The debate around Achan dumping site misses one important element: the security of kids living in the neighbourhood from canine dogs. Syed Asma spends a day at Achan and finds out that almost every household in the neighbourhood has a tale of horror to share.
A loud cry from inside a house came out pierced the cemented walls. It must be Aatif, says an elderly woman who is busy in her kitchen garden chatting with her neighbourhood women. He usually cries and shouts in pain, she says, since he is bitten by a dog.
Aatif, a seven-year-old boy, is her next-door neighbour’s son. His face is deformed by a canine bite. One can count 13 stitches on his face. He is now undergoing medical treatment which will continue for almost a year. But doctors say, it may take some more time.
A resident of Saidapora, an adjacent area of Achan, Aatif’s father, Javaid Ahmed, a daily wager, says there is hardly any child in the locality who is not bitten by a dog.
Achan dumping site which is spread over 517 kanals is used for dumping solid waste from the entire Srinagar city since 1985.
“Seeing the population of these healthy stray dogs out numbering our children, we do not leave our children alone even for a minute,” says Javaid. “But they still are not spared.”
Aatif who is lying on his bed is crying. He is in pain. His mother sitting besid him is also crying. “I can’t see him in pain!” She says in a broken voice.
“The other day,” she continues, “Aatif left home in rage…He had a tiff with me over a wafer that his father got for him and his sister…He was very upset …”
She is continuously crying since the day Aatif was bitten by a stray dog, says her neighbour.
As Javaid said that Aatif is not the only child who has been attacked, there are many such cases involving small kids like Aatif. Javaid informed that they all have painful and deadly encounters to share.
Sanam, a ten-year-old boy, has got 47 stitches all over his body including his face. The incident happened last year when he was coming back from his school.
He still remembers the day when a pack of ten dogs attacked and dragged him. “I don’t know how I survived. I thought they would eat me up,” says a shy Sanam while staring at the floor. The canine bites have left dozen stitch marks deforming his beautiful young face.
Doctors say he is young and may regain the features of his original face, but Sanam’s mother is doubtful as there is no improvement since the incident happened last year.
“If we had money we would have taken him outside Kashmir for treatment. But we can’t afford the expenses. It pains me to see him grow like this,” she says.
“He still is the most handsome boy for me,” she says while looking at him, smiles and kisses his forehead. Sanam is sitting beside her with a straight face, wearing no expressions.
There are scores of children, almost one in each household, who have similar stories to narrate.
After seeing their children almost eaten up by the dangerous packs of healthy canines in their locality, the residents have many times protested to stop the dumping at this site and have demanded the site should be cleared up. But the authorities are paying no heed to their demands, the residents allege.
“Last year, some of the youth had protested against the same but then the authorities called in police who started firing tear gas shells at them,” says Ali Mohammed, an elderly resident of the locality. “Many were left severely injured after the shelling.”
Apart from the huge presence of healthy and dangerous canine packs in the area, the other noticeable thing in the locality is stench. And it is the same odour that leads you to the site where the waste from the entire Srinagar city is dumped, even if you are blindfolded, the smell is unbearable!
The dumping site is a few miles away from the main road but one can easily find his way to the dumping site. If your smelling sense fails you, do follow hundreds of trucks that enter the premises of the dumping site.
At the crack of dawn till 2 pm, which sometimes extends till late afternoon, trucks loaded with garbage bearing SMC tags are seen entering the premises. More than 100 trucks loaded with at least 300 tons of waste is dumped at this site, says the duty officer manning the gate.
There are about 20 state police personnel manning the place. Security was beefed up after last year’s protest in which tear gas shells were fired on the local protestors.
“The smell is unbearable, but we can’t say no to our officers who post us here,” says one of the police personnel. “Yes, the unhygienic condition and the odour make us ill but we can’t help it.” He lives within the premises of the dumping site.
“This stench can kill a normal human being,” says Fayaz Ahmed, a local. “God knows how we survive here.”
Locals complain that the intolerable odour is on rising with each passing day and becomes unbearable after evening hours and during hot summer days.
During late evening hours, the stench from the dumped waste spreads in many parts of the old city and even in some parts of city outskirts in Soura, Lalbazar and its adjoining areas.
“Have you realized how hot the summers are now in Srinagar?” Ali Mohammed, an elderly resident living a few steps away from the dumping site, asks.“We have not opened a single window of our house for the past three years now.”
The residents repeatedly produce an argument: “No government should allow any waste to be dumped near the residential houses.”
They add, “If it is a notified area then how are they allowing us to construct more and more houses here.”
Ali Mohammed says he, along with his family, is ready to leave if government rehabilitates him to any other area. And many other residents too agree with Ali.
The Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) authorities say that it is a notified area and no new constructions are allowed there. They say, they along with Economic Reconstruction Agency (ERA) are working to construct an ideal model of land filling at Achan which can dispose-off the waste in a better way.
Since ERA has got in, things have gone worst, Javaid complains, the place has started stinking which wasn’t there before.
SMC has been dumping the waste at Achan for past 30 years now, but the residents have started complaining and agitating against the dumping recently only.
The old workers of SMC do not agree with the present style of working.
“It was a marshy land in the beginning,” says an SMC employee who is in his late 50’s wishing not to be named. “600 kanals was a huge land for us. We used to get the trucks loaded with waste dumped here and then level it manually, sometimes with our hands and then keep it untouched for weeks.”
“We each day used to change the site to dump the waste so that the earlier site does not get disturbed and does not stink. When needed we used to spray an acid to burn the waste off.”
In fact, in the recently concluded Assembly session the sitting MLA, Peer Afaq, said that till 2006 there was no scientific method in collecting the garbage and for disposing it off. The present exercise of “scientific collection and disposal” is done after the state high court passed its orders after a PIL was filed, he added.
Bashir Ahmed, the working supervisor of SMC at Achan says there work ends till the waste is dumped and spread uniformly at the dumping site. The treatment and the rest of the things are presently taken care of by ERA, he adds.
After 2006, SMC and ERA took up the task of renovating the place, says Nusrat Handoo, an engineer working with ERA supervising the project of “modernizing the Achan dumping site”.
Er Nusrat says the earlier methods employed by SMC for dumping had started affecting the ground water of the place which could have contaminated the tap water and vegetation in the area spreading dreadful diseases.
But the methods ERA is using in treating the waste will not let the ground water get contaminated, she says, “We are using basic protections like low impermeable clay and other basic material for reinforcement. Most of the machinery and material has been imported from foreign countries, especially Germany.”
The less impermeable clay is brought from different sites identified by ERA in Ganderbal and Bugdam.
ERA has also set up a Lechate treatment plant which will treat the Lechate (the residue water extracted from the solid waste dumped in Achan) and transform it into clean drinking water, says Er Nusrat.
ERA has taken up two projects from SMC worth Rs 17 crore: one is of the treatment of solid waste and the other is of building landfill sites at Achan. The project is funded by Asian Development Bank and the engineering assistance is provided by a Hyderabad based company Ramky Enviro Engineers Limited.
The first landfill site is completed and second will be commissioned by the end of this financial year. These landfill sites will have cells having different carrying capacities for holding garbage and solid waste.
Undoubtedly, ERA and SMC have put different machinery on display and constructions on the dumping site is going on for past many years but the complaints and issues of the residents are aggravating.
“Things will take some time to take their proper shape,” says Er Nusrat. When asked about the intolerant foul smell in the area, she answers, “as the second landfill site is incomplete, we have to overload the first one only. Its carrying capacity in 30,000 tons only but we have exceeded it long ago, so, that is the reason of the inconveniences that the public is facing.”
Once the second site is complete we will shift and this will be reformed into a beautiful park.”
These parks and technologies won’t work, says Javaid, “we are left out to dogs.”