speakers claimed that the Supreme Court in 1996 took a decision to protect the Taj Mahal by ordering the closure of numerous industries situated in and around Agra, which were located within 50 km radius of the Taj; whereas the Bhagatanwala dump is just 1,600 metres from the Golden Temple, despite it a garbage processing plant was being proposed there.
“As per rules, a MSW processing and disposal site should be last for 25 years. The SWM project requires a four-hectare premises for processing plant (composting, fuel pelletisation, plastic recycling, eco bricks) as well as a minimum of one hectare for a greenbelt and 24.78 hectares for a sanitary landfill for 25 years,” said Gurjit Sekhon, former district governor of Rotary Club. “Besides this, it should be far from human habitation. However, in case of Bhagtanwalan it is not so,” he said.
He said the project for processing treatment of garbage at Bhagtawalan was supposed to start in 2010. At that time, around two lakh metric tonnes of garbage was piled up, which was to be cleaned up through bio-remediation process. “Total land area available at Bhagtawalan site is just eight hectares,” he said.
Dr Kiran Sandhu, School of Planning and Architecture, Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU), who has undertaken a research on waste pickers, said as per the MSW Rules of 2015, such plants should be situated at a minimum distance of 500 metres from human habitation, but the dump where the proposed treatment plant was to come up was closer than 100 metres to the human habitation. “There is no space to accommodate the proposed project,” she said.
She further said her research showed the havoc the dump was playing with people’s health and the incidence of mortality rate was high in the surrounding area. She mentioned the need for using door-to-door garbage collectors and the tremendous amount saved by the municipal corporation by allowing these people to collect garbage.
The NGOs which participated in the seminar included Lions Club, Mission Agaaz, Voice of Amritsar, Sanjha Sangarsh Committee, Sur Taal Foundation, Eco-Amritsar, Umeed, Punjab Welfare Organisation, Punjabi Jagrau-Media, Barkat Welfare Society, Amritsar Vikas Manch, Dara Housing Corporation, besides members of Aam Aadmi Party, the Congress and the SAD.
Agitation to continue: Bolaria
Stating that the ongoing agitation at the Bhagtanwala dump will be continued till the government accepts their demand about relocation of the proposed SWM treatment plant, Bolaria said the seminar was aimed at spreading awareness among the masses on the issue. “If a government panel can reach Jamsher village in Jalandhar to study the ground situation, following protests by the villagers, Amritsar is just 80 km from Jalandhar,” he said.
Ball is in govt’s court: MC commissioner
However, municipal commissioner Pradeep Sabharwal said, “The MC has all the NOCs required to install a treatment plant at Bhagtanwala and the ball is in the government’s court,” he said.