Pollution
Not only is the Rampur dumpyard in clear violation of the Solid Waste Management (SWM) Rules, 2016, but is also a major health hazard.
All images: Rajesh Serupally

Worry is writ large on Bani Sunitha’s face, a mother of two, as she sends her children out into the streets to play. She has to make the difficult choice between her children’s safety and their happiness, due to the risk posed by the increasing number of dog attacks in the area. She is worried about her children losing their precious time to be children. She says that incidents where a group of dogs had collectively attacked, and severely bitten children have become fairly common.

This comes in the wake of the recent apex court judgement to ban construction in four states and to impose a fine on others for not implementing the Solid Waste Management (SWM) Rules, 2016. Two years hence, the situation in the capital region with regard to managing dump yards remains disappointing as before.

The city of Warangal has come to the fore as one of the worst examples. The Warangal Smart City project does not seem to offer any solutions either, quite unlike the panacea that it had been projected as.

Not very long ago, the historic city of Warangal was nationally applauded (on the show called Satyameva Jayate) for its systematic handling of waste, whereby it successfully segregated all the dry and wet waste at the source, even producing vermicompost. This was way before the Swachh Bharat Mission and the SWM 2016 Rules. But, ironically, the same city is now in news for its mismanagement of landfill sites.

Warangal is the second-largest city in the state of Telangana after the capital city of Hyderabad. Greater Warangal Municipal Corporation (GWMC), with a population of more than 7.5 lakhs, has been dumping its waste in the 35 acres that is the Kakatiya SWM park at Rampur village for many years now.

The GWMC has been dumping waste without following any of the measures required by law to avoid pollution. This dump yard has now become the very root cause for all the suffering the villages located nearby have had to bear. Due to the unscientific methods adopted by the authorities for years, the air, water and soil quality has been compromised, and this further has contributed to the loss of livelihood for the people living around the dump yard.

On questioning the yard in-charge, we learnt that on an average, per day, not less than 100 trucks carry garbage from all over Warangal, Hanamkonda, Kazipet and other places, and dump it in the Rampur dump yard. The weight of each vehicle is measured electronically before it enters the yard. Each vehicle carries around 4 tons of garbage (excluding vehicle weight), which means, on average, not less than 450 tons of garbage is dumped in the yard.

Even after two years of the SWM 2016 Rules coming into place, not much seems to have changed for the authorities at the Warangal dump yard. They have gotten accustomed to turning a blind eye to their responsibility of implementing these rules. The SWM Rules has failed to transform into concrete steps on the ground, and has failed to manage the menace of airborne and waterborne diseases that the area is currently facing.

When a local filed an RTI, the PCB denied him the data.

Pollution   

The RTI (Lr. No 1074 PCB/RO-WGL/2018-378) reply on the dumping yard informs us that, the authorities did not apply for or receive any kind of environmental approvals from the Pollution Control Board (PCB). It also says that no data has been maintained regarding the air pollution levels by the Municipal Dump Yard (Rampur). Schedule 1, section F (i) of the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, says a landfill gas control system needs to be put into place, including the gas collection system, which shall be installed at the landfill site to minimize odor and prevent off-site migration of gases.

Landfills/dump yards are a major contributor to climate change by emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases (GHG). Methane (CH4) emissions is one of the major problems associated with dump yards. Methane alone constitutes about 29% of the total GHG emissions in India, which is nearly twice the worldwide average of 15%. Moreover, the emission from wastes in India is also twice (6%) the global average of (3%).

Jeevan Kumar of Human Rights Forum, who has worked on similar issues, says, “The garbage which is dumped in dump yards has various items such as hospital waste, electronic waste, household waste, etc. Wherein the e-waste items, such as batteries, remains of  mosquito repellants, shampoo bottles, etc., could also explode due to various chemical reactions and cause a fire.”

Ramulu, a resident of Madikonda, says, “In the evening, if one visits this village, they can’t even see what’s happening next to them. As the village is filled with smoke from the dump yard and people routinely complain of a burning sensation in the eyes and low visibility. The blanket of smoke covers the entire village, and one wonders whether this is Shimla or Madikonda.”

To an RTI (Lr. No1074 PCB/RO-WGL/2018-135) reply about the AAQ (Ambient Air Quality) monitoring in the area, submitted to the Pollution Control Board regional office Warangal, there was no mention of methane levels. The PM 2.5 (Particulate Matter) levels were also clearly ignored, which are known to cause serious respiratory problems.

The groundwater analysis also clearly shows an increase in iron, total dissolved solids (TDS) and total hardness of water due to increased calcium carbonate (CaCO3) levels. The PCB has also failed to take methane gas measurements. Globally, CH4 is known to have a severe negative impact on the health of people living around dump yards. The data presented was old and, therefore, did not represent the present AAQ readings. This shows the sheer negligence of PCB Warangal regional office, especially in providing the data.

These greenhouse gases have polluted the air of villages downstream, leading to an increased incidence of diseases such as Tuberculosis  (TB), skin diseases, eye burn, throat problems, fever, among others.

Chandrashaker*, who hails from Madikonda village and is around 50 years old, is suffering from various skin diseases and TB. He also adds that even one of the younger members of his family suffers from the same diseases. They fell ill because of inhaling toxic gases from the dumping yard. Unlike Chandrashekar, many others don’t even want to speak or acknowledge the various diseases they are facing because of social stigma that the young may not get married and people may stop talking to them.

People from the same village noticed an increase in the number and the size of mosquitoes too in the area. Earlier, villagers used to sleep on their rooftops in the summers, but that has now stopped due to the mosquito menace. In the case Subash Kumar v. State of Bihar (AIR 1991 SC 420), the apex court of India articulated that every person enjoys the right to a wholesome environment, a facet under the Right to Life that is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. There is a clear violation of this right in the Warangal case.

A group of dogs at Madikonda village

Dog menace

The dog menace has also increased due to the easy access to the dumpyard where they come to salvage food. This lead to 200 dog bite cases recorded by the Primary Healthcare Centre (PHC) from February-May 2018. Schedule I B(i) of SWM Rules 2016 specifies that landfill sites shall be fenced off or hedged, and provided with proper gate to monitor incoming vehicles, and to prevent the entry of un-authorized persons and stray animals.

While the majority of the affected villages fall in the Kazipet Mandal, many villages such as Madikonda, Somidi, Tekulagudem, Kazipet, Battupalli, Kotapalli, Tharalapalli, Kumarigudem, Rampur, Aayodyapur, and Kadipikonda have also been affected by the dog menace.

In Madikonda alone, 25 dog bite cases were registered since February 2018, the same goes with other villages. Kadipikonda has seen 26 cases, Battupalli 14, Somidi 23, Kazipet 14 and Rampur 27 cases. These numbers go to show the intensity of the dog bite problem. The Multipurpose Health Extension Officer (MP-HEO) of Madikonda PHC says they have written regarding the increase of the dog menace, but they see no action from the authorities.

Crop yield losses

Jakula Charamouli, who has 7 acres of land, says the output yield before the establishment of the dump yard was 40 bags per acre, which afterwards reduced to just 20 bags per acre. He suspects this happened due to underground water contamination and pollution from the dumping yard. He isn’t the only one. There are many such similar cases.

Lethal leachate

Thotla Raju who is the Corporator of 33rd ward says, “The contaminated polluted liquid wastewater (leachate) from the Rampur dumping yard is freely let into the nearby water channel (mostly in rainy season), which then carries this water to Madikonda Lake, from where it moves to Somidi Lake and then to the Vaddepalli Reservoir. Last year, we witnessed the death of fish in Madikonda Lake in large numbers and now there is less fish in Somidi Lake as well. The local Mudiraj community, who are a majority in nearby villages, are dependant on fishing for their livelihood. Now, due to pollution, their livelihood has been affected.”

Schedule 1, section D subsection (iii), says in no case leachate shall be released into the environment. And section D subsection (i) says a storm water drain shall be constructed to divert surface runoff water. Subsection ii) says non-permeable lining systems at the base and walls of disposal should be laid. Section C (iii) says prior to the monsoon season, an intermediate cover of 40-65 cm thick layer of soil shall be placed on the landfill with proper compaction and grading to prevent infiltration during monsoon.

None of these mandates have been followed by the municipality or inspected by the PCB officials. This shows a clear violation of the law and a lack of understanding of the impact of leachate by the officials responsible.

Laxmi, who is an informal waste picker, and has been collecting waste for more than two years in Kakatiya SWM park says, “We get injured frequently while collecting waste, which might be due to the injections and other sharp objects that people dispose off without ever thinking about us, the people who actually earn our livelihood picking and segregating their waste.”

Waste pickers are very vulnerable to hitherto unknown diseases. As and when any such incident of injury happens, they ignore it most of the times and only when it becomes severe, do they visit the nearby PHC. Almost all the waste pickers employed at the dumpyard are females.

The future

In a recent statement in a popular English daily, the mayor of GWMC said the Rampur dumping yard will be transformed into an SWM park and the budget will be allocated accordingly. But the public representatives, villagers and people working in the dump yard told the reporter that similar claims have been made multiple times, but nothing has ever really changed. The mayor himself said on January 2, 2018, that the Rampur dumping yards will be closed by April 2, 2018, and alternative dumping sites Ambaripeta, Pidepalli and Chintagutta were also proposed, but till date, no effort has been made by the administration to shift the Rampur dumping yard.

Ramu Reddy, from Rythu Swarajya Vedika says, “The only way forward for this urban problem is all the urban garbage should be dumped in the middle of the city and let the urban population and authorities solve their own garbage problem and not make rural population suffer. It’s time every individual should be held responsible for their own garbage so that accountability and responsibility of every individual is emphasised. For thus, our lifestyle pattern, the way we construct houses and handle public spaces need to change.” 

In Indian Council for Enviro Legal Action v. Union of India (AIR 1996 SC 1446), the court held that the ‘polluter pays’ principle is the basic law of the land and includes the requirement that a polluter bear the remedial or cleanup costs, as well as amounts payable to compensate the victims of pollution. Taking this judgement into account, the people living in the GWMC area in general and GWMC, PCB in particular should pay for all the damage done to the villagers due to the dumpyard’s pollution and compensate them for the impact that the dumping has had on Rampur, Madikonda.”

 

*Name changed for privacy

 

Rajesh Serupally is a Freelance Researcher and holds a master’s degree in Public Policy.