This week, the Agarwal family mixed their dry and wet waste. “Just this time,” they thought, although they are usually quite sincere when it comes to separating their garbage.
Several kilometres away, a 100-acre dumpsite in Indore was overflowing with legacy waste—recyclables like plastic, metal and the rest that were damaging the environment in more ways than one.
Mountains of garbage were piling up, and combustibles like cloth, plastic, wood and paper would catch fire, polluting the air.
When Indore, the commercial capital of MP got a disappointing rank in the Swachh Survekshan of 2014, the authorities and citizens decided it was high time that they combined their efforts, for the city.
But even as the citizens were extra careful about not littering Indore, the 100-acre dumpsite that bore the burden of several years of dumping, was still in a pitiful state.
Furthermore, even as the Indore Municipal Corporation was trying to execute bio-remediation work there, the process was moving at a snail’s pace.
This, till IAS officer Asheesh Singh was appointed as the Municipal Commissioner of IMC in May 2018.
Speaking to The Better India, the IAS officer says, “When I joined the IMC in 2018, 13 lakh metric tonnes of waste was dumped on the ground, and the IMC had achieved to clear out just 2 lakh metric tonnes in the previous two years. The housing colonies nearby were facing the curse of pollution due to the open dumpsite, and for the future development, the land wasted due to indiscriminate dumping needed to be reclaimed.”
The reclamation project had begun in 2016-17 when the IMC had outsourced the work to a contractor. It was the same year when, and the dumping of mixed waste was banned in low-lying areas and open dumps.
Expanding the jurisdiction beyond municipal areas, these rules put the “overall responsibility for the enforcement of the provision of these rules within the territorial limits of their jurisdiction.”
However, the outsourcing of work had proved two things—that the development was very slow and very expensive.
Singh, who had dreamed of joining the civil services since he was a child, was determined to take up this project with a different strategy. He decided to complete it within a shorter time period and without costing the municipal corporation an arm and a leg.
He began with the idea that the dumpsite could be transferred into a beautiful golf course—a place that people would look forward to visit.
“Bio-remediation or bio-mining is an environmentally friendly technique to separate soil and recyclables like plastic, metal, paper, cloth and other solid materials from legacy waste,” he informed TBI, adding that, “The work was taken up on war footing, and bio-remediation of legacy waste of approximately 13 lakh metric ton of garbage was completed on 5th December 2018.”
Explaining further, he said that the topmost layer in a landfill is usually dusty and may have several materials that are still in the active biological state. This layers thus needs to be stabilised using herbal or biological sanitisers.
The sanitised layer is then raked through to pull out rags, plastic, rubber, textiles etc. Using horizontal screens, stones, bricks, ceramics etc. are removed before sending the segregated waste to appointed contractors or recyclers.
Aiding Singh in his mission were Additional Commissioner Rohan Saxena and Mr Asad Warsi, who works with the Eco Pro Environmental Services of the Ministry of Urban Development.
“Unlike the previous pilot projects, we decided not to outsource the work to some agency,” Singh says, adding, “They charged us around Rs 500 per cubic meter. That would have cost us approximately 65 crores to clear the entire waste, and it was beyond our financial capacity. Since we required a large number of heavy machinery, we decided to take the trommels, screens, excavators, backhoe loaders on rent and operated by utilising our own resources. We operated this machinery in two shifts and completed the work in six months. Interestingly, we spent less than Rs 10 crore in the entire process!”
While the initial project took over two years to clear 2 lakh metric tonnes, Singh and his team decided to remove 13 lakh metric tonnes in just six months! And the result is simply dramatic!
Explaining how the garbage was disposed of in an eco-friendly way, the Singh says, “The recyclables recovered from the biomining process was sent for recycling, recyclable polythene was sent to cement plants and also for road making. The soil recovered was used for refilling the ground on the same site where greenery is being developed. The recovered construction and demolition waste were recovered and sent to the Construction & Demolition processing facility to produce building materials. The leftover, about 15% of the waste, was sent to a secured landfill.”
The total reclaimed land is worth about Rs 400 crore, and it is currently under development as a recreational golf course.
The extensive process from dusting the topmost layer to cleaning the entire landfill cost the Indore municipal corporation one-sixth of what the original estimate was.
Asheesh Singh has shown us that if the right resources are employed and if our administration decides to take up such jobs seriously, landfills can efficiently be transformed into clean, green patches of land.