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Supreme Court's notice to Centre on landfill site

Written By Gopal Krishna on Saturday, August 02, 2008 | 10:06 PM

The Supreme Court on 28th July sought a response from Union of India on Municipal Corporation of Delhi's plea seeking permission for land in Bhatti Mines to establish a landfill site there.

A bench headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan issued notice to the Centre and Delhi Government after senior advocate Ravi Shankar Prasad claimed on behalf of the MCD that the corporation was facing shortage of land for landfill sites. Prasad said the 477 acre in Bhatti Mines would take care of Delhi's waste for the next 30 years.

The MCD has been moved to the apex court since the Bhatti Mines is notified as a forest area. An earlier order of the Supreme Court also restrains allotment of the area for the purpose of a landfill site. The existing landfill sites in the National Capital Territory have already reached a critical state.

MCD says, the failure to identify and bring into operation a suitable site would lead to dumping and random tipping of wastes in the city and surrounding areas. The Bhatti mine site is preferred over other sites as it has sufficient capacity for disposing of waste for 20 years and the site is not near any residential area and is outside the airport restriction zone.

Delhi Chief Minister has also expressed the need for landfill sites in the National Capital Region, to cope with the disposal of garbage in the city.

Delhi produces about 7000 metric tonnes of garbage each day and almost all the land filling sites in the city have run out of space. The civic authorities collect about 4000 tonnes of garbage each day, but that is often woefully short, resulting in other complications, including poor sanitation and health problems.

The move denotify the Asola and Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, which is also a Reserve Forest under the Indian Forests Act 1927, for the purposes of garbage dumping would adversely affect the ecology of the city.

The sanctuary, which forms a part of the Delhi Ridge, is the green lung of the city, providing it with a multi layered canopy of scrub forest, and buffering the city from the desert sand of Rajasthan, besides being host to a wonderful ecosystem of birds, insects and small mammals. Denotifying it will amount to destroying the last remaining portion of the Delhi Ridge, and will also violate various Supreme Court directives.

Landfills have a huge potential to contaminate groundwater, destroy the surrounding environment owing to waste toxicity, and defile the forest owing to the associated activity surrounding the landfills.

The landfill will kill the nascent forest, which has just begun to come back to life after years of efforts, since it was notified as a Sanctuary in 1991 and later as a Reserve Forest in 1996 by the Supreme Court after concerted citizen’ action. The pits proposed for land filling are currently green and lush with vegetation. It is a forest in the making.

MCD states that the site has sparse vegetation and there are no endangered species. There will be, on the contrary, better growth after filling up of pits. Further the site is not home to any endangered fauna and those present are common species.

MCD claims that there was no surface water source in the vicinity of the disposal site and there would be no long-term impact on ground water as leachate collection and disposal has been planned in the design. There will be a marginal withdrawal of ground water for vehicle washing and there would be no long-term impact on ground water table.

The fact is Bhatti mines area is an ideal rainwater harvesting zone. It is ironical that while the Delhi Government is escalating efforts to increase rain water harvesting, one of the largest potential areas is now being turned into a garbage dump.

Managing waste in Delhi needs creative solutions like setting up large- scale composting plants on existing landfill sites, promoting recycling of plastics and metals, and involving communities in collection schemes. Destroying the forest will only result in a choked and desertified Delhi, a situation that is not retrievable.

For the Oad tribesmen, artisans in stone-cutting and quarrying, who migrated from the Multan-Bahawalpur salient, now in Pakistan, it will be losing paradise twice over — the first when they had to leave their natural habitat to preserve their Hindu existence or face extinction or mass conversion — and now the second time if they are evicted from homes in Sanjay Colony, Indira Nagar and Balbir Nagar, situated on the crest of the Aravalli Hills that form the Southern Ridge in the National Capital Region.

They are not squatters or illegal occupants of government land but retrenched employees of a defunct government institution who were legally settled in their present location and have sought humane treatment of their cause.

They have pointed out that their colonies were inaugurated by Sanjay Gandhi and Jagmohan 16 years before the area was notified as a sanctuary; that they were members of the gram panchayat system with voting rights; that 22 families were given ownership rights to 120 sq yd plots at a function immortalised in photographs and the rest were promised the same; that alternative accommodation at Jaunapur six kilometres away was stymied by the Association of Farm House Owners which objected to the transplantation of quarry workers to their own sylvan setting.

As a result, the 63 acres on which model houses were constructed at a cost of Rs 11 crore for those who were to be evicted from Bhatti has become colonisers’ booty, the residents of Sanjay Colony, Indira Nagar and Balbir Nagar say and point out that alternative accommodation now on offer at Holabi Kalan, 76 kilometers away, is a cesspool of teeming humanity living in sub-human conditions on roads.

The Central Ground Water Board has not been consulted about the ramifications of dumping garbage in the disused mines. The Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of Bhatti Mines has been analysed and critiqued. The REIA document is fake in the sense that it does not reflect the reality of Bhatti Mines' ecologically fragile nature.
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