A steep mountain to scale

A roughly 40-metre-high mountain of untreated municipal waste on the 30-acre landfill site at Bandhwari off the Gurugram-Faridabad highway has been a threat to the ecologically fragile Aravalis, the wildlife and underground water — as well as a challenge for the authorities — for almost a decade now.

Ecogreen Energy Private Limited was hired in August 2017 for collection and treatment of solid municipal waste from Gurugram and Faridabad. Around 2,000 tonnes of mixed garbage reaches the site daily from the two cities, out of which the Millennium City contributes as much as 1,200 tonnes.

Till a year ago, the firm could handle just 500 tonnes of garbage daily with two trommel machines (a mechanical screen used to separate materials). Recently, five new machines were installed at the garbage management plant by the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG) and one more by Ecogreen to segregate and treat around 1,800 tonnes per day.

Segregating waste

Plant head Ravi Kumar said the trommels run 12-18 hours a day to treat the waste to their maximum capacity, but the monsoon is a challenge. “It becomes difficult to segregate the waste as it gets wet due to the rain. Once it rains heavily, we need to wait for 2-3 days for the waste to dry before it can be segregated,” said Mr. Kumar.

When segregated, the fresh waste produces around 30% Refuse-derived Fuel (RDF) and 25% organic waste; the rest is “reject”. The RDF is used in cement industries and the organic waste is converted into compost. The reject is used to level low-lying areas. The site has untreated legacy waste of around 30 lakh tonnes, as per conservative estimates.

Though Solid Municipal Waste rules make segregation of waste at source mandatory, implementation on the ground is almost nil.

The company’s deputy chief executive officer, Sanjay Singh, said only 10-20% of the total municipal waste collected from the two cities comes to them segregated. “A lot of effort, energy and resources are required to segregate it. If we get segregated waste from source, it not only saves energy and resources, but we can also produce good quality compost. Our vehicles have separate cabins to keep segregated waste, but we mostly get mixed waste,” said Mr. Singh.

Leachate problem

The huge amount of untreated legacy waste at the site also leads to leachate, contaminating groundwater and harming residents in neighbouring villages as well as the wildlife. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has intervened in the matter and passed a few directions on pleas by environmentalists. Mr. Kumar said the situation has “improved a lot” since then.

Besides a Leachate Treatment Plant (LTP), two Disc Tube Reverse Osmosis (DTRO) systems were put into operation in January.

“The leachate from the site is collected into ponds, with layers of rubber sheets laid on the floor and side walls, and treated,” said Mr. Kumar, adding that the DTRO and the LTP together have a capacity to treat 550 kilo litres of leachate per day. Around 350 kilo litres is generated daily.

“The DTRO-treated leachate is as good as drinking water. It is one of the best technologies in the world,” said Mr. Kumar. The system, however, struggles during the monsoon as the rainwater mixes with the leachate, increasing the volume manifold.

Power generation

Last year, the MCG procured environmental clearance to set up a 15 MW Waste-to-Energy Plant (WTEP) at the site. It has now applied for expansion of its capacity to 25 MW. An online meeting is scheduled with the Expert Appraisal Committee for Thermal Power Projects on July 28 in this regard. The work on the project is set to start by the end of this year.

“It would be a flagship project in India. If all goes as planned, the WTEP will be operational by the end of 2022. As part of preparations for setting up the plant, 10-acre plots have been identified in Faridabad’s Sihi and Nuh’s Karoli to dump and treat the waste during this period. Gurugram’s waste will be dumped in Karoli,” said Mr. Singh.

The general manager (Engineering) at Ecogreen, Sumit Kumar, told The Hindu that increase in capacity for the WTEP was sought in view of the large amount of waste generated and future expansion.

He added that all fears of the plant leading to air pollution were unfounded as gases would be released according to the Central Pollution Control Board rules and Solid Waste Management guidelines. The pollution board can also monitor emissions on a real-time basis.

However, concerns remain.

On July 19 this year, citizens from Gurugram, Faridabad, Delhi and other cities tweeted about the ongoing destruction of the Aravalis in a nationwide ‘tweetstorm’ with hashtags such as #AravalliUnderThreat and #AravalliBachao.

Some of the tweets pointed out that leachate from the landfill was threatening wildlife too.

“Citizens have been writing to the NGT, Haryana Pollution Control Board and the administration for the last one year but no action has been taken to stop illegal discharge of leachate or treatment of legacy waste at Bandhwari according to the Indore model, as directed by the NGT. Citizens have also demanded cancellation of the waste management contract with Ecogreen,” said Gurugram-based environmental campaigner Neelam Ahluwalia, who is also a documentary filmmaker.

The decision of the administration to construct a WTEP in an eco-sensitive zone has also come under question with many activists claiming that the technology has been a failure in every other city in India.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 12:32:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/a-steep-mountain-to-scale/article32193567.ece

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