In today’s Finshots, we talk about biomining and why Delhi hasn’t been able to reclaim its biggest dumping grounds.

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The Story


It’s not just a city. But a food lover’s paradise and a fairyland for history buffs. You could say, it’s a melting pot of cultures.

But Delhi’s charm may now be melting away. Thanks to its mountainous piles of garbage dumps that are waiting to be cleared out. The scene in some places is far from charming. Their stench fills the air, choking residents in the neighbourhood, while stray animals rummage for food and aeries of eagles soar in the sky above them.

Welcome to Bhalswa, Ghazipur and Okhla ― three of Delhi’s biggest garbage dumping grounds.

Now we know that every city has a few of these. But Delhi’s dumping grounds are different. Its biggest and oldest dumping ground at Ghazipur houses about 78 lakh tonnes of waste which has now grown 65 metres tall. That’s a little over 50% taller than the India Gate! And a garbage pile like that is no longer considered safe when it crosses the 20-metre mark. For Ghazipur’s site that saturation point had come way back in 2002.

And the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) wants to change that. It wants to erase some of these dumping grounds using something called biomining. Think of it as the process of segregating Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) into fuel, inert soil and compost which industries, infrastructure and agriculture could ultimately use. It’s a technique that many Indian cities have successfully adopted to get rid of their legacy waste or solid waste lying on their dumping grounds for decades.

And there is no better example of this than Indore, India’s cleanest city since 2017.

In 2018, Indore's Devguradiya dumping ground was successfully able to get rid of 13 lakh tonnes of legacy waste spread across 100 acres of land in just about 6 months.

Thanks to biomining which helped segregate waste and put it to good use. Stuff that could be recycled was sent to recycling stations. If any of that recyclable material contained polythene, it went to cement plants or was diverted for making roads. Construction and demolition (C&D) waste became building materials for other infrastructure projects. And soil generated from the dumping ground became refilling material for the site which boasts of plants and greenery now.

But Indore is not the only city that has accomplished this feat. Bhopal, which is India’s cleanest capital city has also been able to work this magic.

And it seems like Delhi has drawn inspiration from cities like these. By December this year it wants to clear lakhs of tonnes of garbage, at least from Ghazipur and Balswa.

But here’s the thing. No matter how motivated Delhi seems to be, the progress is slow. And the fear is that the city may miss the looming deadline it has set for itself.

Why, you ask?

Look, the height of the dirt piles at Delhi’s three major dumping grounds has only increased over the years. And it’s not because there’s no work in progress. Delhi initiated efforts to clear up its legacy waste way back in 2019. And the trommel machines used in the process can separate about 2,500 tonnes of garbage every day. That should’ve easily cleared over half of the trash that the Ghazipur dumping ground shoulders. But more fresh waste coming in on a daily basis means that all its attempts prove futile. To put things in perspective, this site receives up to 3,000 tonnes of MSW every single day, replenishing the legacy waste that is being biomined.

Now we know what you’re thinking. Can’t Delhi just stop dumping fresh waste on these overflowing heaps?

You wish! But herein lies the problem. Delhi simply doesn’t have enough land that it can use as an alternative dumping ground. In fact, the three existing dumping grounds that we’ve been talking about all this while, are not even authorised by the Delhi Pollution Control Board. Municipal bodies simply keep using them because they have no other option.

Even if it tries to acquire more land, the government simply may not have that kind of money to budget for this arrangement. So comparing Delhi’s dumping grounds to Bhopal or Indore may not be fair because these cities made sure that fresh waste had separate dumping grounds where it was properly segregated right from the start.

And yes, waste segregation is a problem as well. Most of the city’s waste isn’t centrally managed. So you don’t have folks from the Municipal Corporation going door-to-door and collecting segregated waste in most parts of Delhi. This is still spread across informal players who pay to secure contracts area wise. They then deploy one worker per cluster of households which have to pay a fee of up to ₹250 a month for the service.

This makes way for two big problems. One, unsegregated waste adds up to the existing piles at Delhi’s dumping grounds. And two, a huge chunk of construction and demolition (C&D) waste ends up getting illegally dumped into these sites. Delhi actually generates the maximum C&D waste in India ― upwards of 6,000 tonnes every day. And despite the city earmarking over 150 sites for waste of that kind, the lack of a centrally managed disposal system only makes things worse.

But does that mean Delhi can’t overcome its heap of waste management problems?

Not really. Because there may still be a sliver of hope.

For starters, Delhi has slowly begun implementing Municipal Ward wise plans to completely segregate its waste. The folks at the MCD have begun sending their waste collection vehicles to every ward. They plan to steadily increase their fleet of vehicles, fetch daily status reports of work being done with photographs and finally monitor all waste collection vehicles through GPS tags. And this has made way for a small bit of progress according to the latest Delhi Economic Survey Report. About 80 out of 250 wards falling under the MCD now have over 80% of their waste segregated.

Another silver lining is that Delhi just got a new engineered landfill at Tehkhand. This means that the treated waste from its existing dumping grounds will be diverted to this new landfill to process the residue.

Now, here’s something you may not know. Dumping grounds are very different from landfills. Although we often use these terms interchangeably, landfills are scientifically planned waste disposal sites which prevent gases and hazardous residue in the waste from leaching into the soil or water. So yeah, Tehkhand’s site is exactly that.

And if all of this goes as per plan, Delhi’s biomining deadlines may not seem all that scary anymore. What do you think?

Until then…

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