Breathless & Shunned: Life at Delhi’s Ghazipur Landfill Site

Video Editor: Ashutosh Bhardwaj

In September 2017, when chunks of waste tumbled down Ghazipur’s landfill site, killing two and injuring several others, politicians had made a beeline for East Delhi’s Mullah colony and assured residents that the mountain of trash would be beautified and that dumping of waste would come to a stop.

However, almost 19 months later, dumping hasn’t stopped at Ghazipur, one of Delhi’s biggest landfill sites. Instead, residents claim that not only has the site expanded on its western front, but has also grown taller. Mohd Zayed Qureshi, who runs a poultry meat business, says both Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and BJP’s East Delhi MP Maheish Girri had visited the area and assured to constitute a committee on mitigation of the landfill site.

"“Our MP Maheish Girri had said that he would remove this landfill site. Our MLA Manoj Kumar too had made similar promises. But nothing has happened till now. The MCD chairman, too, had come here and assured us that this would be removed, but nothing has happened.”  " - Mohd Zayed QureshiBreathless in Ghazipur

It’s not just the sight or the smell of a towering mountain of waste that bothers the residents of Ghazipur’s Mullah colony. Growing each day – probably even faster than the landfill site itself – are the health problems of the battered colony. Accumulating waste at the landfill site produces toxic gases like methane, which often sets the site on fire.

“Fire is commonplace at this landfill site. Last time, when it had caught fire, I had dialled 100. It took the fire department three days to douse the fire,” says local resident Bilal Ansari. Frequent fires generate smoke, which, over a long period of time, can have a drastic effect on the respiratory system. Parvez, who owns a tent shop, says that frequent fires have caused his wife to develop a respiratory distress so serious that she “has started throwing up blood with cough.”

While smoke from the landfill site pollutes the air, leachate – the liquid that passes through the landfill site – eventually reaches the underground water, rendering it unsuitable for drinking.

"“The underground water that we draw from a bore well has been polluted by the landfill. People in my family have taken ill. My sister-in-law is suffering from cancer. My younger son had developed breathing problems.”" - Mohd Zayed Qureshi

An unauthorised colony, the area right opposite to the landfill site is not served by the Delhi Jal Board. While some can afford to buy packaged drinking water, others rely on polluted water drawn from tube wells.

Barriers: Social and Political

Medicines may cure some of the health problems that residents of Mullah colony face. But as is evident when relatives living in other parts of the city refuse to visit them, there’s hardly any cure to the underlying stigma of living next to a mountain of garbage. From weddings to guests, the presence of a mountain, almost as tall as the Qutub Minar, literally acts as barrier.

Several measures were suggested to remove the landfill, including the construction of a waste-to-energy plant, but that has been caught in red tape. The proposal to introduce green patches and beautify the slopes of the landfill site, too, have hit a roadblock owing to a lack of funds.

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