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Srinagar’s waste crisis: Experts warn city will become a trash city in 5 years

A photo clicked from outside the Achan dumping site in Srinagar shows huge mounds of piled garbage

Srinagar’s clogged garbage dumping site awaits implementation of NGT’s order on the start of the ‘Waste to Energy project‘.

Srinagar will become a trash city in the next five years if the government does not take action to make it a waste-free city, falling in line with Sustainable Development Goal 11 of the United Nations, which calls for making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable, according to environmental experts.

While a huge ‘developmental and upgradation work’ to ‘beautify’ Srinagar city has been undertaken under the highly anticipated Srinagar Smart City projects, the environmental experts describe the changes as ‘cosmetic,’ citing the city’s lack of a proper waste management program.

The unabated dumping of waste garbage at Srinagar’s lone landfilling site in the Achan area had gone to the extent that India’s top environmental court— National Green Tribunal (NGT), had to intervene directing the J&K government to convert waste into energy.

Dr. Raja Muzaffar Bhat, a Kashmir-based environmental activist told that the overall dumping of waste garbage needs immediate intervention, stating that the valley’s fragile environment is under severe threat.

“Achan dumping site is all filled and chocked, and SMC doesn’t have any alternate dumping site because of the non-availability of land. We are in a place whose environment is extremely fragile and for that matter to treat, the dumping of garbage has become very challenging”, he said.

A photo clicked outside shows the SMC hopper coming out of the garbage dumping site after unloading the daily load.
A photo clicked outside shows the SMC hopper coming out of the garbage dumping site after unloading the daily load. Photo Credit: Jahangir Sofi/Ground Report

According to a study by the Department of Geography and Regional Development, University of KashmirGeospatial Based Approach for Enhancing Environment Sustainability of Srinagar City – A Study on Solid Waste Disposal, the landfill site in Achan is highly unscientific not only in terms of crude dumping method but also from environmental and socio-economic parameters.

In another study on landfilling site—effect of depth and age on leachate characteristics of Achan Landfill, Periodic monitoring of leachate quality was carried out at variable depths(0.3,2.0,5.0 and 60m) at seven different sites out for a period of two years at Achan Landfill site for monitoring changes in pH, EC, TDS, TSS, HCO3-, chloride, Ca2+, Mg2+, Na+, K+, phosphorus, nitrogen, BOD, COD, and heavy metals (Cu, Cr, Ni, Zn, Pb, Cd).

Aimed to study the leachate characteristic and stabilization at various depths and its impact on groundwater quality, the research states that the landfill in its present state is hazardous to its surroundings because it is neither insulated from the bottom by any liner nor demarcated from the surrounding by any concrete barrier. The runoff from the landfill contributes to the pollution of nearby freshwater Anchar Lake.

Calling for an extreme minimization of dumping of garbage at the landfill site at Achan, Dr. Bilal said that government should work on giving information and awareness to people on ‘in-house’ waste composition which he says that the program falls in line with solid waste management rules.

Last year in October, in a tweet Dr. Bhat wrote to SMC that they have to take the choking of the Achan landfill site seriously as Pungent Smell has made the lives of people miserable in nearby areas.

“Achan landfill site is getting choked now. A new site isn’t available. @SMC_Srinagar needs to take it seriously as Pungent Smell has made lives of people miserable in Soura, Nowshahra, Hawal, Eid Gah areas of Srinagar”, he tweeted.

Waste to Energy Generation

Dr. Bhat said he had filed several petitions at NGT on that matter and that on October 23rd, 2017, Jammu & Kashmir cabinet gave a nod for setting up a waste-to-energy plant at Achan Saidapora in Srinagar and that the landfill site was supposed to generate 5 megawatts of electricity on a daily basis of solid waste.

“NGT directed J&K government to set up waste to energy plant at Achan in Srinagar to convert the waste into energy, but from last 6 years the program has not been executed yet”, he said.

Notably, an order issued by J&K’s Housing & Urban Development Department in the year 2017 stated that consequent upon the approval of the State Cabinet, Commissioner Srinagar Municipal Corporation was authorized to issue the letter of intent (WI) in favor of the bidder for Establishment of Waste to Energy Plant (disposal of waste) at Landfill site Achan Saidpora Srinagar.

As SMC authorities bar civilian movement, the area also restricts the open entry of any fact finder or journalist inside the Achan dumping site.
As SMC authorities bar civilian movement, the area also restricts the open entry of any fact finder or journalist inside the Achan dumping site. Photo Credit: Jahangir Sofi/Ground Report

A senior official from Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) who wished not to be named told that they are going to start a series of measures this year on waste management on modernized lines which include biomining and bioremediation.

“By the end of this year there will be major visible changes and we are also planning to make one more garbage dumping cell”, he said.

Wetland to Wasteland

Once a flourishing ecosystem that was home to tens of hundreds of migratory birds, Achan, Srinagar’s largest dumping ground is now a fenced-in area and is guarded around the clock by J&K Police and SMC employees. No civilians or fact-finders are permitted to go inside the dumping yard.

The environmental experts are stating that the simmering huge heaps of garbage crumbling in the heat and rain is severely disrupting the ecosystem, which is flowing into the neighboring farmland and famous Lake— Anchar.

What do Medical Experts Say

Calling for immediate intervention, pandemic expert and a prominent valley-based doctor, Prof. Dr. Nisar-ul-Hassan said that piling of dumping garbage not only at the Achan site in Srinagar but in any part of the valley is hazardous for the human population.

“Not only the methane gas which emanates out of the huge mounds of garbage, but these garbage sites also become a safe habitat for many kinds of microbes like insects, birds, rats and animals like dogs which eventually become a huge health hazard threat for the nearby human population”, he said.

According to Dr. Hassan, the waste at all of the dump sites contaminates the groundwater and nearby water bodies which adversely affects the local population and results in major health problems that can sometimes be life-threatening.

Meanwhile, tried to reach out to the Commissioner of Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) Athar Aamir Khan for his comment but there was no response to the message sent on the phone or call, as and when a response is received, the story will be updated.

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  • Jahangir Sofi is a special correspondent and staffer for Ground Report for Jammu and Kashmir. Apart from covering politics, conflicts, and society, he covers the environment, health, and gender. Before joining Ground Report in 2023, he wrote for The Wire, Article 14, Newslaundry, Mint Lounge, and other media organizations. He can be reached on twitter @JahangirSofi4.