Residents fume as plastic scrap burns in open fields

A few minutes past midnight, a fire starts on a plot, fenced off with bamboo sticks, in the middle of a field in Kanonda village in Haryana. A mound of wrappers, spread over at least 150 sq m, is set on fire by five workers. As the flame spreads, thick black smoke billows into the sky. This is the second consecutive night when plastic waste has been burnt on the plot.

Despite the NGT ban on burning of plastic, it continues unabated in Haryana villages.

Ram Kumar, 65, a resident of neighbouring Bomnoli village, said his field is next to the plastic burning site in Kanonda.

“Tempos filled with plastic and rubber scrap unload here. The dump is set afire every night. The smoke and soot from the fire settle on the crops in my field. The soil also turns black,” complained Mr. Kumar, who grows wheat and mustard.

“This practice of late-night burning has been going on for the past six to seven months,” he added.

Health concerns

Mr. Kumar claimed there are at least 10 such plastic burning sites in Kanonda village, and the soot from the fires settle on everything, from crops to grass, roofs to floors.

The smoke from the fire has a very strong smell, said Ganshyam, 60, from Chitrakoot in Uttar Pradesh, who works at a brick kiln close to the burning site in Kanonda. “I am a labourer. I have no option but to bear it,” he said, sitting on a plastic chair, shirtless and barefeet.

Swati Singh Sambyal, programme manager at the Centre for Science and Environment, said burning of plastic produces furans and dioxins which are carcinogenic. “It can cause skin or lung cancer,” she said, adding that the burnt scrap can pollute the soil and also contaminate groundwater.

Satveer Singh, 60, from Bomnoli, said the plastic is burnt in the open, but people ignore it thinking the smoke is coming from the brick kiln.

He claimed that the brick kilns too burn plastic. “They use both coal and plastic and there is a lot of pollution due to it,” he said. “Even in our sputum there are black particles.”

Asked about the action taken by the district administration, Bahadurgarh SDM Tarun Pawaria maintained that “it is the responsibility of the pollution board [to monitor the fires and the residue]”.

Inside melting units

While burning of plastic in the open has been a cause of concern for villagers, the situation is no better for those residing near melting units operating out of buildings. The Hindu visited two areas where at least a dozen plastic melting units operate illegally – one near Chhotu Ram Nagar Colony in Bahadurgarh, Haryana and the other in Kamruddin Nagar in Delhi – causing health risk to workers and residents.

Duri Yadav, a 35-year-old man from Bihar working in one such unit in Bahadurgarh, said: “I face problems due to the pollution, but what can I do?”

Covered in soot from head to toe, he was feeding plastic into a melting machine with his bare hands. As the smoke rose inside the asbestos-roofed room, blackish molten plastic fell from the other end of the machine to the ground and solidified into a cake. These plastic cakes are cut into smaller pieces using a 10-inch machete, weighed and loaded onto trucks, he said.

“I get ₹2.5 for every kg of gulla [plastic cake] I make,” said Mr. Yadav, as he coughed for the second time. He said he has not been given any mask or gloves by his employer.

When asked, Krishan Kumar, Regional Officer (Bahadurgarh) of Haryana Pollution Control Board said, “No such unit has taken any permission from us and we are not aware of such units.” He said it is mandatory for such units to get registered with the board and follow pollution-control measures.

In Kamruddin Nagar, the units have been operating quietly ever since the crackdown on illegal plastic units in December last year.

Around 11 a.m., men and women were seen assembling at multiple such units in the area. Unlike the Haryana units, the shutters of the shops here were lowered and one had to cross metal gates to reach the spot. Plastic wastes were strewn on the streets and trucks loaded with scrap material were seen plying in the area.

Azimul Haque, the District Magistrate of West Delhi, said he was out of the city attending a training programme and was not aware of the situation.

Residents’ woes

Residents living near the melting units in Haryana said they were worried about the harmful effects of the fumes.

“Our village is right next to it [the units]. The work goes on here day and night,” said Surender Singh, a police officer, who lives in Nizampur village on Haryana-Delhi border.

A 21-year-old woman said, “When we leave clothes for drying, black particles [soot] settle on them. The clothes never look fresh.”

Asked if they had ever complained about the fumes to the authorities, the residents replied in the negative.

Satish Kumar, the petitioner on whose complaint the NGT imposed a fine ₹25 crore on the Delhi government, said the practice of burning plastic and rubber will continue till the PVC market in Tikri Kalan continues to supply scrap material.

“The market has to go from here for the residents to breathe easy,” he insisted.

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Printable version | Mar 8, 2021 1:39:11 AM |

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