Chandigarh chokes on smoke after fire at dumping ground
Blaze that started around 1.30am at Dadu Majra on Wednesday still to be brought under control; residents complain of breathing difficulty, irritation in throat and eyes, besides foul smell
A major fire broke out at the dumping ground in Dadumajra near Sector 38 (West) around 1.30 am on Wednesday, engulfing the nearby areas in thick smoke.
With firemen still fighting to douse the blaze till almost 20 hours later, residents of Dadumajra, Sector 38 (West), Sector 25 and Dhanas Colony complained of breathing difficulty, and irritation in the throat and eyes, besides foul smell. Commuters passing by these areas also faced breathing and visibility issues.
Four fire tenders and two water bowsers were still at the site till the filing of this report. Fire fighters said the fire was expected to be doused during the night or by early Thursday morning.
Surjit Singh, fire officer at the Sector 38 station, said, “Around 1.40 am, police on patrol duty informed the fire station that a blaze had broken out at the old dumping pile. Four fire tenders were rushed to the spot. But it is taking time to put out the fire due to flames entering the lower piles of garbage.”
Chief fire officer Rohit Gupta said, “The cause of the fire is not known, but the blaze spread fast due to the inflammable methane gas released from the garbage amid the high temperatures.”
The air quality index (AQI) at the Sector 53 observatory, which is closest to the dumping ground, reached 140 around 7 pm. AQI in the 100 to 200 bracket is considered “moderate”, but still has possible impact on people with lungs and heart diseases.
Arson suspected, MC commissioner seeks FIR
Municipal commissioner Anindita Mitra said initial investigation indicated that it was a case of arson. “I have directed the MC officials to get an FIR registered into the matter. For now, our priority is to douse the fire completely.”
Dadumajra councillor Kuldeep Dhalor said as the fire started around 1.30 am, when the high temperature could not be a factor, it seemed to have been set off intentionally.
He said the plume of smoke had spread to the nearby residential areas, forcing people to breathe in poisonous gases, adding that he had requested the municipal commissioner to either shift the dumping ground or clear the landfill swiftly.
Residents choke on smoke, dust
Ashok Sabarwal, a resident of Sector 38 (West) said, “We woke up on Wednesday morning to the sight of smoke and dust filling our house. We immediately called the police and realised a fire had broken out at the landfill.”
“People, particularly the elderly, are complaining of breathing problems. Even last year, four fire incidents were reported, but the administration and municipal corporation (MC) did nothing. They don’t even conduct inquiries on the causes behind these fires. It’s high time the dumping ground is shifted from this highly populated area,” said Pankaj Gupta, president of the Residents’ Welfare Association, 38 (West).
“Fires at the landfill are nothing new, yet MC continues to remain apathetic. The recently built boundary wall to separate the dump from the residential areas in Dadumajra Colony and Sector 38 West has done little. Whenever it’s windy, waste and dust collect in the nearby houses anyway,” he added.
Balveer Singh, a resident of Dadumajra Colony, alleged that the garbage was dumped at the site without segregation. “Now, plastic, electrical equipment and other toxic articles are on fire and emitting harmful gases,” he said.
Environmentalist Paveela Bali said if nothing was done, such fires will break out every year. “The administration and MC ought to consult experts and tackle the matter on highest priority. Else, the mountain of waste is only going to grow bigger and get more difficult to manage.”
In April last year as well, a massive fire had broken out at the dumping ground and the flames continued to simmer for around two days.
High concentration of methane in waste spurs fires
After a similar major fire last year, the Chandigarh Pollution Control Committee (CPCC), along with the MC chief inspector, had inspected the site and found that the solid waste catches fire due to release of methane gas.
MC officials have expressed helplessness at controlling the fires at the dump in summer because of the high concentration of the gas. They say only total cleaning up of the legacy waste can permanently solve the problem, as also repeatedly demanded by residents.
Of the total legacy waste at the landfill, 5 lakh MT (million tonnes) is from before 2005 and is being bio-mined under a Smart City project. More than 3 lakh MT has been removed since December 2019, while the rest will be cleared by December this year.
The ₹77-crore second phase under the Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0 will target the remaining 7.5 lakh MT legacy waste dumped at the Dadumajra site after 2005.
Of the around 550-600 MT garbage generated by Chandigarh, most of it is dumped at the landfill without processing. As a result, around 9.5 lakh MT of legacy is piled up at the 25-acre landfill.
486 fires since 2005
The dumping ground witnessed, on an average, 30 fires per year between 2005 and 2021. As per information accessed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 486 minor and major fires were reported at the site since 2005.
40 lakh litres water wasted
The repeated fires are not only creating major health issues for people, but even wastage of water and soil. In the last six years, approximately 40 lakh litres of water have been used to douse the multiple fires at the site. As per a rough estimate, this quantity is enough to meet the daily water needs of approximately 16,000 people.
Also, after a major fire in February last year, 2,835 MT soil was used to cover the fire affected area.
Amit Sharma, a resident of Sector 27, who has taken up the issue of the dumping site in the Punjab and Haryana high court, said, “The MC assured the court last year that this issue will be resolved. But now again a major fire has erupted. MC has also failed to fix responsibility for these incidents.”
MC commissioner Anindita Mitra said, “As a precautionary measure we have permanently deputed a fire tender at the site. We have also barred entry of rag pickers. The cleaning up of the legacy waste is already underway.”
Debendra Dalai, member secretary, CPCC, said, “MC will have to submit an accident report, which includes the reason for the incident and action taken.”
(With inputs from Priyanka Thakur and Munieshwer A Sagar)