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MCD is hard at work but Delhi’s looming landfills unlikely to go by G20 summit

MCD aims to flatten Okhla and Bhalswa landfills by Dec 2023, and Ghazipur by March 2024. G20 has led to calls to finish Okhla work by Sept. Experts say even 5 years not enough.

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New Delhi: If you pinch your nose shut, Delhi’s three landfill sites — in Ghazipur, Okhla, and Bhalswa — almost look like undulating hills. Hopes are now high that these eyesores will soon meet their end. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) began work last year to flatten the landfills, and with the G20 Summit coming up, there are calls for it to get the job done by September for Okhla. Experts, however, believe that none of the proposed deadlines are realistic.

The MCD deadlines for the three sites are December 2023 for the landfills in Okhla (46 acres) and Bhalswa (36 acres), and March 2024 for Ghazipur (70 acres). The landfills exceeded their capacity in 2010, 2003 and 2002 respectively. All three comprise lakhs of tons of “legacy waste”, or garbage that has been piled up for years, but they continue to be receptacles of new trash too.

Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint

With the G20 around the corner, officials from the Lieutenant Governor’s secretariat have said that the authorities have been asked to complete the work at the Okhla landfill before the events commence. Delhi BJP working president Virender Sachdeva even claimed in December last year that the municipal corporation had declared that the Okhla landfill site would be cleared before the G20 summit.

The Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) 2.0 has also issued a separate deadline for all legacy dumpsites to be remediated by 2026.

However, experts at the non-profit research organisation Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) told ThePrint that none of these deadlines will be met until a complete ban on the fresh dumping of garbage is enacted and the current capacity of garbage being processed is increased. It will take over five years to reach the MCD’s goal, they said.


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Mountains that just keep growing

An official from MCD’s Department of Environment Management Services (DEMS), told ThePrint that on 3 November 2022, the municipal body awarded tenders to three companies to process 30 lakh metric tons (1 metric ton = 1000 kg) legacy waste at each of the three landfill sites. When this target is met, the contract will be renewed for additional 15 lakh MTs.

GreenTech Environ Management, the company in charge of the Okhla site, began work on 7 November. Alfa Therm Limited was awarded the tender for Bhalswa, and Sudhakara Infratech for Ghazipur. 

File photo of a segregation machine at work at the Okhla landfill | ANI
File photo of a segregation machine at work at the Okhla landfill | ANI

Legacy waste is solid waste that has been in landfills for decades as opposed to municipal solid waste (MSW), which is the fresh waste generated every day in a city. A section of the MSW, that is not processed, goes to landfills and eventually becomes legacy waste.

According to the data provided by DEMS, Delhi generates approximately 11,000 metric tons per day (TPD) of MSW. Officials did not confirm how much of this becomes legacy waste.

“The garbage continues to be dumped in landfills because of the low capacity in the city to process the massive amount of garbage generated. But steps are being taken, especially trommeling, which is targeting the legacy waste,” said a DEMS official.

He added that out of about a total of 203 lakh MTs of legacy garbage dumped in the three landfills as on September 2022, just about 33.5 per cent (68 lakh metric tonnes) has been processed so far by the companies. But these figures do not account for the fresh dumping of garbage in the last few months.

The initial deadlines, MCD spokesperson Amit Kumar told ThePrint, have been decided by MCD after a volumetric assessment (through drone survey) in September last year to understand how much of it can be cleared. “Accordingly, we have made the work map based on how much can be handled every day,” he said.

Processing of legacy waste

Around 16,000 TPD of legacy waste is being tromelled by the three companies.

Tromelling refers to the process of sieving the waste through trommel machines and segregating it into three categories — inert waste (not chemically nor biologically reactive and does not decompose or does so very slowly), construction and demolition (C&D) like concrete, building debris and rubble, and segregated combustible fraction (SCF).

The inert waste is given to Central Public Works Department (CPWD) officials and municipal engineers, C&D waste is bought by construction companies/private players, and SCF is reused, recycled and turned into fuel by cement industries or thermal industries, according to DEMS.

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Dealing with fresh trash

Clearing the landfills also means making sure that the maximum amount of fresh waste is processed so that it doesn’t add to the garbage mountains. This is where waste-to-energy plants (WTE) come in.

WTEs use waste as a fuel for generating power like other power stations use coal, oil or natural gas. Whatever waste cannot be used in any industry, has a high calorific value (heat value) and is uncontaminated, is sent to these plants

There are currently four operational WTEs but their operational capacity still can’t keep up with the amount of garbage generated, leading to the excess being dumped in landfills.

Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint

According to data provided to ThePrint by DEMS, the WTE in Bawana (Delhi MSW Solutions) can process about 2,000 tonnes per day against the 6,000 TPD generated from New Delhi Municipal Committee (NDMC) areas (Rohini, Karol Bagh).

The Ghazipur WTE (East Delhi Waste Processing Company) can process around 1,300 TPD against the 3,000 TPD of garbage generated from the East Delhi Municipal Committee (EDMC) region (Shahdara north and Shahdara south).

File photo of the mountain of garbage at the Ghazipur landfill | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

In Okhla/Tughlakabad region, one WTE (Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Company) has the capacity to process around 1,600 TPD and the newly inaugurated Tehkhand plant can process 1,000 TPD. They handle about 3,600 TPD of waste produced in the South Delhi Municipal Committee (SDMC) localities (Okhla, Najafgarh).

There are two WTEs planned, one in North Delhi, with a capacity to process 3,000 TPD waste, and the other in East Delhi with a capacity to process 2,000 TPD of garbage. However, as per DEMS officials, the projects are in the “pipeline” and require approval.

Which deadline will be met

Despite the two plants in the Okhla region having a combined capacity of processing around 2,600 TPD of waste, the height of the garbage mound remains at a height of 45 m. MCD officials say there has been no dumping of fresh waste at the site, but the height of the landfill tells another tale. Under these circumstances, the deadline set by the Lieutenant Governor is impossible.  

However, Sudhir Mehta, chief engineer, DEMS, told ThePrint that the flattening will be completed in time to meet the deadlines set by the municipal body.

The Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) chief K.S. Jayachandran also said the MCD could meet its deadlines as funds have been released for this very purpose and the mechanism to do so is in place.

“The deadline is outcome-based. It is geared towards finding mechanisms to arrive at the desired outcome, as opposed to adjusting the outcome based on available mechanisms. I have a positive outlook regarding their plans to flatten the landfills within the given time frame,” he said.

The DEMS officials, too, said they were confident and planned to ask the companies engaged in processing legacy waste to expedite the process and attempt the cumulative refining/rectification of at least 50,000 TPD waste.

Ramakant Burman, CEO, GreenTech Environ Management, said they have not been asked to expedite the process yet but will do it if asked. Neither DEMS nor Green Tech specified how the targets will be met.

CSE experts, however, believe that the MCD’s targets are overly optimistic and that flattening all three sites could take half a decade.

“Even if MCD processes garbage at the cumulative capacity of 20,000 metric tonnes [the figure stated by the MCD commissioner during Swachh Shehar Samvad] every day, it would take about 5.3 years for them to clear up all three landfill sites,” said Richa Singh, programme officer, municipal solid waste, at CSE.

Her calculations are based on the weight of the legacy waste as of mid-2019, which was 280 lakh MT. She added that garbage processing will also be affected during the monsoon season.

Desired course of action

According to Singh, if MCD wants a concrete action plan for dumpsite remediation or legacy waste treatment they have to ensure that fresh waste is not getting dumped.

Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint

“To do this, the first and most preferred action requires a behavioural change, which is reducing the garbage produced. Then segregation of waste, reusing what can be reused, and recycling both organic wet and dry waste through composting and other recycling/treatment mechanisms,” she said.

She added that plastic and other recyclable materials should be recycled and only the plastic with high-calorific value (heat value) should go to WTEs.

All the steps in the proposed action plan, except reducing, are to be carried out at the municipal level.

“The last step, recovery, relates to ‘energy recovery’ which would be non-recyclable waste treated in WTE. but the focus should be on 100 per cent collection efficiency and source segregation, so that very little waste reaches the WTE plants,” she said.

She also stressed the importance of biomethanation plants (where organic material is converted to biogas) and composting pits to treat waste at the source, both of which are not widely available in Delhi yet.

MCD’s Kumar has asserted that source-based segregation is encouraged and that 232 composting pits and plants at the ward level are already functional and processing about 800-900 TPD waste.

“Sixty-nine colonies have been turned to zero-waste, where the domestic waste is segregated into wet, dry and e-waste. The wet waste goes into composting pits and e-waste and dry waste to recycling centres. Waste that cannot be recycled is taken by MCD workers. These residential colonies and group housing societies are being incentivised through tax concessions under the Sahbhagita scheme,” he added.

(Edited by Theres Sudeep)

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