Collateral damage: forced school closure, residents eager for change | Delhi News

New Delhi: The Gyan Sarovar school, located next to the Bhalswa landfill where a fire has been raging since Tuesday, has been closed for a week. The school administration said the windows of the classrooms had collapsed, letting thick, acrid smoke into the rooms. People living in and around the affected area were also affected, especially residents of the Shradhanand settlement adjoining the landfill who have adapted to the stench but find the smoke more difficult to bear.
When TOI reached Bhalswa on Wednesday, most residents were visibly unwell from the smoke. There was a resentful tone when they said the municipality had started dumping fresh rubbish on a 6-acre open plot next to the landfill after assuring them it would soon be evacuated. The problem has only gotten worse since then, they grumbled.
The school run by the Deepti Foundation asked its students not to come on Wednesday because the classrooms were filled with smoke. Lalu Mathew, project coordinator at the school, “About 120 children who engage in rag picking are enrolled in our school. We also provide lunches for them. The school opened in March of last year and we erected it there because we wanted kids to learn that they could make the world a better place anywhere, even next to a mountain of trash,” Mathew said.
Sangita Kumari (name changed), who runs a poultry business and claims to have bought her plot a few decades ago, said: “It was a vacant site next to the dump and things weren’t so bad there. three years ago. However, when the legacy waste treatment works started, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation had to find a new place to dump the daily garbage. When they took over the current site, they did so without taking steps to ensure leachate did not seep into the ground. City officials assured residents it was a temporary arrangement, but it eventually took on a permanent form.
Kumari said the leachate seeps even into the basements of houses in the area, and during the rainy season the problem becomes even more complicated. “Also, there is no boundary wall around the landfill and everyone has easy access to it,” she added.
The huts closest to the methane fire suffered the most. Rabiya Bibi, whose hut was destroyed in the fire, said: “The waste we had collected for recycling was all claimed by the fire. In fact, I can’t live in my hut now,” Bibi said. “I was forced to move into makeshift accommodation. It’s not just me, but many others have also lost the recyclables they collected to sell.
Muninder lives with his family of nine next to the landfill and works as a laborer. “It’s very difficult to breathe because of the smoke,” he said. “We fear for the children because it is difficult to keep them indoors. And then there is always the risk of the mounds collapsing, which periodically happens.
Akbar, a grocer from the settlement of Shradhanand, wondered where one was supposed to run away from a place they’ve called home for decades now. “There’s an open drain out front and garbage too,” he said. “Although we’re used to the stench, the smoke is a whole different issue, especially in this heat.”
The northern company clarified on Wednesday that a composting plant at the landfill had become non-operational and it was decided that the area would be used as a new dump. “As for the discharge of leachate from fresh waste, we are making arrangements and even filling up all vacant spaces to avoid the accumulation of sewage,” a city official said.
The official added, “We have no intention of dumping daily municipal waste here forever and inconveniencing residents. We are working day and night on the bioremediation of legacy waste and over 50 trommel machines have been installed to flatten the entire Bhalswa mound in 2-3 years. He revealed that other related projects were on the anvil to manage waste from the landfill, including a 20-acre waste-to-energy plant in Bawana.

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