The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Energy boon strapped with tinder-box curse

Chandigarh, Aug. 11: Leakage of highly inflammable methane gas from a waste dump here may be giving sleepless nights to officials, but for the inhabitants it has come as a blessing.

Unaware that the leaking gas from the Daddu Majra dump could lead to an explosion threatening at least two sectors nearby, villagers have been using it to cook food. “We dig a foot-deep hole into the ground, put some twigs inside and light a match. The twigs catch fire immediately and we begin cooking… everything, from rice to meat. After the job is done, we fill the hole with soil. The process is repeated when it is time to cook again,” said Rattan Ram, a resident of the area.

The dump receives about 200 tonnes of waste from the city every day. The gas leak has been continuing for months and is confined to areas where the waste is dumped.

In patches, even lighting a cigarette can lead to a major fire. A couple of months ago, a man was admitted to hospital with serious burn injuries after a fire broke out around him the moment he lit a cigarette. No probe was ordered into the incident. “It is a common phenomenon in waste dump grounds. But the leakage can prove to be dangerous,” admits medical officer G.C. Bansal.

Senior officials of the city have been making trips to the dumping ground for the past few days, “requesting” residents not to “fiddle” with the gas. “It is a dangerous practice and must be controlled before a tragedy occurs. The gas emanates from the decomposing garbage, which includes vegetables, solid and medical wastes,” said additional deputy commissioner Indrajit Singh Sandhu.

Villagers have even dug holes inside their homes in makeshift colonies to make use of the gas as a cooking medium. “It is also very useful in the winter when it becomes very cold. We can then warm water for a bath,” said Mazdoor Welfare Association activist and resident Ramesh Kumar Chandolia.

A proposal to set up a power plant on the site by former health services director B.R. Verma has been hanging fire for the past year. According to Verma, lack of unanimity among councillors has delayed the project. “If a tragedy occurs, there will be no takers for the blame. Union territory officials will blame the municipal corporation and corporation officials will blame them. If the gas explodes, the damage will be enormous,” he said.

Mayor Subhash Chawla, however, said the corporation is in the process of finalising a deal with a foreign firm for a solid waste power project. “The gas problem aggravates during the rainy season, but it has been there for years. We are bringing in the latest technology to build a power project on the dump yard. We expect it to start working by the end of this year,” he said.

Scientific disposal of the gas, a senior officer said, was the only solution to the problem. The Central Pollution Control Board has already offered Rs 6 crore to the corporation for the purpose.

“Toxic waste has to be mixed with soil in a 50-50 ratio before being dumped, but the practice is never followed,” a corporation official said.

Deputy commissioner Arun Kumar said there was no reason to panic but it had to be ensured that villagers stopped using the gas to cook food. Raids will be conducted to ensure that orders against such usage were obeyed.

As a confidence-building measure, a fire tender and a police patrol have been deployed in the area. Ventilator pipes would also be installed to release the gas high into the air.

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