"Welcome to hell," says Rangula Shankar, as he ushers in guests quickly, before shutting the door behind him.
"I have managed to build this large duplex house, but it’s no use. I can't even crack open a window because the stench makes me dizzy. It is only increasing, and there is no escape," says Shankar, a local politician and activist, who lives in Secunderabad's Balaji Nagar.
For the last few months, residents in areas like Balaji Nagar, Dammaiguda, Kapra, Yapral and Sainikpuri have been shutting their doors and windows each evening, as a thick stench fills the air. The smell is difficult to describe, but a small whiff is bound to make anyone nauseous.
The smell emanates from the Jawaharnagar dumpyard, the city's main dumping ground where an estimated 7,000 metric tonnes of waste generated by the city is transported daily by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC). However, the dumpyard only can process 5,500 metric tonnes of waste a day. The result? A mountain made entirely of garbage that only grows bigger with each passing day.
"It smells like death, because that is what it is. This is where Hyderabad's entire garbage comes to rot and die. And we are the ones suffering for over a decade now," says Venkata Subba Rao, a resident of Dammaiguda.
Last month, authorities said that the dumpyard had reached its saturation point.
However, officials are yet to act as alternate sites that have been identified remain on paper, though many say these will only spread an existing issue to other parts of the city. In the meantime, hundreds of trucks, filled to the brim with waste, continue to make their way to Jawaharnagar everyday.
So as Hyderabad grows into a sprawling city, how should it be handling the waste that it generates every day?
How waste is presently handled
Once the municipal waste leaves our homes, all recyclable material is segregated and sold to 'kabadiwallas' (scrap dealers), while the remaining is loaded onto a large municipal truck and carried to a 'transfer station' or a 'collection point.'
While Hyderabad has 18 transfer stations from where waste is taken to the Jawaharnagar dumpyard, it also has three large collection points in Yousufguda, Imlibun and Lower Tank Bund.
From here, all waste makes its way to Jawaharnagar.
While most citizens forget what happens to the waste that their household generates after it is picked up, the residents of Jawaharnagar say that they spend every waking moment thinking about it.
'Nauseating stench, polluted water'
Residents say that the air, soil and groundwater around Jawaharnagar is so polluted that it has affected their daily lives.
"Even if we close our windows, at around 2 or 3 am, a strong whiff can wake us up from even the deepest slumber. It is impossible to go back to sleep. We spend many sleepless nights," says Balaji, a techie who lives in Dammaiguda.
Studies also suggest that the landfill has caused significant groundwater contamination.
"The tap water is so polluted that we are not even supposed to brush our teeth with it. But we don't have a choice. The water makes our nerves and bones weak and leaves us with rashes and skin allergies. Even Reverse Osmosis (RO) water purifiers don't work here," another resident, Shiva, says.
Locals say that each breath they take feels toxic.
"If there is a festival like Diwali, Bathukamma or Eid, then we just brace ourselves because the next few days are unbearable. Imagine eating food with this smell in your nostrils. How will anything digest?" another local asks.
The GHMC also admitted this. In a recent press note after Diwali, the municipal authorities said that they collected a staggering 8,200 metric tonnes of garbage in a single day, shifted them to 18 transfer stations across the city and later moved all of it to Jawaharnagar.
That is not all. The dumpyard's location brings several other problems, which has a cascading effect.
The animals here are weak and cattle give very little milk, experts say. Crops have also failed to grow, and all waterbodies nearby have been polluted due to the leachate (liquid discharged by the dumpyard).
TNM had earlier reported specifically about the environmental problems that plague the locals who live around the dumpyard.
To understand how and why the dumpyard came up here, the origin must be traced back to 5,997.3 acres of land in the area (of which the dumpyard is a part), which was allocated to ex-servicemen who had served in the Army. Till the 1980s, the land remained largely untouched, barring a few settlements.
"I first came here in 1987, when the entire area was like a forest. In the late 80s, several migrants who moved closer to the city in search of work, set up small huts," says BV Emmanuel, an ex-serviceman, who has been fighting against the dumpyard for decades.
Soon, Balajinagar, a small village, had turned into a municipality
"The locals here became a vote bank and politicians began making promises of getting them pattas (land documents) in the 90s," he adds.
In 1994, under the Congress government, the state demolished several houses stating that they had encroached on the land alloted to veterans. The TDP, which was the opposition at the time, banked on this and rode to power in the upcoming elections.
"In the late 90s, as the city had grown, a GO was passed for waste from the three municipalities of Kapra, Alwal and Uppal, to be dumped here and 339 acres were allocated for the purpose," Emmanuel says.
With Hyderabad expanding rapidly, two major decisions were taken in the late 2000s -- firstly, to transfer all waste generated by the city to Jawaharnagar, and secondly, to outsource the job of processing the waste to Ramy Enviro Engineers Limited, a private firm.
Today, the entire project site is managed by Hyderabad Integrated Municipal Solid Waste Limited (HiMSW Limited), a subsidiary of Ramky Enviro Engineers Limited (REEL), which entered into a Concession Agreement with the GHMC for development of an Integrated Municipal Solid Waste Management Project (IMSWMP) on February 27, 2009.
The concessionaire was granted permission to process 5,500 tonnes per day (TPD) of municipal solid waste, but much more waste is generated every day.
As a solution to combat the excess of waste, in 2013, approval was sought for a proposed waste to energy power plant that could generate 19.8 Mega Watts (MW). In 2017, there was a proposed expansion of the waste to energy (WTE) power plant, from 19.8 MW to 48 MW.
At the project site, construction for the expanded WTE plant is underway. The company and the government claim that this will be beneficial in disposing off the existing solid waste that has piled up at the project site. Both locals and activists aren't happy about the proposal.
Dr Narasimha Reddy Donthi, an independent policy expert says that the WTE plant is a bad idea.
"It is a polluting activity - lot of air toxins including dioxins and furans would be released. It is also an energy-intensive activity, with more electricity pumped in to burn the waste. Waste segregation is a primary requirement. If its not done qualitatively, the whole process is affected negatively," he tells TNM.
Dr Narsimha cites the case of the Okhla WTE plant in Delhi, which was recently pulled up by the Centre, for violating several environmental norms.
"The secrecy and lack of public consultations behind the project (at Jawaharnagar) is also a cause of concern," he adds.
Besides staging protests and submitting representations to government officials, locals have also sought legal remedies. In 2017, as several locals approached him, BJP leader Peddi Mohan Reddy from Medchal approached the National Green Tribunal (NGT), and submitted evidence on the pollution at Jawaharnagar.
In its final order on December 7, 2017, the NGT said that it was disposing the petition, and set a deadline of three months for the state government to identify alternate dumping sites, and take subsequent action, to provide respite to the locals in the area.
"Two years have passed and there has been no progress. It is a clear case of contempt of court. We are planning to move the NGT again soon," Emmanuel, who had compiled the evidence and handed it over to the petitioners, says.
Government takes note
In the last week of October, as numerous complaints poured in, Principal Secretary, Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MA&UD) Arvind Kumar visited the dumpyard and ordered the concessionaire to take swift measures to reduce the stench.
He also admitted that the piling up of garbage and a delay in processing it, was resulting in the problem.
On November 15, the Pollution Control Board (PCB) held a meeting with locals, Ramky and GHMC.
"We received lots of complaints from the last one or two months," says Kumar Pathak, the Regional Officer for Medchal in the PCB.
"There were two main demands. First was to identify alternate spots for the solid waste, and second, was to reduce the garbage that has piled up at Jawaharnagar and decrease the smell. We are expecting a directive to be issued soon and we will take further action accordingly," he adds.
TNM has reached out to both Arvind Kumar and Ramky for a response.
No solution in sight
For residents of Jawaharnagar, the lack of action over the relentless waste that pervades their area has made them weary. The locals who live around the dumpyard say that the damage has already been done, and are unanimous in their demands, the first one being that all dumping should come to a stop.
"We want garbage trucks to stop dumping here first. Then they need to identify alternate sites where this waste can be shifted to," says Emmanuel.
But the fact remains that unless larger systemic changes are brought to address Hyderabad’s unwieldy garbage problem, the fate of Jawaharnagar only awaits the rest of the city.
Activists say that while the first step towards a solution is to segregate dry and wet waste at home, the same measure isn’t being implemented effectively by the GHMC.
"Even if citizens sincerely segregate dry and wet waste, they later found that the person who collects the garbage puts all the waste in one vehicle. So sensitisation has to go beyond individual citizens," says Dr Purushottham Reddy, a noted activist and former professor.
While the government had identified three alternate spots at Pyaranagar, Lakdaram and Papireddyguda, the proposal has been stuck in limbo, as the Collectors of Ranga Reddy and Medak districts have locked horns, as the GHMC has not put forth an effective solution for garbage disposal.
Activists agree, and say that even if an alternative site is identified, it will cause the same issues that are being seen at Jawaharnagar.
"The three spots will just become three different Jawaharnagars because the authorities are only replicating the model that they are using so far. Unless, the idea of how we deal with waste fundamentally changes, it’s not going to get better," Dr Purushottham Reddy says.
"This is not the case in Hyderabad alone. There needs to be a comprehensive master plan by the state government to address waste disposal, and ensure that it is sustainable. But, there is a lack of political will," he adds.
Pointing out that the Solid Waste Management Rules (SWM) of 2016 were rarely implemented, Purushottham adds that reducing the waste generated by households is another important step.
"Our goal should be to reduce, reuse and recycle waste. If we can manage most of the waste that a household generates closer to its inception, putting systems in place to tackle the waste that finds its way to a dumpyard will be much easier," he says.
The citizens also point out that the effect of the environmental pollution will linger for many years to come if no action is taken.
"The government will need to process all the waste and reduce the size of the entire mountain of waste that has piled up here. They have to provide health cards and access to clean drinking water. It is not going to be easy, but it’s the only way we will ensure a safe future for our children at least," says Balaji, a techie who lives in Dammaiguda.