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Waste-to-Energy and Ghazipur landfill closure threaten livelihoods of informal recyclers, Delhi, India

With the start of incineration and the planned closure of Ghazipur landfill, hundreds of waste pickers in East Delhi risk losing their livelihood. Measures to tackle toxic contamination and support informal recycling have so far been insufficient.


After two decades of uncontrolled dumping, Ghazipur landfill reached its capacities in 2002 and should have been shut down in 2004. However, a lack of political will and alternative disposal sites, as well as the fast-growing volumes of waste, led to its continued use in the following, and with that, environmental pollution and health hazards further augmented. A new waste-to-energy plant caused protests from waste pickers and residents alike but did not bring significant improvements in reducing waste volumes. After a deathly dump collapse in 2017, plans to close the city’s oldest and largest landfill were slowly resumed.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Waste-to-Energy and Ghazipur landfill closure threaten livelihoods of informal recyclers, Delhi, India
State or province:Delhi
Location of conflict:Ghazipur, East Delhi
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Land
Domestic municipal waste
Recycled Metals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

As of 2019, about 2,200 tons of solid waste, 700 tons of construction and demolition waste, and 200 tons of drain silt were dumped in Ghazipur every day, as no other options were available. About 1,000 tons of that became incinerated, leaving about 400 tons of ash and residues that end up in the landfill, while the rest was dumped directly. [9]

Project area:29 ha
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:100,000
Start of the conflict:2002
Company names or state enterprises:Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited (IL&FS ) from India - Operates 12 MW waste-to-energy plant in Ghazipur
Relevant government actors:East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC)
Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)
National Green Tribunal (NGT)
Delhi Development Authority (DDA)
Government of NCT Delhi
Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science, Techno
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Ghazipur Anti-Incinerator Committee
Residence welfare Associations Ghazipur
All India Kabari Mazdoor Mahasangh (AIKMM)
New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI)
National Association of Waste Workers
Gulmeher Green
Safai Sena
Centre for Education and Communication (CEC)
Human Rights Law Network (HRLN)
Association for Social Justice and Research (ASOJ)
Bal Vikash Dhara (BVD)
Green Flag Kachra Sharmik Union and Janpahal
Waste Wise
Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA)
WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment – Globalizing and Organizing)
Hazards Center
Centre for Science and Environment
Toxics Link
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Informal workers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Trade unions
Wastepickers, recyclers
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Fires, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Under negotiation
Proposal and development of alternatives:Proposed alternatives by environmental and waste picker groups, as outlined above, are the inclusion of informal waste pickers in door-to-door collection and large-scale, decentralized models for waste segregation and recycling, composting and bio-methanation, as well as scientifically-managed landfills for waste that cannot be treated in another way.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Longstanding problems in waste management have so-far been tackled with technological fixes, without considering social and environmental compounds - as for example the consequences of burning recyclable waste for vulnerable waste picker communities, the lacking support for informal and grassroots recycling practices, and the fact that existing regulations about the hierarchy in waste management and the need to implement waste segregation and composting programs have been largely distorted in the course of the implemented projects.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Solid Waste Management Rules 2016
[click to view]

Solid Waste Management Bye-Laws 2018 for the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT)
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[17] Demaria, F., Schindler, S. (2016): Contesting Urban Metabolism: Struggles Over Waste-to-Energy in Delhi, India. In: Antipode, 48/2, 293-313.

[1] Singh, P. (2018): In absence of policy, ragpickers search for identity, facilities for kids. The Times of India, 11.04.2018. (Online, last accessed: 25.03.2020)
[click to view]

[2] Piplani, G. (2018): The Rising mess Around Ghazipur Landfill. 12.04.2018. (Online, last accessed: 25.03.2020)
[click to view]

[7] NDTV : Closure of Delhi’s Ghazipur Landfill Leave Many Ragpickers Without Any Livelihood. (Online, last accessed: 25.03.2020)
[click to view]

[8] Sambyal, S., Agarwal, R. (2017): Ghazipur landfill collapse is a result of years of inaction. Down to Earth Blog, 02.09.2017. (Online, last accessed: 25.03.2020)
[click to view]

[10] Mukherjee, C. (2017): The Ghazipur Disaster Shows Everything That’s Wrong With How Delhi Gets Rid Of Its Waste. Youth Ki Awaaz, 05.09.2017. (Online, last accessed: 25.03.2020)
[click to view]

[11] Pillai, S. (2016): Methane trapped beneath makes Ghazipur landfill a ticking time bomb. Hindustan Times, 28.03.2016. (Online, last accessed: 25.03.2020)
[click to view]

[12] Globalrec (2015): “Trash Mountain”: Photos from Ghazipur landfill. (Online, last accessed: 25.03.2020)
[click to view]

[13] Burke, J. (2012): Cleaning up India’s waste: but what is the future of tip pickers? The Guardian, 02.07.2012. (Online, last accessed: 25.03.2020)
[click to view]

[14] Ghosal, A. (2019): Not everyone celebrating Ghazipur landfill closure: Garbage our livelihood, say ragpickers who live there. Indian Express, 13.10.2019. (Online, last accessed: 25.03.2020)
[click to view]

[16] Krishna, S. (2019): How one of Delhi’s tallest structures is contributing to climate change. Citizen Matters, 17.07.2019. (Online, last accessed: 25.03.2020)
[click to view]

[18] Devraj, R., Sambyal, S. (2019): How Delhi’s waste-to-energy plants are way off the mark. Down to Earth Blog, 20.01.2019. (Online, last accessed: 25.03.2020)
[click to view]

[21] Globalrec (2012): Actualizaciones desde Asia. Globalrec - May and August Newsletter, 27.09.2012. (Online, last accessed: 25.03.2020)
[click to view]

[26] Adak, B. (2017): 'Our village will not become a DUMP!' Angry residents living beside new Delhi waste site protest against landfill as first garbage trucks diverted from deadly Ghazipur trash mountain arrive. Daily Mail Today India, 04.09.2017. (Online, last accessed: 25.03.2020)
[click to view]

[28] Aggarwal, M. (2018): Delhi’s Qutub Minar Gets Competition from a Tower of Garbage. The Wire, 12.08.2018. (Online, last accessed: 25.03.2020)
[click to view]

[32] Sharma, V. (2020): Baby steps towards a new waste plant. The Times of India, 19.02.2020. (Online, last accessed: 25.03.2020)
[click to view]

Other documents

Officials threatening a waste picker in Ghazipur in 2017 (Photo credit: Raj K Raj)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:EnvJustice Project (MS)
Last update24/04/2020
Conflict ID:5012
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