In the shadow of waste mountains: An open, unmanaged landfill in Bhopal district has poisoned water, food, lives of villagers

In the shadow of waste mountains: An open, unmanaged landfill in Bhopal district has poisoned water, food, lives of villagers

In the shadow of waste mountains: An open, unmanaged landfill in Bhopal district has poisoned water, food, lives of villagers

Clean drinking water, savoury food, marriage proposals, and healthy cattle — all that's lacking in Madhya Pradesh's villages reeling from the stench and toxicity of an unmanaged landfill

Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh: “An entire village is troubled by the stench from the landfill site. Relatives had already stopped coming home. And now, I am no longer getting any matches for marriage," rued Phool Singh More, a resident of Haripura village near Adampur Chhawani in Madhya Pradesh's Bhopal district.

However, marriage woes are not More’s most significant concern. Like many residents of Haripura village, he is finding it hard to eat, access clean water and even breathe easy because of a large landfill site near the village that's been polluting their environment for the last four years. 

In 2013, on a petition to the National Green Tribunal (NGT), strict orders were issued to scientifically dispose of tonnes of waste lying in a landfill in Bhanpur, a village in Bhopal district about 17 km from Adamapur Chhawani. The NGT directed authorities to take measures to control pollution, but the Bhopal Municipal Corporation instead banned the dumping of garbage in Bhanpur and started dumping waste in Adampur Chhawani. 

This new landfill site of about 44 acres was made in a hurry in 2018 by displacing the residents of Arjun Nagar village, located in Adampur Chhawani Gram Panchayat. At that time, 70 of the 160 families settled there refused to vacate. The other 90 families were given compensation and shifted to Haripura village.

“Are we not humans?”

Vikas Banjara, a resident of Arjun Nagar village just 100 meters from the landfill, told 101Reporters that this problem is not related to one village but about a dozen others surrounding the landfill like Kolua khurd, Padaria Kachi, Arjun Nagar, Prempura, Haripura and Bilkhirya.

"We cannot even eat food properly, as the smell is so strong. There are flies all around the house. I have even got a respiratory disease," he said.

Jamna Bai, sitting outside her house in Arjun Nagar village, echoed Banjara’s feelings.

"Because of the stench and dirt, my daughter-in-law has been at her maternal house for the past year. Moreover, my daughter isn't getting any marriage proposals either," she said.

(Left) Jamna Bai of Arjun Nagar village is troubled by the endless complications that arise because of the illegal landfill, and cries futile as the government does not deliver on its promises; (right) A person pumps out water but instead, a strong stench is emitted (Photo: Sanavver Shafi) 

Like many in the villages around the landfill, she believes the government does not consider them human. They are neither giving them the proper compensation for their land nor can they get rid of this stench. 

The animals of the village are also suffering. Farmers Kunjilal and Kalabai of Haripura village said, "Earlier, villagers used to graze cattle in an open field nearby, but now, they have to take them away from the village to graze because their skin has started cracking due to contaminated water.

Most tubewells and borewells here have also been shut due to water contamination, and private tankers promised by the government are irregular.

"The government has not fulfilled a single promise," said Pappu Banjara, a resident of Arjun Nagar village.

Villagers had been opposing the landfill ever since it was created. However, the officials claimed the waste dumped here would be used to generate electricity, charcoal and biogas.

"None of this happened," added Banjara. 

Currently, the landfill neither has high walls nor is it covered. Therefore, mountains of thousands of metric tons of garbage are visible. Far from disposing these, new peaks of waste are also being formed. Almost 900 metric tonnes of garbage comes in every day.

(Left) Saplings planted around the landfill are still in their infancy; (right) all kinds of unprocessed waste ends up in the Adampur Khanti landfill, causing the formation of dangerous leachate in the groundwater (Photo: Sanavver Shafi)

The toxic state of affairs

Environmentalist and scientist Dr Subhash C Pandey told 101Reporters: "Due to the non-execution of NGT orders and waste management, the landfill is affecting villagers, wildlife as well as the Ajnal river and Ajnal Dam — located within a radius of 2.2 km downstream of the landfill — by releasing toxic chemicals into the air and water."

Although the report of the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB) denies any leachate (water that has percolated through a solid and leached out some of its constituents) in the Ajnal river, the report assumes that the contaminated water and leachate are flowing outside the boundary wall.

Moreover, it is also clear from the board's report that the pH levels of tubewell water taken from a site of Adampur are not as per the parameters of Solid Waste Management Rules of 2016. Also, the level of iron in the groundwater in Chhawni Pathan Nakaand a sample of tubewell water from a resident's house in Padaria Kachi village, which is 750 meters away from the landfill, is quite high and the water here is not potable.

Following Pandey's complaint to the MP environment department, they formed a team including him, MPPCB Environment Director Hemant Sharma, Chief Chemist Dr Alok Saxena and Regional Officer Brajesh Sharma. 

"When we reached the site, we were shocked to see the ignorance of the rules," said Pandey, recounting his findings. "There was no liner. (The bottom liner system in a landfill prevents groundwater contamination by creating an impenetrable protective barrier between the landfill waste pile and the underlying soil and groundwater.) Mountains of solid waste about 25 to 30 feet high stood on uncultivated land."

"At the same time, the site's drains had accumulated a considerable amount of leachate and seepage. Garland drain built around stored solid waste pit and leachate collection drain pits were found broken at many places due to movement of heavy machinery and non-repair. The pit used for composting the leachate had also been damaged, while many pits on the outskirts of the site were overflowing."

MPPCB Regional Officer Brajesh Sharma told 101Reporters that during the inspection, the negligence of the municipal corporation and Green Resort Solid Waste Management Private Limited, which disposes of the waste, had come to the fore.

"If remedial work is not done in time, the surrounding fields will soon become infertile as leachate seeps through the soil," Sharma warned.

His statement finds precedence in Bhanpur, where residents continue to suffer its consequences despite the landfill being gone.

On 18 January, 2022, the pollution control board report, it was said that the municipal corporation had planted about five thousand saplings across 14 acres in the northern direction of the landfill site. These included neem, amla, peepal, jamun, satparni, semal and guava, which are still in their infancy. However, this is not the case in the southern direction of the landfill. Plantations need to be done soon so that the problem of the foul smell can be checked.

The sustainable way forward

Pandey said that after the inspection report on the Adampur landfill was released, there was pressure on the company and administration to execute the proper disposal of waste. The report also mentioned measures like increasing the height of the boundary wall to 20 feet, and supporting intensive plantation around the area. However, this garbage is now being dumped in the Ajnal river's catchment area.

Syed Shahid Ali, a resident of Bhanpur Khanti, told 101Reporters, "The landfill may have been removed, but we still bear the brunt of the negligence of the officers as we are not getting drinking water."

Ashfaq Ahmed, convenor of the Bhanpur Khanti Hatao Sangharsh Samiti, who struggled for 23 years to remove the Bhanpur landfill, empathised with Ali. Adding to his point, he said, "According to the MPPCB report, the groundwater here is not potable. Tubewells, hand pumps and borewells here have been shut down. The report said that for the next 50 years, the water will not be clean here."

"Similarly, the crops are also polluted due to contamination of the groundwater and the Patra river. By consuming harmful vegetables, the city residents are also coming into the grip of serious diseases."

Edited by Devyani Nighoskar

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