EPCA gets cracking on garbage burning in Delhi, Rs 5,000 fine for polluting air

Updated on Oct 23, 2017 12:14 PM IST
Garbage burning is one of the major contributors to pollution in Delhi. The city produces nearly 10,000 metric tonnes of municipal solid waste daily, most of which directly lands at already exhausted landfills
Garbage burning is one of the major contributors to pollution in Delhi. The city produces nearly 10,000 metric tonnes of municipal solid waste daily, most of which directly lands at already exhausted landfills.
Garbage burning is one of the major contributors to pollution in Delhi. The city produces nearly 10,000 metric tonnes of municipal solid waste daily, most of which directly lands at already exhausted landfills.
Hindustan Times | ByJoydeep Thakur, Ritam Halder and Vibha Sharma, New Delhi

You might have to shell out Rs 5,000 if officials from the civic agencies or pollution control bodies catch you burning garbage, the Supreme Court-empowered Environment Pollution Control Authority has warned.

In 2015, the National Green Tribunal had directed authorities to levy a fine of Rs 5,000 on anyone found burning garbage in the open. The order had rarely been implemented to date.

Garbage burning is one of the major contributors to pollution in Delhi. The city produces nearly 10,000 metric tonnes of municipal solid waste daily, most of which directly lands at already exhausted landfills.

EPCA members, in a meeting last week, said the penalty would now be strictly implemented now as the Graded Response Action Plan to control very poor and severe air pollution in Delhi and NCR has come into force from Tuesday. The plan is being enforced for the first time and would remain in effect till March 15, 2018.

“We will issue directions to the authorities concerned to slap a fine of R5,000 on anyone found burning garbage in the open or issue a challan. Vigilance is being stepped up. Citizens will be warned of penal action through public advertisements soon,” said Sunita Narain a member of EPCA.

In a meeting called by the EPCA on Tuesday, a section of the officials from various government agencies in Delhi and NCR cities informed the panel that there were no provisions for issuing challans or slapping fines for garbage burning either under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act or Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act.

A senior Delhi Pollution Control Committee official, however, pointed out that an order issued by the National Green Tribunal in 2015 in Vardhaman Kaushik case can be invoked to impose fines for garbage burning.

Why garbage burning is harmful?

Burning of garbage releases dioxins, a kind of environmental pollutants, in the air. They belong to the so-called dirty dozen — a group of dangerous chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

According to the World Health Organisation, dioxins are highly toxic. Experiments have shown they affect a number of organs and systems if humans are exposed to prolonged exposure.

Burning waste also leads to an increased presence of chlorides in the air, which weakens the immune system, irritates lungs and causes respiratory disorders.

Biomass and waste burning accounts for 30% of Delhi’s pollution in winter, and 18% in summer, a recent IIT-Kanpur study found.

“Around 25% – 28% of Delhi’s pollution comes from garbage burning. Garbage generation shoots up during festive seasons. Hence, the solution is to prevent burning, use biodegradable products and recycle the materials,” said D Saha, head of the air quality laboratory at Central Pollution Control Board.

EPCA and government agencies hoped that with heavy fines, the practice could be stopped.

Burning to dispose of garbage

Government officials, who attended the EPCA meeting, said in most cases it is the sanitation workers who set garbage on fire to get rid of it.

Segregation and recycling of waste is still a far cry in Delhi.

“Instead of segregating, paying a bit for doorstep collection or using a bin, they burn,” Bharati Chaturvedi, co-founder and director of Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, said.

The corporations, however, claim to be taking all measures to stop garbage burning. This year, North Delhi Municipal Corporation issued 611 challans and collected R13.12 lakh in fines, the South corporation collected R7.91 lakh in 140 challans and the East Delhi civic body issued 253 challans and got R5 lakh in fines.

“People burn dry waste on the roadside without realising its harmful effects. We have engaged NGOs and deployed supervisory staff for educating people in the areas, from where such incidents were being frequently reported,” said KP Singh, director-in-chief, sanitation department, east corporation.

Fire on the trash mountains

Frequent fires in the garbage dumped on the mountains of waste are another major cause of concern.

On October, 15, a fire broke out at Ghazipur landfill in east Delhi and it took authorities over five hours to control the situation. Such fires are a result of the lack of segregation of waste at source. When mixed waste is piled up, it degenerates into methane — one of the most potent greenhouse gases. Methane is not only poisonous, it is also flammable.

“At Ghazipur, garbage is being dumped since ages. Methane build-up causes frequent fires. Though there is a gas plant to trap methane released from garbage, it covers only a portion of landfill. Ideally the site should have been reclaimed as soon as it was 25 metres high, but that didn’t happen due to lack of space to dump garbage in Delhi,” a sanitation official said.

The 10,000 tonnes of waste dumped in the cities landfills every day — much beyond their capacity—contains waste of all kinds, leaves, paper, metal, cloth and glass because the refuse is not segregated.

Experts say at least 50% of the waste generated in the city can be turned into compost and 30% can be recycled. Only 20% should reach the landfills.

“Landfill fires are caused by rotting overflowing landfills, and methane formation. Waste needs to be diverted from landfills and existing landfills should be reduced by utilising waste in bio methanation and compost plants. Landfills need to be covered with inert materials and methane trapping and extraction system needs to be installed,” Ravi Agarwal, director of the NGO Toxics Link, said adding that fire dousing system also needs to be permanently installed at the landfill sites.

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