Every day, a steaming load of garbage arrives at Bandhwari, one of the biggest landfills in north India. Hundreds of trees have been cut down to accommodate the noxious 2,000 tonnes of unsegregated waste that comes in daily from the two most populous cities of Haryana - Gurugram and Faridabad. Not only is this causing a massive amount of pollution, it is also affecting the ecologically sensitive Aravalli range.
Of the 30 acres of Aravalli land being used as a landfill, 14.86 acres is under the Aravalli Plantation Project, which as per earlier Supreme Court orders, gives the land legal "forest status" with protection under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.
Protests and demonstrations have continued over time to stop the contamination which is also affecting a number of animals around the landfill. The Wildlife Institute of India has also confirmed the presence of leopards, nilgais, palm civets, rhesus macaques and other animals around the wildlife-rich area.
The Aravalli Bachao, a group of climate change activists from Delhi, Gurgaon and nearby areas has held regular demonstrations in the area spreading awareness about the problem. The activists want the landfill to be shifted.
The landfill was also established on an abandoned 250 feet deep mining pit which is very close to the ground water aquifer. The site is also close the last remaining patch of native Aravalli forest, a sacred grove for locals.
Underground water and water sources around the area have also been contaminated due to the toxic leachates releasing from the landfill. In an order dated March 1, 2019, the National Green Tribunal observed, "It is clear that damage to the environment is taking place by contamination of ground water on account of leachate discharge."
The air has also not been spared.
"Earlier, the air in this area was clean and there was no pollution. Since this dumping yard has come up here, we are facing a lot of problems. It is difficult to breathe when the wind blows because it brings a very foul odour with it. Many people are falling ill here," said 40-year-old Rajkumar, who lives in Bandhwari village.
The Bandhwari landfill is estimated to have about 35 lakh tonnes of untreated, mixed waste that has accumulated over 12 years. It is affecting wildlife, soil, water and humans all around it.
The Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG) does not have an alternative treatment facility to divert the waste yet.
Opposition from locals and villagers living near the proposed site in Basai village has prevented such an alternative facility from coming up, Mahavir Prasad, additional commissioner of zone three of MCG told Hindustan Times in March this year.
"Public resistance is the only hurdle at this stage. Once we have found a suitable site, the MCG's action plan can be implemented properly," Mr Prasad told the newspaper.
Locals have also opposed the plan to construct a Waste to Energy (WTE) plant in the Aravallis citing that they have not worked efficiently in the rest of the country. The Aravalli Bachao group is also against the WTE plant as they say it will do more harm than good.
A radical solution is needed for this lethal problem. Solid waste management is absolutely necessary, says an activist of the Aravali Bachao group.
"Biomedical waste has also been on the rise since the coronavirus pandemic. This waste is also being dumped in the landfill which is making it more hazardous. There is immediate need to enforce Solid Waste Management rules of 2016 and follow the Indore Model of waste management. This will ensure that the waste reduces by about 80 per cent," an activist says.