Delhi rubble diaries

A casual investigation by a CSE researcher reveals that most municipal employees in the national capital neither know, nor care about proper ways to dispose construction waste safely

By Anurag Verma
Published: Thursday 18 July 2019
Construction debris lying on a pavement in Delhi. Photo: Avikal Somvanshi
Construction debris lying on a pavement in Delhi. Photo: Avikal Somvanshi Construction debris lying on a pavement in Delhi. Photo: Avikal Somvanshi

Every day I get off at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium Metro station and a 15-minute walk along Lodhi Road takes me to my workplace. I am fortunate to have the comfort of a sidewalk connecting the Metro station to my office.

In the recent past, some repair work by the Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd along the sidewalk not only left me inconvenienced but also awakened me to the vulnerability of pedestrians’ right of way.

A part of the sidewalk has been uprooted, while the rest of it has been dumped with everything that came out of the activity.

This is not a one off-case. Most Delhi sidewalks are unusable because somebody usually off-loads construction and demolition (C&D) debris on to them.

This is the story of my quest to find the right place to dispose of this waste.

What is the law?

As per the C&D Waste Management Rules, 2016, it is the municipality’s responsibility to provide decentralised collection points in the city and arrange for the transportation of collected waste to the final disposal facilities.

There are three C&D waste recycling facilities and over 160 C&D waste collection points spread across Delhi. The waste generators are responsible for bringing their waste to these points, after which it is transported to one of the recycling facilities.

But where are these collection points?

The websites of North-DMC (North Delhi Municipal Corporation), SDMC (South Delhi Municipal Corporation), EDMC (East Delhi Municipal Corporation) and NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Council) yielded no information about their locations.

In order to find out the location of these collection points, I called on the helpline numbers of the municipalities.

Not so helpful helplines

These helpline numbers are not known to be helpful but the person at the other end usually knows the whereabouts of the physical infrastructure the city manages.

But to my surprise the officials I chatted with themselves did not have any knowledge of the C&D waste collection points. In fact, they told me not to bother about management of the C&D waste and to just get it dumped at any spot where there was open land (See Helpline responses).

According to the Delhi Solid Waste Management Byelaws, 2017, it is illegal to dump C&D waste anywhere except the designated collection points. Such an action can attract a penalty of up to Rs 5,000.

Upon inquiring about the penalties for dumping outside designated collection points, officials were quick to allay my apprehensions and told me not worry. Some even had the audacity to suggest that the waste be dumped at landfill sites in Ghazipur and Bhalswa, which has been outlawed by court orders.

 Helpline responses

Responses of Delhi municipal officials to queries regarding disposal of construction waste. Credit: Anurag Verma/CSE

This casual investigation revealed that the there is a need to improve the information visibility, availability and dissemination of the C&D waste management infrastructure that the city has invested in.

Citizens can use detailed location maps on the municipal websites, and proper signage at collection points for their identification. The officials operating the helpline numbers need to be sensitised on the new byelaws and be updated with the C&D waste management infrastructure in their respective jurisdictions.

Piles of this waste have devastated the banks of the Yamuna, swallowed sundry waterbodies and continue to deteriorate Delhi’s urban and natural environment.

C&D waste is basically bricks, concrete, mortar and soil which can be readily reused and recycled. I want to do it and I need my city to help me do it.

Anurag Verma is a research associate with the Sustainable Buildings and Habitat Programme at CSE, New Delhi

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