A municipal solid waste dumping site near Assam’s Darikapar, Namtial Pathar Sivasagar was left burning for over 15 days, but residents staying near the facility forced to inhale obnoxious smoke containing dangerous Styrene and lethal Dioxin gas emissions from plastic polymers, as Sivasagar Municipal Body did nothing. These emissions can cause severe lung and skin ailments. Unscientific, unorthodox and untrained systems of incineration have left a large number of local residents being exposed to dangerous and poisonous gases.
This facility site is situated close to a dense demographic area which is on the bank of River Darika Noi, a sacred tributary of river Brahmaputra. This dumping site has no fencing or entry gate despite being en route National Highways 37. River Darika carries a massive amount of debris load from the Darikapar dumping site to the confluence of Brahmaputra and Dikhow which is a popular tourist destination. This municipal debris contains 80-85% plastic polymers including plastic bags, polystyrene (cups, meat and egg trays, plastic containers) and other hazardous biochemical products.
The Sivasagar Municipal Body hardly obeys the prescribed Municipal Solid Waste (management and handling) Rules 2016 which clearly state that the landfill site must be 100m away from river, 200m from a pond, 200m from highways, habitations, public parks, and water supply wells and at least 20 km away from airports/airbases after obtaining a no objection certificate from the Civil Aviation Authority or Air Force.
MSW rules assign criteria for ‘Ambient Air Quality/AAQ’ for a designated municipal solid waste dumping site. A landfill gas collection system should be installed at the landfill site to minimise odour, prevent off-site migration of gases, protect vegetative cover on the rehabilitated landfill surface. For enhancing the proficiency of landfill gas recovery, the use of gas membrane and gas collection wells should also be considered. The concentration of methane gas shouldn’t exceed 25% of the Lower Exploitative Limit (LEL). The landfill gas from a collection facility at a landfill site shall be utilised for either direct thermal application or proper generator as per viability. AAQ at the landfilled site and in the vicinity should be regularly monitored so it stays under the prescribed limit.
MSW rules state that an intermediate cover of 40-65cm of soil shall be placed over the landfill with the proper gradation to prevent infiltration during monsoon. Proper drainage must be constructed to divert the runoff away from the active cell of the landfills. After the completion of the landfill, a final cover must be designed to mitigate infiltration and erosion. There must be a barrier soil layer of 60cm of clay/amended soil followed by a drainage soil layer of 15cm. A vegetative soil layer of 45cm should be added on top of the drainage layer to support vegetative growth, thereby reducing chances of erosion.
MSW rules also encourage plantation and a vegetative cover of locally adapted non-edible perennial vegetation resistant to drought and extreme temperature. Selected plants have the potential to thrive on low nutrient soil with minimum nutrients requirement. Green belts should be developed all around the boundary of the landfill in consultation with State Pollution Control Board.
According to a report by Guwahati-based NGO ‘Voice of Environment’ and a local resident S.L Acharjee, Darikapar Municipal Solid Waste Dumping site fails to comply basic regulations subjected under Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2016. It lacks the fundamental infrastructure to provide basic scientific and operational infrastructure for managing and handling a designated landfill site. Since there is no fencing and entry gate, human and animal mobility continue on a regular basis which threatens the health and hygiene of both humans and animals. This facility site is vulnerable to the illegal intrusion of local ragpickers who are mostly juveniles. They often burn the waste after they are done picking what they need and start a fire that ends up as a cloud of poisonous gases. This particular landfill site also lacks the basic infrastructure to monitor and control air pollution which leaves inhabitants inhaling deadly styrene and dioxin gas that can cause serious skin and lungs ailments if exposure lasts over a week.
Sivasagar is the historic and cultural capital of Assam. It was the home to Great Ahom. It was one of the ancient township models which is currently home to a population of 11.5 lakh people (as per 2011 census). Rising consumerism and over-exploitation of natural resources have brought the city under a massive debris load which often tests local governments/municipal bodies’ leadership potential to work on a proper waste management framework for tackling issues of mounting waste. Sivasagar Municipal Body should recall the great Ahom’s urban planning which still attracts a large number of tourists every day from all over India and around the world.
Picture Credit: Voice of Environment