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Bandhwari poison is spreading, fear residents

Residents of Gwal Pahari, Mandi, Baliawas and Kot continue to be reliant on groundwater for daily sustenance but fear it has been polluted by the landfill situated a few kilometres upstream.

gurgaon Updated: May 17, 2019 01:48 IST
Prayag Arora-Desai
Prayag Arora-Desai
Hindustan Times, Gurugram
Bandhwari,groundwater pollution,Valley View Estate
Residents of Gwal Pahari, Mandi, Baliawas and Kot suspect that pollution from the landfill has something to do with groundwater pollution.(HTPhotos)

After residents of Bandhwari first raised an alarm over groundwater pollution more than two years ago, the concern has now spread to the surrounding villages of Gwal Pahari, Mandi, Baliawas and Kot. Residents of these places — who continue to be reliant on groundwater for daily sustenance — too, want to get it tested for contaminants, fearing it has been polluted by the landfill situated a few kilometres upstream.

“First, water in Bandhwari became polluted due to the garbage dump, and now, it has slowly made its way down to us,” said KS Tanwar, a resident of Gwal Pahari.

Bhagat Singh, who lives in the neighbouring village of Baliawas, said the taste and smell of groundwater has changed over the past few years. He suspects that pollution from the landfill has something to do with it.

But it is not just the four villages around Gwal Pahari that are concerned about groundwater pollution. Residents in Valley View Estate — the only fully occupied condominium in the area — are also reliant on tube wells for daily water supply. Besides, at least three more residential complexes are also coming up in the area which is being marketed as a ‘green space’.

At present, the total population of the area, including residents of Valley View, is 25,000.

A state agriculture department hydrologist, who is familiar with the hydrology of Gurugram block, said, “Monsoon run-off from the hilly regions of Mangar and Bandhwari feeds an aquifer which runs all the way from Gwal Pahari in the foothills to the deputy commissioner’s residence in Civil Lines, passing through Ghata, Badshahpur, and sectors 56 and 45. Water reserves in this whole stretch face a huge risk from pollutants, which are leaching into the groundwater at Bandhwari. They are surely progressing toward the city.”

The extent of the spread, however, is yet to be known. “Certain pollutants might move at a rate of just a few metres every year, but some might move at a rate of a hundred metres every year. There is no way to speculate on the exact situation without a proper groundwater modelling analysis of the region,” said Vikram Soni, a physicist and ecologist who has worked extensively on floodplain hydrology in Delhi-NCR and is currently a teacher at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

Earlier this month, multiple villagers from the area approached Vaishali Rana Chandra, a city-based environment activist and resident of Valley View Estate, who wrote to the authorities on their behalf. “It was already proven by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), way back in 2017, that three villages adjoining the landfill are subjected to severe groundwater contamination and pollution... What is more worrisome is that there are four more villages in the immediate vicinity of the landfill, which, in all probability, would also be exposed to high levels of groundwater contamination, yet NO tests have been carried out by the authorities to verify any kind of groundwater contamination in these villages contiguous to the landfill,” Chandra wrote in her appeal to the Haryana State Pollution Control Board.

This hypotheses, experts said, is partially sound. While the taste and smell of groundwater can also be influenced by other reasons — most commonly over-extraction, which leads to increased salinity — it is likely that pollutants from the landfill have been transmitted further down the aquifer over the years, said Soni. He, however, also rued the lack of any detailed study to determine the nature and extent of Bandhwari’s impact on the area’s underlying water table, which has a huge potential human cost attached to it. “To create a landfill in an area without first studying its hydrology, as has been done in Bandhwari, is a crime against humanity,” Soni said.

Moreover, a 2017 report on rainwater storage and conservation in Gurugram by the CGWB “clearly indicates the presence of fractured and massive quartzite with top weathered soil in Aravali hills. In alluvial parts of the area (in foothill and plain) there is repetition of sand, clay and kankar layers with top silt deposit.” It is these sandy layers, spread from Sector 56 to Civil Lines, that facilitate groundwater recharge and allows water to percolate to low lying areas of Gurugram, the report states.

“If there is pollution at the source, then it will certainly find its way down these sandy layers. The lithological structure of the aquifer, with its soft, clayey soil, keeps the water unconfined, or semi-confined, meaning it is very much on the move,” the state hydrologist explained.

Kuldeep Singh, regional officer (Gurugram), HSPCB, said, “We have forwarded these concerns to both the CPCB and the MCG commissioner. They can help analyse previous records and compare with the present situation after a detailed study is carried out by the CPCB, on the NGT’s instructions.”

The HSPCB had, last August, declared the groundwater under Bandhwari to be safe.

However, activists had, at the time, pointed out that its findings were at odds with at least two other reports — by the CPCB and by an independent expert, who found that the groundwater in the area was unfit for human consumption due to the presence of contaminants like fluoride, cadmium, mercury and magnesium. “It will take the GMDA at least another couple of years to supply canal water to the region to meet the demand from the ongoing real estate boom. Meanwhile, even if these pollutants are approaching us at a rate of half a metre a day from Bandhwari, in the last five years there must have been some impact on the water we are drinking,” said JS Bhalla, a resident of Valley View Estate. Bhalla also said that he has approached both the GMDA and the MCG about the issue. “Yet, we have not seen any action on ground,” he added.

MCG commissioner Yashpal Yadav did not respond

First Published: May 17, 2019 01:48 IST