[Photo essay] Life is not garbage in Delhi's landfills

Ragpickers make most of the stink Dilliwalas raise every day, at Okhla dumping ground.

 |  3-minute read |   01-04-2016
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Rising population and growing affluence in Delhi have raised the daily outpouring of refuse to more than 8,000 tonnes, while simultaneously pushing up the cost of land to astronomical levels.

The result: Delhi has run out of land for landfills, and none of the neighbouring states intends to surrender any to meet the capital's needs, and thus the overflowing landfills are the agents of employment of ragpickers. Different incineration plants (for example, the Okhla compost plant) reduce it down by turning the solid waste into ash and providing metals as a source of employment to the ragpickers.

They extract metals, alloys and plastic from the burnt waste and sell it to metal buyers (kabadiwalas).

touched1_040116112603.jpg Taj (17) seeks shelter in an abandoned museum in Old Delhi. He is a ragpicker.

touched2_040116112624.jpg Amidst of severe odour at Okhla landfill, Taj looks over as municipal corporation trucks dump waste.

touched3_040116112719.jpg Municipal corporation trucks arrive at Okhla landfill (South Delhi). The local ragpicker, Haroon Rashid (37) says ”the trucks come everyday."

touched4_040116112741.jpg At Okhla incineration plant.

Built in 1980, every year, it burns to convert 214 tonnes of solid waste into 69 tonnes by sifting out the inorganic matter. It produces six megawatts of power per hour, or 5.5 billion units of electricity a year - a curse for local ragpickers, it has brought down the solid waste dumping at the landfill.

touched5_040116112806.jpg Metal collectors trail a truck with their shovels equipped with magnets.

The magnetic shovels attract the metals from the waste, which will later be sold.

touched6_040116112834.jpg A metal shovel is used to extract the pig and wrought iron from burnt waste. It is sold at Rs 12-13 per kg.

touched7_040116112909.jpg Arman Ali (6) and Shukran Ali (8), scale down the slope of the landfill to get iron/alloys from the waste.

There are families who are entirely dependent on it for their livelihood.

touched8_040116112931.jpg Nafees Alam (48) and Pranav Kumar (50) collect leftover food to sell it to fertiliser companies.

They don’t use hand gloves or masks. Prem Kumar Jha, a journalist and researcher, says,” It causes dixion threat (a series of lung/skin diseases).”

touched9_040116113003.jpg Another capital: The top of the Okhla landfill sees the equal participation of men and women in extracting/collecting waste.

The waste ranges from plastic, metals and leftover food to bricks collected from demolished buildings.

touched11_040116113031.jpg Shakeela Akhtar (10) extracts aluminium, copper, brass and iron from the waste, while his brother gets ready to go to school.

touched12_040116113050.jpg Shaukat (12) burns copper ore in the slums.

Fazlul Rahman (48) says, ”Burning impure copper leaves residue, which is extremely pure copper.” The blue flames show its slow reactivity, thus making it a long process of extraction.

touched13_040116113120.jpg This is the view of south Delhi from the top of the Okhla landfill.

The heap keeps rising everyday as Dilliwalas relentlessly dump their waste.


Shadab Nazmi Shadab Nazmi @shadabnazmi

Senior sub-editor (Digital) at India Today, data miner.

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