Delhi: Singed by spate of infernos, EDMC lays out rules to avoid landfill fires

Updated on May 20, 2022 12:54 AM IST

The SOPs come as Delhi has seen an increase in landfill fires -- three major fires at Ghazipur landfill and one at Bhalswa landfill over the last two months -- amid heatwave conditions in the city

Fire fighting at Bhalswa landfill, on Thursday. (PTI)
Fire fighting at Bhalswa landfill, on Thursday. (PTI)

Strict ban on entry of outsiders, including waste pickers; random checks for lighters, matchbox and cigarettes; CCTV cameras; and patrol teams -- these are among the new standard operating procedures (SOP) finalised by the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) to control fires at garbage mounds in its jurisdiction.

The SOPs come as Delhi has seen an increase in landfill fires -- three major fires at Ghazipur landfill and one at Bhalswa landfill over the last two months -- amid heatwave conditions in the city. The EDMC controls the Ghazipur landfill.

“Landfill fires cause huge air pollution and long-term health impact. Fire incidents are observed more frequently during April-June and October post monsoon. In order to minimise such incidents, the new SOP is being issued for strict compliance,” said the order issued by EDMC engineer-in-chief on May 10.

The regulations state that the entry of any unauthorised person shall be completely banned and only machine operators, drivers, transporters and personnel of contractors undertaking biomining will be allowed to enter, and any instances of trespassing will be reported to police.

The ban on entry of outsiders will also impact the business of waste pickers who segregate and recycle waste, with the regulations calling for increased vigilance during the vulnerable months when methane generation from decomposing organic waste increases, thereby causing frequent fires.

Jai Prakash Chaudhary, secretary of Safai Sena, an organisation of 12,000 waste collectors, said that the civic body should first develop material recovery centres near landfill sites and dhalaos where waste can be segregated. “Waste pickers do not cause fires. We do the work for improving the environment of the city by increasing recycling. MCD can develop material recovery centres where waste pickers can help them in waste segregation while also feeding their families. No one willingly wants to go on top of a landfill,” he added.

A senior municipal official said that entry of wastepickers in the landfill was already banned under the previous arrangement and that the latest SOPs only plans to strictly enforce the rule.

Spread over an area of 70 acres near Delhi-UP border, the Ghazipur landfill is one of the biggest landfills in the country, holding over eight million tonnes of accumulated legacy waste. It has witnessed four major fire incidents in this year.

The new norms also mandate the deployment of water sprinklers on the garbage mound to ensure the moisture content in dry waste is maintained at 5-25%. A reserve of construction and demolition waste will also be developed near vulnerable points for helping in fire fighting operations.

A senior municipal official from the department of environment management services (DEMS) said that an inventory of fire extinguishers, emergency lights, hose pipes and jetting machine is also being made available in Ghazipur. “We have already deployed 21 CCTV cameras and more are being added for monitoring the landfill,” the official said.

The civic body also plans to install public announcement system, siren system and improve the lighting arrangement along its periphery, state the regulations, a copy of HT has been.

Atin Biswas, a waste management expert and programme director of municipal solid waste sector in Centre for Science and Environment, said that segregation of waste should be non-negotiable for a long-term solution to the landfill crisis. “For the time being, the corporations need to carry out compaction of waste to remove air pockets and ensure inert soil layers are formed on daily basis to prevent landfill fires. The fires are not being caused due to 10-20-year-old waste. It is due to fresh waste being dumped.” he added.

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