Bhalswa landfill fires, smog have residents in chokehold

Sixty five-year-old Upinder Rawat, a resident of a JJ cluster on the foot of the Bhalswa landfill, suffers from chronic bronchitis and his condition worsens during winter every year as pollution levels go off the charts across the city.

Reports suggest that compared to the past few days, air quality in Delhi is slowly improving. But for residents of this ragpicker colony in Bhalswa, the thick envelope of smog has become an everyday reality.

‘Worse in winter’

“Politicians, residents and the media went into a frenzy when smog created a haze and pollution levels turned dangerous. But this is how we live every day. The fumes and the smoke from landfill fires make it difficult to breathe. Winter just makes it go from bad to worse,” said Mr. Rawat.

Most residents at the kabadiyon ki basti (ragpickers’ colony), as it is known in the neighbourhood, survive by picking recyclable waste from the landfill and selling them. The colony has over 100 inhabitants and most of them suffer some health ailment directly or indirectly related to the toxic air they breathe.

“During the onset of winter, the number of cases we see here increases. Some cases, particularly those involving older people, get so bad that they have to be given injections to be able to sleep at night. The rich can at least move out the city to recuperate, but where will these poor people go?,” said B.C. Bhagat, general physician at Asha Clinic, a local health care unit.

Source of livelihood

The residents say though the landfill is a source of livelihood for many, it would be helpful if the government and the civic agencies took some steps to make the area around it liveable for people like them.

“There is not even a boundary wall between the landfill and from where our colony starts. We are inhaling the fumes that are emitted from the landfill directly. No one wants to talk about the people dying here,” said Savitri Jairaj, a resident of the area.

Air quality

Since Wednesday, the air quality index has remained in the ‘severe’ category.

The US embassy website on Sunday showed levels of particulate matter (PM) with the diameter 2.5 microns, the smallest and most harmful airborne pollutants, reach 676. This is about 27 times the World Health Organization’s (WHO) maximum acceptable standard.

Though the government authorities have halted all construction activities, shut brick kilns and banned trucks from entering the city, there is little being done to control the landfill fires.

Rising pollution

Amid the panic of rising pollution levels, a fire broke out in the landfill in the early hours of Saturday filling the 40-acre landfill and the area around it with smoke.

“At night, if you drive past the road in front of the landfill you will see small fires lit up, as if in the middle of the air. It looks really beautiful from far away. But for us, this is the time we shut our doors tight so that our children don’t choke due to the smoke,” said Raghuvir Kumar, a ragpicker.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 3:42:40 PM |

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