At least 26 citizens and members of the Aravalli Bachao group were picked up by police in Gurgaon and detained for over three hours when they staged a silent peaceful protest against a waste burning plant that Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar was slated to inaugurate, despite a three-year protest by citizens groups about the pollution it would cause in the Aravalli range.

“We were just standing peacefully when the police got really aggressive and punched one of the boys. They bundled us into a bus and took us to an unknown destination. We have been campaigning for three years now and today we were protesting silently but today, the police were aggressive like crazy,” said Neelam Ahluwalia, film-maker and member of the Aravalli Bachao citizens group.

Police pick up banners and herd protesting citizens of the Aravalli Bachao group into a van ( video courtesy Aravalli Bachao group)

“If citizens don’t have the right to protest silently, what democracy are we talking about?, ” she asked.

The more than 600 km Aravalli mountain range passes Delhi, part of Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat. The oldest fold mountain system in the world, it is rich in biodiversity, a leopard corridor, a critical water recharge zone and barrier against desertification for North India. Citizens’ groups have also been fighting against illegal mining and the dilution of forest laws.

According to the press release by the Aravalli Bachao group, around 50 citizens of Gurgaon from different walks of life had gathered outside Vyapar Sadan in Sector 14 in Gurgaon where the Chief Minister of Haryana, Mr Manohar Lal Khattar was to lay the foundation stone of the polluting waste burning plant at Bandhwari landfill in the eco sensitive Aravallis. The plant estimated at a cost of Rs 500 crores plus is set to be put up in 10 acres of land being cleared by the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon.

“Ecogreen, the waste concessionaire entrusted with the responsibility of handling Gurgaon and Faridabad cities’ waste has not been able to implement the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 since 2017. This firm has failed miserably. In 4 years, it has not managed to collect 100 percent segregated waste from the residents, nor organise segregated waste pick up nor been able to manage decentralised waste management. 2000 tons of mixed waste is dumped at Bandhwari landfill in the Aravallis everyday. The toxic leachate from the landfill has poisoned the under ground water. More than 60 people have died of cancer in Bandhwari village alone. Many more suffer from liver ailments and other health problems”, said Roma J. Vinayak, a waste champion of the city.

(pic courtesy Aravalli Bachao group)

Waste to energy is a failed model in India. Out of 11 plants set up in india, most have closed down. 3 or 4 that are operating our polluting way beyond pollution norms and causing major health problems for citizens living around like is the case in Okhla in Delhi. “The composition of Indian waste does not support this technology. 50 to 70 percent of our waste is wet food waste which is not suitable for burning. Also, our levels of segregation at source are very low. Most municipalities collect unsegregated, mixed waste. Calorific value of Indian waste is too less for it to burn efficiently to produce electricity. 20 percent of our waste is dry recyclable waste. We do not need such a high capital intensive technology to burn 10 percent of our non recyclable, non compostable waste. This can be sent to already existing cement plants,” said Neelam Ahluwalia from the Aravalli Bachao citizens group.

The protesting citizens of Gurgaon have laid out specific demands to cancel the plan for the polluting waste to energy plant, to bring SWM (Solid Waste Management) bye-laws in place for the city and to clear the Bandhwari landfill through bioremediation.

Joint statement from empanelled vendors for composting in Gurgaon is that decentralised waste management is preferred under SWM 2016 rules. In Gurgaon, more than 140 Bulk waste Generators are managing their kitchen waste without any dependence on Municipal infrastructure, proving it to be a successful model implemented by medium and small scale waste entrepreneurs.

Municipal corporation should leverage and support such enterprises to increase their reach, and also help them to explore opportunities in other streams of waste like dry waste etc., this will help in job creation and will also takes away the load from central Municipal waste management infrastructure.

(Pic courtesy Aravalli Bachao group)

Gauri Sarin, Gurgaon Action Plan says.” It’s time Gurgaon takes responsibility of its own waste instead of handing over our waste to be burnt. Let all stakeholders get an opportunity to build an ecosystem that results in NO WASTE LANDFILL and WASTE 2 CLEAN ENERGY like Bio CNG and compost. Let Conscious Recyclers come forward to create products which don’t create more damage. This is need of the hour.”

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