Delhi: Bhalswa landfill smoulders for 2nd day, shrouds areas in toxic haze

Updated on Apr 28, 2022 08:59 AM IST
The blaze was the fourth such incident in the last one month, as Delhi’s landfills are catching fire due to heavy build up of methane between the layers of millions of tonnes of garbage and high temperatures the city.
Dousing operations underway at Bhalswa landfill on Wednesday. (Sanchit Khanna/HT) PREMIUM
Dousing operations underway at Bhalswa landfill on Wednesday. (Sanchit Khanna/HT)
By, New Delhi

The massive fire that broke out at Bhalswa landfill in north west Delhi on Tuesday continued for the second day, enveloping the localities around the waste mountain in a thick toxic haze, with the firefighting operation continuing till late Wednesday evening.

The blaze was the fourth such incident in the last one month, as Delhi’s landfills are catching fire due to heavy build up of methane between the layers of millions of tonnes of garbage and high temperatures the city.

A senior North Delhi Municipal Corporation official overseeing the landfill management said that the blaze has been controlled, but some inner parts continue to smoulder which is generating a lot of smoke. “The fire has been caused due to methane generated due to decaying organic matter in the landfill site. Our excavators are helping with fire fighting operation. Senior engineering officials from headquarters have been deputed to the landfill for these efforts,” the official said.

Bhalswa is among the three big landfills in Delhi, besides Ghazipur and Okhla. It is the second biggest after Ghazipur and is estimated to hold 8 million tonnes of accumulated legacy waste. Garbage dumping started there in 1994. The site is spread over an area of 36 acres and it had reached a height of 62 metres in 2019. The landfill was exhausted in 2006, but dumping continued, official said. The North MCD claims that more than 2 million tonnes of legacy waste has been removed by bio-mining efforts which started in 2019, but fresh garbage dumping continues negating any progress.

Delhi Fire Service director Atul Garg said 10 fire tenders are working round the clock along with 40 fire fighters to douse the fire. Talking about the challenges they are facing, Garg said the situation is quite similar to that at the Ghazipur landfill. He said the fire tenders were struggling to reach close to the fire spot since it is difficult to drive on the garbage. “The firefighters are at a huge risk, as they have to walk on the garbage dump with fire hose to put out the fire. The ground is slippery, uneven and hollow in some places,” he said.

School for poor kids shut

The fire has also shut a school for the underprivileged children, located metres away from the site.

On Wednesday, firefighters were trying to protect the structure from direct damage, as the NGO that runs classes from 1 to 4th standard, said that they will not be able to reopen for a week causing loss to the students.

Nayana Cherian, 31, community organiser who helps in running the school near the landfill, said that 110 kids of the neighbourhood study there. She said it’s unfortunate that they have been able to attend classes only for a few days after they opened post-pandemic restrictions. “During lockdown restrictions, we prepared to manage the enrolments. We opened on April 4, and now we have to shut again for at least a week,” she said, adding that they have been working for rag pickers community in the area since 2013.

Cherian said that those attending classes in their school are among most neglected lot, and the school provides them with a good chance of getting a formal education. “...And, we are happy that parents are willing to send their children to the school. On Wednesday, everyone knew that there was a massive fire but they still called us to ask why the bus hasn’t come.”

Cherian said fortunately the fire broke out after the classes got over at 3pm. She said she had just reached her house in east Delhi’s Shahdara, when she received a call from a teacher about the fire. The staff reached the spot where firefighters assured them that they try their best to save the school.

“We’ll not open the school for at least a week because the air quality will remain bad around here. The fibre windows of the school have been damaged because of unusual heat. A week later, we will assess the situation and decide,” she said.

Smoke chokes local residents

Local residents said small fires keep erupting in the huge mountain of waste, but they have not seen such a massive one that broke out on Tuesday night.

Ayodhya Prasad Mishra, 65, a priest at a temple near the landfill, said he couldn’t sleep on Tuesday night because of the dense smoke emanating from the fire. “I have been living here since 1992. It’s becoming increasingly tougher, the landfill is expanding and reaching closer to the residential area. I am a patient of blood pressure. I have trouble breathing in this air,” he said.

Another local resident, Tabassum said there was so much carbon in the air that if someone will breathe into a white cloth while covering his nose with it, a black mark will appear there. She said even though it is hazardous for the health of her children, they don’t have any other option but to stay in the area.

“It is so hot that you can’t stay inside the house. But then, outside it is difficult to breathe in the smoke. My 13-year-old son hasn’t been able to eat anything also because of the heat. Whenever the wind blows in this direction, the street gets filled with smoke,” she added.

12 fires last year

According to the DFS data, there were four fire incidents at Ghazipur landfill site in 2021. In 2020 and 2019, eight and six such incidents were reported. At the Bhalswa landfill, there were 12 fire incidents last year while two fires were reported this year so far. In 2020 and 2019, one and six fire incidents were reported respectively.

Similarly, Okhla landfill reported two fire incidents this year while there was no fire last year. This landfill reported six blazes in 2020 and 25 in 2019, the fire department data shows.

North MCD official claimed that the number of fires has significantly come down after biomining project was launched in 2019, but admitted that the scale of the ongoing fire incident has not been seen in recent years.

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