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Delhi Is About To Have Its Water Poisoned, Unless We Act Now

In a world where opposition arguments are becoming increasingly redundant (read: Solar cells would suck out all the energy from the Sun), it has become increasingly important for environmental enthusiasts to come up with tangible reasons against obvious disasters for the environment. The burden then shifts from the exploiters to the victims to establish that the opposition is not just an opposition for the sake of it, but stands to guard the entire community against the hazards of unsustainable development.

Such is the case of the proposal by East Delhi Municipal Corporation of creating a landfill on the banks of river Yamuna. While the already miserable condition of the river, which is barely visible under layers of toxic foam, does not induce a sense of urgent clean up in the government and the public alike, the idea of creating a landfill on the banks of Yamuna is an astonishing display of raw stupidity. Here are 4 key reasons, among many more, as to why creating a landfill, in and of itself, is an environmental disaster, more so on the banks of a river that feeds us drinking water, and how it directly affects the main stakeholders – the residents throughout Delhi:

Photo by Sunil Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

1. Water, Water Everywhere, Not A Drop To Drink

Landfills constitute a fundamental assault on the ground and surface water which surrounds it. Leachate from landfills seeps from the landfill in the form of concentrated poison to drinking water; just 4 drops of this liquid are enough to render more than 75,000 litres of water (an average swimming pool) undrinkable.

The impact of water degradation is best illustrated through the Love Canal mismanagement in the United States. When unsustainable consumerism took over, love disappeared, literally and figuratively. In what panned out to be a massive demolition of an entire neighbourhood, the Love Canal scars the history of the USA as one of the most haunting incidents of environmental mismanagement worldwide. The incomplete Love Canal in New York was part of an up and coming neighbourhood in the Niagara Falls region of New York City. It was subjected to over 22,000 barrels of toxic waste in 1970s, kudos to the preceding 33% population growth in the region. The rising population had an exponentially higher consumption patterns and soon the need for a landfill to dispose off the waste was needed.

Wanting to save the booming Real Estate enterprise, the canal was seen as a myopic solution for the waste disposal of the nearby industrial waste. The results were indications of Leukaemia in the residents who were directly affected by the landfill and a Superfund program which was needed to save the dissemination of waste into nearby water bodies. Unfortunately, the programme failed in doing so, the residents were exposed to impotable water, suffered diseases and eventually, they had to be evacuated and the neighbourhood was demolished. Love Canal wasn’t lovely anymore.

2. Take A Deep Breath. Or Don’t

The air quality of Delhi hit new lows this winter with the magnanimous Diwali celebrations and the crop burning in nearby agrarian states. What better way to add to the mix than to create a filthy landfill! Decaying organic matter within landfills leads to the production of over 10 toxic gases, the most threatening being methane. In a study of over 288 landfills, more than 80% of them reported off-site diffusion of these gases into the neighbouring areas. One of the most potent greenhouse gases, Methane in high concentrations can cause breathing problems.

Constant exposure to such air from landfills can cause defects such as reduced height in children, lung and heart diseases in adults among other respiratory risks. So the time for sitting back and taking a deep breath is long gone; the time for action is here.

3. Filling Away The Land

The idea about contemporary monuments could possibly manifest into gigantic landfills; the attraction, however, is going to be an issue. Dumping waste into landfills to create clean spaces is a myopic move which does not fully take into consideration the final repercussions of the move. While a mirage of cleanliness is created in the posh parts of the cities, the land subjected to thousands of tons of waste is permanently scarred. The high amounts of combustible methane released from anaerobic decomposition of organic matter can catch fire from a small spark, a lit match or a cigarette stub. The Bhalswa landfill site in North Delhi, for instance, is constantly on fire. Similar violations of landfill protocols are observed throughout Delhi; the permissible height of 15-20m is a history in the 48.5m landfill in Okhla and the 40m+ monuments in Gazipur and Bhalswa.

4. Landfill Rights

That civil and political rights are placed above socio-economic rights is the explicit reality of rag pickers in and around Delhi. The extent to which their human rights are violated is beyond measure. The saddening saga in this turns out to be the perpetual domino effect which haunts their lineage; children of these rag pickers are forced to live in inhumane conditions in dingy and densely populated slums and are forced to join the family profession soon.

Early and prolonged exposure to landfills leads to incomplete development – physical, mental and psychological. Such stories are an existential reality of Delhi rag pickers. Their violation of basic human rights, however, lends new lease to the longevity of the life of Delhi. Their seemingly insignificant work plays a more than significant role in separating reusable and recyclable material from the dumps of waste. Such is the irony of the situation – the educated intelligentsia, whose apparent colour blindness of green and blue dustbin, is corrected by the systematically disenfranchised members of the society, the rag pickers.

So, hence, the big question: How do we manage waste in a rapidly developing and over populated city? Enough emphasis cannot be laid on the importance of individual reduction and recycling of waste. Awareness drives, in terms of the direct impacts of over-consumption, need to hit home. Along the lines of state action, decentralisation of waste into regional pits with separation of organic and inorganic waste needs to be planned out. Unplanned landfills aren’t a long-term solution; in this particular case, it stands out to be a short-term disaster as well.

To play your part in the war against this assault on environmental sanctity, sign the petition.

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  1. Priyanka Kumari

    I don’t like all the articles on this website. Most of them are written just for the sake of it in a rather amateurish manner. However, some are well researched and nicely put down. This one belongs to the latter category. Really liked it. I wish it would attract some much needed attention from media, government and common masses to the burning issue. Thanks!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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