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Earth, air, water - Nothing escapes the mountain of garbage at Bandhwari landfill

Garbage dumped at Haryana’s Bandhwari landfill poses severe risk to the surrounding ecology.

gurgaon Updated: Jun 29, 2018 13:13 IST
Prayag Arora-Desai
Prayag Arora-Desai
Hindustan Times, Gurugram
Bandhwari landfill,Gurugram,aravalli hills
Bandhwari landfill in Gurugram, India. Between 800 to 1,000 trucks visit the site every day, and dump over a 1,000 tonnes of garbage from Gurugram and Faridabad. (Praveen Kumar/ HT)

Over 40 feet high, the Bandhwari landfill towers above the mesquite forests and surrounding Aravalli hills. It is impossible to miss this man-made mountain of garbage, or the foul stench which emanates from it, as one crosses the district border into Faridabad.

What meets the eyes (and nose), however, is only the tip of a proverbial iceberg. “The landfill, which occupies an abandoned stone quarry, also penetrates the earth for about 20 feet. This poses severe risk to the surrounding ecology,” said activist Vivek Kamboj.

On the other side of a concrete wall, which separates this 37-hectare garbage dump from its surroundings, excavators are constantly at work, rearranging the waste to maintain the stability of the ‘mountain’. Steamrollers create new inroads among the piles of garbage, so that trucks may enter and deposit more waste. A security guard, who refused to divulge his name, said 800 to 1,000 trucks visit the site every day, and dump over a 1,000 tonnes of garbage from Gurugram and Faridabad.

The soil inside the landfill is a darkish brown, owing to the leachate which trickles out from under the waste. Large puddles of black, opaque water lie here and there, and leachate from a pond along one length of the boundary wall, slowly seeps into the soil. According to samples tested in 2015, the concentration of total dissolved solids, total suspended solids, phenolic compounds, and heavy metals in the leachate were all found to exceed the permissible safe limits.

Years of leachate contamination from this site has irreversibly polluted the water table in the Aravallis, which serves as the primary aquifer for Delhi, Gurugram and Faridabad, according to a 2017 report by the Wildlife Institute of India. The terrain of the Aravallis has many cracks and fissures, which allows the leachate to percolate deep into the soil.

High quantities of methane released from the unsegregated waste not only pollute the air but also make the landfill prone to catching fire. In November 2013, the landfill went up in a blaze which lasted several hours. “The chances of this happening again are very high, especially in summer. Methane is extremely combustible, and this sets a dangerous precedent because burning waste emits extremely large quantities of PM2.5 and PM10 into the atmosphere,” Kamboj said. A 2017 study published in the Open Access Journal International Journal of Science and Engineering also warns of the high rate of methane emissions coming from Bandhwari landfill.

The entire operation, according to activists and legal experts, is in blatant violation of multiple legal mandates. “For one, the landfill has been created on forest area. According to the Forest Act 1980, any non-forestry activities are prohibited here. It is a clear exploitation of common use land,” said environmentalist Vaishali Rana Chandra. She also alleged that the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram did not conduct any public hearings, environmental impact assessments, or obtain any of the necessary environmental clearances or change of land use permissions required to set up such an operation before proceeding to dump waste here.

According to Rahul Choudhary, an environmental lawyer, the landfill also violates other laws. These include Municipal Solid Waste (Management & Handling) Rules of 2000, Plastic Waste (Management & Handling) Rules of 2011, Bio Medical Waste Handling Rules of 1998, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act (1974), and Forest Act (2006).

“While the MCG is dumping waste, the Harayana State Pollution Control Board and Forest Department have done nothing to stop it. The HSPCB should initiate legal proceedings against the district administration. In fact, the HSPCB refuses to acknowledge the damage caused by the landfill,” Choudhary said.

Jai Bhagwan, regional officer (Gurugram), HSPCB, said authorities were testing groundwater contamination every three months, and had not yet seen any cause for alarm. “The day it is required, we will initiate proceedings as per the law,” he said. Bhagwan admitted that the MCG had not obtained requisite clearances to operate the landfill, but said things would be more streamlined in the future. “The MCG has roped in a private contractor to manage the site, and the desired permissions will be sought again,” he said.

Rashpal Singh, a 67-year-old resident of Bandhwari, regretted at the rich natural bounty that has been lost in the region. “We are living next to Gurugram’s toilet,” he said. The government moved all the city’s trash here to make Gurugram look more beautiful, but it doesn’t listen to the villagers when we ask for the same.”

Officials from the MCG and forest department were either not available for comment, or did not reply to text messages.

First Published: Jun 29, 2018 10:34 IST