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Open Garbage Burning and Littering in Shimla Town: A report by St. Thomas’ students

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Four class XII students of St. Thomas School, Shimla, who were attending their Industrial Training Sessions on Online Media at Himachal Watcher, prepared this brief report on rampart practice of garbage burning in open by both people and civic bodies, which is leading to a rise in air pollution levels.

SHIMLA- Choked in polluted air, capital Delhi has requested neighboring states to not burn crop residues/biomass. However, the government in its neighboring state Himachal Pradesh doesn’t seem to be concerned either about Delhi or about its own ecology or health of people. Civic bodies in Himachal’s towns are regularly taking liberty to burn garbage in open. The capital Shimla, a major tourist destination, is so far leading. Disheartening is the attitude of Shimla’s civic bodies as even condition of Delhi- world’s most polluted city failed to wake them up. The condition of waste management is also self-evident from littering all over the town. The garbage that isn’t burnt is dumped by public and SMC sanitation workers in most convenient locations.

Premature Deaths Due to Ambient Air Pollution in India

In India, everyday, ambient air pollution claims 3,283 lives as premature deaths, says a report that is based on analysis of Global Burden of Disease (GBD) data by Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle. It is on record before that burning of garbage and other materials is not only source of air pollution but forms 29.4 per cent of air pollution with reference to PM10.

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According to another report released by International Energy Agency (IEA), air pollution causes over 6.5 million premature deaths worldwide.  More than half of them are reported from India and India China together.  This number will increase to 7.5 million in 2040. Since 1990, China reported the highest number of premature deaths due to air pollution until India took lead in 2015 and left China behind. 

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Burning of municipal solid waste in open has played a major role in making India number one air polluter and Delhi as the world’s most polluted city.

Shimla Following Footsteps of Delhi

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Like Delhi, the imperial capital Shimla is equally threatened by its own failure to manage waste collection, segregation and treatment. Rising number of tourists also increasing the waste production. The Municipal Corporation of Shimla and State Pollution Control Board have responded to the situation in minimal possible efforts.  None of the departments are working to assess and create awareness among people regarding hazards of garbage burning in open. Himachal Pradesh boasts a high literacy rate as compared to other states, however, the majority doesn’t behave like educated citizens at all, which points out Himachal’s ineffective education system. Further, the situation can be attributed insufficient and inefficient waste management policies or poor implementation of existing norms. 

Read: Did we pass on anything better to Dev Bhoomi in 2016?

A research study states that the daily waste generation in Shimla City is approximately 93.0 MT (350gm /capita/day). The Municipal Corporation of Shimla claims that collection of the waste through door to door collection and community bins is approximately 70-75 MT. The waste is taken for treatment after collection, claims civic body. However, these are official statistics, which are mostly targeted to mislead centre government and International organizations to justify expenditure of loans taken.  

As per a recent report published by Times of India, the door-to-door garbage collection facility in limited to only a few areas.  Chamiyana, Maliyana and suburbs of the Shimla were merged with SMC long ago. But the locality is still facing an acute problem of garbage mismanagement. Locals allege lack of facility of garbage collection and availability of sufficient dustbins.  Similarly, residents of Summerhill and Sangti also allege that they neither have door-to-door garbage collection facility nor dustbins. Therefore, people have no choice but to throw domestic waste into the jungle to be burnt later.

Where Does Shimla’s Waste Go?

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Even in 2016, the capital doesn’t have an operational waste treatment plant. The SMC has been assuring re-opening of the plant for long, but in reality nothing is accomplished. So, if the city does not have a waste treatment plant, then where does all this waste go? The Civic body has come out with its own policy to fix it: burning garbage in open or dumping it at random locations. Burning large piles of garbage would attract attention of people, so the sanitation workers are reportedly advised to collect small heaps of everyday garbage and set them on fire without absent.

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While public believed the practice is very limited, in reality, the sanitation workers have been doing the same all over the town. When viewed collectively, the amount of garbage burnt on daily basis is huge. It’s directly related to air pollution, which in turn leads to climate change.

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In 2015, Shimla Civic body was also rebuked by the National Green Tribunal bench on waste treatment (plant). The bench had noted,


“We are informed by the committee appointed by the tribunal that it is not even possible to reach the plant because of huge quantity of MSW lying in that area. Needless to notice that there is complete failure of the functioning of public bodies, including all the relevant departments of the state government and it is an open threat to public health and more seriously to the environment of these areas”.

Similarly, SMC was summoned by the Himachal Pradesh High Court, too, over burning of garbage near city.  

Recently, the Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board (HPPCB) instructed people not to throw and burn their garbage in the open. The board warned people of facing penalty on being caught violating this instruction. On the other hand, people complain that civic bodies and panchayats have themselves failed to provide the city and its suburbs proper facility to discard the waste.

Garbage Burning a Major Cause of Air Pollution

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A major portion of toxic gases and elements emanate from open garbage burning or biomass burning. Biomass-burning increases during winters as people burn more of it to keep warm.   

Read:Shimla city’s air quality worsens as MC allows burning garbage and biomass in open

While entire world studies Indian Capital Delhi as case study of excess air pollution, its reasons, and attitude of civil bodies towards it, other neighboring North Indian States have not realized the gravity of ecological crises they are heading towards. Himachal Pradesh is fortunate to have tougher geography and comparatively larger green cover of about 65 percent (As Per HP Govt. data). However, the population has multiplied many times in towns like Shimla. Modernization is inflicting the town, but the civil bodies or other governing bodies couldn’t develop aesthetic and civic sense. Urbanization has invaded with all modern tools available, but sense of sophistication didn’t develop to keep up with this process. The results are simply terrifying and ugly. 

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The capital city Shimla is turning out to be the ugliest hill stations with the passage of time. Civil bodies are lethargic and State is mostly out funds to invest in providing habitable, clean environment. The city is overpopulated when available infrastructure is considered. Moreover, announcements of government regarding pacts with developed nations for assistance in waste management didn’t bear any fruits so far. In 2015, the Himachal Pradesh had signed an agreement with Holland under which it was proposed that approx. 200 MW electricity will be generated from 300 metric tonne of daily waste produced by the State.  Holland had even provided financial assistance of 50,000 Euros to conduct the feasibility study.  However, so far, no such improvement was observed.

Report with Photos by Class XII Students, St. Thomas’ School Shimla (Eliza Negi, Dheeman Goud, Neha Verma, Deepak Thapar)

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St. Thomas’ School had introduced Mass Media Studies and Media Production as a vocational subject in 2013. As part of it, the course students are acquainted with Production processes in T.V., Radio, Print and Online Media.

Four class XII students of St. Thomas School, Shimla, who were attending their Industrial Training Sessions on Online Media at Himachal Watcher, prepared this brief report on rampart practice of garbage burning in open by both people and civic bodies, which is leading to a rise in air pollution levels.  The students captured images of garbage burning at various places in Shimla city using smartphones cameras. The students also scanned sources to extract (verified) data about environmental and health hazards of garbage burning. The aim was to create awareness among people regarding hazards of air pollution.

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Watch: IIT Mandi Researchers Use ‘Pollutant Diesel Emissions’ For Water Treatment

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IIT mandi uses diesel soot sponge for water treatment

Mandi- Researchers at Indian Institute of Technology Mandi have used the soot emitted by diesel engines to mop up oil and other organic pollutants from water. Their work has been recently published in the journal – Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

Although diesel engines are known to be superior to other internal combustion engines in terms of lower fuel consumption and better energy release efficiencies, they are associated with significant amounts of particulate emissions.

 The particulates largely comprise soot, which is formed in the fuel rich regions of the burning diesel jets. Increasing environmental concerns and stringent emission standards require the development of both conventional and unconventional means for reducing soot.

 Studies in this area have focused on improving the engine design and incorporating special filters and treatment units at the exhaust end of the vehicle.

Dr. Rahul Vaish, Associate Professor, School of Engineering at IIT Mandi and his research students Vishvendra Pratap Singh and Moolchand Sharma have looked at this problem from a different perspective.

They rationalized that while it is impossible to bring down soot emissions to zero, it is possible to find a use for the soot produced.

 Carbon species such as carbon nanotubes, graphene, and candle soot have shown their potential in many fields,

says Dr. Vaish,

so why not automobile soot?

It is known that carbon species can absorb various organic pollutants in water. Carbon nanotubes, filter paper, mesh films, and graphene have been used for removing oil from water. Given that the typical carbon content of soot is between 90 and 98%, the team explored the possibility of using this pollutant as an adsorbent of oil and organic contaminants in water.

 There is a rapid increase in oil and chemical leakages from oil tankers or ships and industrial accidents with expansion in oil production and transportation in the last few decades,

the authors write in their recently published paper, justifying the need for new materials to mop up oil and prevent catastrophic environmental outcomes.

 In an earlier study, Dr. Vaish used candle soot to successfully remove two cationic dyes, rhodamine B and methylene blue from water, thereby showing the possibility of organic from water thereby showing the possibility of organic chemical removal by soot. Extending this earlier work, the research team incorporated diesel exhaust soot into polymer sponges to study their capability to adsorb oil and other organic materials from water. This hydrophobic sponge showed high absorption capacity for various oils, without the need for complex pretreatments.

The researchers found that the highest oil absorption capacity was 39 g/g for engine oil. An interesting observation was that the sponges were recyclable and retained 95% efficiency even after 10 cycles.

The diesel soot impregnated sponge could also absorb pollutants like methylene blue, ciprofloxacin, and detergent from the water. This has practical implications.

Apart from oil spills, organic pollutants such as traces of dyes and detergent coming from industries and households are a major contributor to water pollution,

says Dr. Vaish.

The soot impregnated sponge can help in developing cost-effective remediation processes for common domestic and industrial pollutants. Such a development would additionally serve to repurpose automobile waste.

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Watch: Baddi’s Kenduwal dumping yard exposes hypocrisy over Swachh Bharat

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Baddi solid waste management plant

Solan: The government agencies in Himachal Pradesh are quite infamous for disrespecting court orders, especially those relating to environmental protection. This time, we have a case where the local civic body first created an illegal dumping yard on a site selected and cleared for an integrated waste management facility and now covering it with soil and mud after the matter reached the State High Court.

In fact, the government does only what the court orders it to do after activists or the common people file petitions. There is a very clear hypocrisy going on over the Swachh Bharat campaign, which is often used to gain political mileage.

So far, the government has given no sign about being serious when it says, “The government is committed to protect and preserve the environment and ecology of the State.”

The ground-level situation of Solid Waste Management (SWM) in Himachal Pradesh can be best used to demonstrate this hypocrisy by both the current and succeeding governments and the public itself. There is no limit to the callousness of the government agencies at both local as well as the state levels.

Baddi MC waste

If we take up a particular case, then Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh area in Solan district is perhaps in the worst state. The Municipal Council of Baddi and BBN Development Authority (BBNDA) are responsible for the collection and scientific disposal of waste generated in the area. Both agencies had joined hands with a proposal of managing waste disposal in the BBN area.

The MC and BBNDA were supposed to establish a facility where collected waste could be disposed of scientifically. They had obtained the clearance for the same on August 13, 2015, and were allotted 42 bighas and 13 Biswas of land in Kenduwal.

However, as expected, the facility never came into existence. Instead, the MC and BBNDA began dumping MC waste at the selected site and turned it into a big open dumping yard. Within a couple of years, the life of the locals residing very near to this illegally created dumping site became a hell as every day they faced foul smell, flies, mosquitoes.

The nearest house is located merely at a distance of 30 meters while the Sirsa river floodplain is not far at about 100 meters from the dumping site. The locals, supported by an environmental group Himdhara Collective, approached the local civic body and the district administration several times with their grievance. None of the two disappointed the locals and, as usual, didn’t move a muscle.

About 1200 villagers wrote to the President of India after they were disappointed by their own government. 

The State Pollution Control Board confined itself to issuing repeated notices to the local bodies to solve the grievance of the locals. While the MC and BBNDA didn’t care about these notices, the HP PCB did not proceed to take proper action.

Very recently, the matter reached the State High Court pleading for justice.

In the interregnum, we direct that no garbage shall be dumped into the land owned by the present petitioner or dumped at any other site, save and except, in accordance with law. We further direct the Senior Environmental Engineer of respondent No.3 to visit the site and after inspecting the same, submit his report with regard to the compliance of the statutory provisions,

a bench of then Acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Ajay Mohan Goyal had said in its order passsed on October 4, 2018.

However, both responsible bodies violated these orders as well and continued to dump garbage at the same site. The villagers captured videos of the same and wrote an application to the Superintendent of Police, Solan. The SP was informed regarding the violations of the court orders.

Letter to the SP Solan by Kenduwal petitioner

Letter written by villagers to SP Solan

The Court directed the Senior Environmental Engineer of the HP PCB to file a status report regarding this matter within four weeks

As per the report of the Chief Engineer dated October 15, 2018, the MC, Baddi and BBND hardly collect 30-40 percent of total solid waste generated, which is about 50 tons per day in this case. The collected waste is dumped at Kenduwal while remaining can be found scattered near the BBN area.

HP PCB has repeatedly directed the Municipal Council and BBNDA to dispose of the waste in a scientific manner in accordance with the provision of SWR,

2016, the report submitted to the court said.

The Municipal Solid waste is being collected unsegregated and transported to MSW site at Kenduwal where it is being dumped unscientifically. Most of the time it remains exposed in an open atmosphere and sometimes covered with soil layer, which is a breeding place for flies, mosquitoes, rats etc. The nearest human habitation is a house located at about 30 meters from the boundary of the dumping site, whereas the flood plain of river Sirsa is about 100 meters away from the site,

the report said.

The court concluded that despite having a clearance for the proposed facility to dispose of this waste scientifically, the MC and BBNDA failed to perform their duties.

We have gone through the contents of the report and are satisfied that prima facie, Municipal Council, Baddi, as well as Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh Development Authority (BBNDA), have failed to perform their duties towards collection of solid waste and its dumping in a scientific manner at the MSW disposal site at Kenduwal, for which requisite clearance has been already granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests,

a Bench of Chief Justice Surya Kant and Justice Ajay Mohan Goel directed the MC and BBNDA.

The court also directed the local agencies to take immediate action on the report of the Senior Environmental Engineer.

We direct both the aforesaid Agencies to immediately act upon the report of the Senior Environmental Engineer and submit their respective compliance reports within four weeks. Any delay or defiance will be viewed seriously,

the court directed the MC and BBNDA.

However, the entire waste at the dumping site is being buried under mud and soil.

MC Baddi/BBDNA may be asked to transport the waste as per the past practice of disposing the waste to the Jaypee Plant in Sector 25 of Chandigarh or to Mars Envirotech Ltd. Lalroo (Dera Basssi), Punjab or setting up of ward level compositing/shredding machines till the erection, commissioning and time-bound setting up of Solid Waste Management facility at Kenduwal Baddi, for the cluster of Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh area,

the report submitted to the court said.

According to the 2011 Census, the total pollutions of the Baddi MC and BBNDA area were 29911 and 29293 respectively while the total amount of waste generated per day was 25.50 tons and 20.30 tons respectively. The number of migrant labourers or workers from other states was not included in this Census. The populations in both the areas have increased by 2018, which implies growth in a waste generation too. But the responsible government bodies, as well as the district administration, are completely blank when it comes to the chapter on waste management. The Solid Waste Rules, 2016, do exist but only in papers.

The report of the PCB Environmental Engineer aptly proves it.

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Baddi MC and BBNDA first create illegal dumping site, now trying to cover it with mud

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Baddi MC Dumping Site

Solan: The State Government had been bragging about environmental conservation in announcements and speeches. In papers, the status of waste management has improved during the first year of the new Government. The Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur says his government is committed to promoting Swachh Bharat campaign as it is the flagship initiative of the current government.

However, on the ground level, the insensitivity and indifference of the government towards environmental protection is only growing. More startling is the way in which the State Pollution Control Board (PCB) and district administrations respond to public complaints regarding illegal dumping of waste.

Rather, the government bodies are violating laws to create illegal dumping sites.

Related Story: Baddi MC turns site of Rs 9.7 crores proposed Waste Management Facility into illegal dumpyard

For the last two years the Municipal Council, Baddi, and BBNDA have openly been dumping municipal waste of Baddi town in Kenduwal village which has become a potential health hazard and nuisance for the residents of nearby villages. Since the last four months, the villagers, distraught by the illegal dump, have been petitioning several authorities to stop the dumping.

Now, the BBNDA, instead of cleaning up and ensuring scientific disposal of the garbage, is covering the illegal dump yard with mud and soil. JCB machines are simply grabbing mud/soil from nearby and throwing it on the dumped waste with an intention to bury it.

Last week we met with the BBNDA officials and asked them to stop putting the garbage there. Not only are they continuing to dump the garbage but also put piles of mud to cover the stinking heaps of garbage during the last five days. We are being told that the area will now be turned into a shed and our problem will be solved

said Ghulam Nabi a resident of Kenduwal in front of whose home the piles of garbage has come up.

It needs to be noted that the BBNDA had proposed an Rs.9.7 crore Integrated Solid Waste Management facility in the area in 2012 and obtained a clearance for the same in 2015. But for the last three years, it made no move to set up the plant and was dumping in violation of the Solid Waste Management guidelines 2016 as well as the environment clearance conditions.

Related Story: Families living in inhuman, hazardous conditions due to Baddi MC’s dumping ground

On August 12 and 13, the Sirsa River flooded and the dumping site, which is adjacent to the river became waterlogged making the rotting garbage stink badly. The boundary wall was then broken to release the water from the dumping site and the contaminated water eventually made its way into the Sirsa River.

Now they are just burying the garbage and the leachate will contaminate the groundwater too

, said Ramanathan of Himdhara Collective a watchdog group that monitors environmental issues in Himachal.

The State PCB has sent about five notices to the Baddi MC, which were not entertained at all. Despite that, the PCB never proceeded to take action and continue to supply notices.

Through an RTI application we have learned that the Regional Office of PCB in Baddi has served five show cause notices to the Municipal Council in this regards but no further actions were taken,

he added

The BBNDA, in a statement in a newspaper on September 19, has claimed that it has finally identified the firm from Ludhiana for setting up the Solid Waste Management facility.

If they have identified a company to set up the disposal plant why did they cover up the garbage, rather than letting the company take care of it. This is not a solution and neither is it in compliance with the guidelines of solid waste management,

said Ramanathan.

While BBNDA has gone into damage control mode, it still seems least concerned about the laws or the demands of the people.

Our demand is clear, we want this nuisance removed and a proper waste management plant should be set up in an appropriate location. Not near the river or in front of people’s homes,

added Nabi

The Solid Waste Management Rules have clear criteria regarding the selection of a site for waste management plants and landfills, which cannot be on floodplains or near habitations.

Municipal Solid waste has become a serious nuisance across the state of Himachal and a National Green Tribunal appointed committee has recently asked all states to formulate their waste management plans in compliance with SWM rules within a month,

said Manshi Asher of Himdhara Collective.

Long-term solution of solid waste requires an integrated approach involving resident welfare associations of municipal areas, waste pickers and municipal bodies. Decentralised segregation and disposal at source would help to reduce the quantum of waste,

Asher added.

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