It is said to resolve an issue in the present, one must study the past. This is also true of the Dadumajra landfill, where City Beautiful dumps its garbage.
Its foundation was laid in 2008, when a municipal solid waste management (SWM) plant was inaugurated on the site. A private company was roped in to run the plant, which was just a few metres away from the residential area, which is in violation of the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006, which prohibits setting up a SWM plant within 10km of an interstate boundary without prior agreement between states or union territories. It also ignored several other clauses such as consulting stakeholders as this involved the use of substances hazardous to health and environment.
As the dump started growing with leachate (contaminated liquid generated from water percolating through a solid waste disposal site) flowing down the roads and the stench spreading (both demonstrating structural failure) to neighbouring sectors, the administration and the company started pointing fingers at each other. The administration accused the company of processing only a fraction of the waste, while the latter slammed the administration for not segregating the waste. This carried on for years as both the administration and municipal corporation hid behind the fig leaf of a watertight contract that made it impossible for them to exit. That is how we got our smoky mountain, also known as Mount Garbage.
Finally, after 11 years, the administration took over the plant in 2020. Since then, waste collection on the site has increased by 86%, but only 16% was being processed last year. The MC sought solutions from experts at Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh, and Indian Institute Of Technology, Ropar, but has refused to pay heed to them. If this carries on, they will continue to fail, and citizens will continue to suffer.
The elusive solution
We have two tasks at hand: one is to clear the existing dump, and the other is to ensure that new garbage does not pile up on the site.
The solution is simple: follow the seven set of laws and rules governing management of solid waste, construction and demolition of waste (biomedical, plastic, hazardous and electronic). Also, follow the environmental laws that pin accountability in case of any lapses.SWM rules emphasise on prevention, reduction, reuse, recycling, recovery and disposal. Prevention is the most preferred option, and disposal at the landfill site is the least.
Asper SWM Rule 4, resident welfare and market associations, all gated communities and institutions with an area of over 5,000 square metres, and all hotels and restaurants must manage their biodegradable waste through composting or bio-methanation within their premises as far as possible. If Rule No 4 is followed, the percentage of waste being sent to the landfill will be halved. Throw in composting of leaves that trees shed from March to May, and the garbage traffic to the landfill will reduce by 60-70%. The money saved on trucks, fuel and the accompanying pollution will be a bonus.
One may ask, what about the old mountain of garbage? The answers lies in Rule 3, and the details it provides on different kinds of composting given in SWM Rules, 2016. To put it simply, composting can be done with different technologies to shrink Mount Garbage within a few months. What is needed is trained staff with resources to clear the dump.
Allegations of a nexus
Experts say that the mountain of accumulated garbage is being used to generate wealth by a few, and it is this vicious nexus that is preventing us from finding an effective solution. The returns from waste are indeed huge. For instance, pound for pound, there is more gold in electronic scrap than in gold ore. It is not just e-waste, even collecting and selling used polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles or plastic can help a waste picker earn a living. There are several other income streams within this pile of garbage, and each runs into millions of dollars.
Be it corruption, insufficient knowledge,or training, the problem persists because of poor leadership and lack of political will. The doctrine of legitimate expectations says that a public authority can be made accountable for a ‘legitimate expectation’. In the case of 50,000 people living in Dadumajra, the administration has consistently failed to meet the expectations of its people, condemning them to a hellish existence. All because the MC and Chandigarh administration refuse to follow not just one but several laws on solid waste management and environment, besides disobeying the guidelines of the Supreme Court.
It is high time they tailor their waste management as per the solid waste management laws, train their existing employees in SWM or hire experts, and then monitor their work. The current approach of buying more trucks or repairing machinery, which is beyond repair will not help. Just follow the laws, and the smoky mountain will be a thing of the past. This may hurt a few corrupt nexuses, but will be godsend for a city of 1.2 million people.
(The author, a former COO of a Philippines-based group of companies, is now an independent business consultant.)