With Mounting blaze, AMC under fire

Conflagaration at Pirana raises Qs on AMC’s mgmt of city waste, clearing of landfill and meeting NGT deadline for six-month progress report.

Ahmedabad: Each year, winter brings with it blasts of chill air, holidays at schools, and regular spontaneous fires at “Mount” Pirana.

In a case of same stuff different day, a fire was reported at the ever-growing landfill on Monday night. As if the smoke and toxic fumes from burning garbage–a lot of which is plastic–were not bad enough, a wall was also damaged after a heap of garbage slid off one of the three “hills” in Monday’s fire.

This past July, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) gave the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) a month to begin clearing the landfill, and asked for a progress report “in six months”. With just a month left for that deadline, and barely any difference visible in the volume of accumulated garbage, AMC’s ability to meet that deadline is being seriously questioned.

Environmentalist Rohit Prajapati points out that the landfill site, which has accepted the city’s waste for almost four decades, is illegal.

“Since 2000, laws have changes and slogans like Swachchh Gujarat have come up, but nothing has changed on the ground,” he said.

The regular fires are caused by methane, which is released by decomposing organic material. The blazes are fed by the plentitude of other garbage.

“The landfill is a threat to human life. It affects the health of hundreds of people who live nearby. Most of these are victims of the 2002 riots, and were ‘rehabilitated’ here. The Gujarat Pollution Control Board, the state government and the AMC are compelled to act only on the orders of a court,” Prajapati continues, “I am sure they will not complete the work within the stipulated time-frame.”

He goes on: “Even if the closes, does the authority have any plan for daily generated waste? Although supposedly segregated, both wet and dry waste is dumped together at the same place. There is no proper mechanism for it. People volunteer to clean the Sabarmati River, so why can’t a single person offer to clean up Pirana waste?
Social activist Kalim Siddique has filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Gujarat High demanding that the dump site be shifted. He is hopeful for a solution.

“It is really sad that the authority only acts after judicial intervention. Now, as the NGT and High Court have set a deadline, the civic body has started working. There’s only one month left for them to submit a report on six month’s of progress. I am hopeful that there will be some positive outcome, due to judicial interference.”
Deputy Municipal Commissioner Mukesh Gadhvi said the work is going as per plan. “At present, we are working 12 hours a day with 15 pieces of machinery. And, I am sure that the work will be done as per the direction of courts.”
He, however, could not give First India any figures on how much accumulated garbage has been removed in the last few months, or even how much of this has been processed and recycled.

“Luckily, Mondays’ ‘garbage slide’ did not damage any of the nearby houses,” said Badruddin Shaikh, senior AMC councillor, under whose council the dump site falls. “The work is going on at a snail’s pace. I have doubts they can finish it even if given two years,” he said, adding, “I am sceptical about the result as the daily waste is being dumped there and there is no proper solution of daily generate waste. The recycling plants are not working as per their capacity. They are spreading the waste around to decrease the height of the garbage mountains. I doubt anything is being recycled.”

Legacy of waste: Spread over 84 acres, Pirana has been a dumping site for garbage collected from across the city since 1982. According to the data from the AMC, the civic body collects around 4,700 metric tonnes (MT) solid waste every day. All this is dumped in Pirana. Out of this, 1,700MT is household refuse, 500MT is medical waste and 2,500MT is construction debris.

Back and forth…

In its July 2 order, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had directed the state to begin clearing out “legacy waste” from the landfill “within a month”.

The tribunal also advised the setting up of a seven-member committee in this regard and asked the state to transfer Rs75 crore into an escrow account.

As per the affidavit filed by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) on August 20, AMC has made budgetary provisions worth Rs50 crore for 2019–20 to deal with legacy waste at Pirana. The affidavit also said that the urban local body is cash-rich enough to pay the escrow account amount. In response, the tribunal directed AMC to make the said deposit, instead of the state government.

The AMC has also submitted that, “So far, 60,000 tonnes out of about 85 lakh MT of waste have been cleared.” This means the AMC has cleared 0.7% of its total waste estimate, which deviates considerably from the NGT’s observation that garbage in the three 75-foot mounds at Pirana had crossed “95 lakh MT” in total.