Thursday, Aug 11, 2022

Demolition Politics Ignores The Ecological Impact Of 'Development'

Construction and demolition (C and D) waste is considered to be one of the top sources of pollution and environmental degradation globally. It has been estimated that New Delhi produced 4,500 to 5,000 tonnes of C and D waste per day.

Delhi demolition politics and its environmental effect
Delhi demolition politics and its environmental effect

In keeping with the wave of ‘bulldozer politics’ in nearby states like Uttar Pradesh where the BJP is in power, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC), ruled by the BJP, recently announced a 10-day anti-encroachment drive in several areas of Delhi including the South Zone, Najafgarh Zone, West Zone and Central Zone. In most cases, the demolitions are being carried out by in densely populated areas occupied by migrant workers and slum-dwellers. Not just Delhi, demolitions have also taken place in Gurugram where the District Town Planning Enforcement carried out demolitions in areas like the Banjara Market and Saraswati Kunj. The drives have once again raised the question of pollution and beg a look at the environmental toll of demolitions. 

A 2019 study titled ‘Source Apportionment of PM10 and PM2.5 of Delhi NCR for Identification of the major sources of pollution found that dust from roads, construction, demolition along with soil dust contributed to a significant 23 to 31 per cent of the PM10 concentration in the air during winters. These sources also contributed to 15 per cent of the PM2.5 in winter in Delhi and NCR regions. In November last year, the Delhi government put a temporary ban on construction and demolition activities following a string of days with ‘severe’ or ‘very bad’ air quality. The ban was meant to cut down on pollution caused by demolition and construction work, which is one of the top sources of dust pollution in urban developing settings. 

While much of the criticism over demolitions has centred around the impact it has on the socio-economic welfare of marginalised populations and the reportedly communal angle of the planned demolitions around the city. The environmental harm caused by these demolitions remains a neglected matter. 

Construction and demolition (C and D) waste is considered to be one of the top sources of pollution and environmental degradation globally. It has been estimated that New Delhi produced 4500 to 5000 tonnes of C and D waste per day (as noted in 2018). Such waste includes dust, rubble, debris, and construction material. While C and D waste is created by construction, remodelling, renovation as well as demolition, a 2015 study by Gayakwad and Sasane found that demolition pucca and semi-pucca constructions alone typically produces 300 and 500kg per sqm of waste respectively in India. 

Demolition can lead to excessive dust, noise, smoke and odour. Residents living near areas where demolitions have taken place run the risk of getting impacted by fugitive discharges like harmful gas leaks that were inadvertently caused by the destruction. Demolition often causes huge plumes of smoke and dust that can adversely impact people suffering from respiratory diseases. 

The Ministry of  Environment, Forest and Climate Change notified the Construction & Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016 on 29 March 2016 to set out guidelines for C and D waste management by generators across the country and set ecological and sustainability standards. It laid out certain mandates for carrying out construction or demolition work including ensuring optimum waste management.  According to the rules, the “service provider shall prepare a comprehensive waste management plan for waste generated within their jurisdiction” and “remove all construction and demolition waste in consultation with the concerned local authority on their own or through any agency”. 

C and D waste management nevertheless remains a problem that gets little to no attention. Last year, the East Delhi Municipal Corporation became the first of Delhi's civic bodies that took the initiative to transport C and D waste from locations in Delhi to designated dumps and recycle plants such as the one set up in Burari. But the initiative got a lukewarm response, reportedly due to the high cost of the service. The EDMC charges over Rs 400 to clear one tonne of construction waste. Meanwhile, the debris caused by the round of demolitions which seem to have begun at Jahangirpuri last month has not entirely been cleared up yet. The streets of Jahangirpuri and other parts where demolitions took place are dusty with rubble lying around. Not just Delhi, other places where recent demolition drives have taken place such as the city of Rajgarh in Alwar Rajasthan continue to be drowned in debris and dangerous projectiles. The residents of the area reported water and electricity shortages due to the disturbance in pipelines and wirings. 

In India, one often sees demolition debris accumulating for months before being unscientifically disposed of. A 2020 report titled Another Brick off the Wall: Improving construction and demolition waste management in Indian cities by the Centre for Science and Environment found that India recycled only one per cent of its C and D waste. The country produces 150 million tonnes of C and D waste in a year but as of 2020, it only had the capacity to treat 6,500 tonnes per day, which means just 1.3 per cent of the total waste generated. Delhi produces nearly 5,000 tonne of C and D waste out of which the North Delhi region generates nearly 2,000 TPD daily. 

When carrying out necessary demolition activities, authorities need to ensure proper C and D waste management. A 2018 paper titled ‘The Impact of C & D Waste on Indian Environment: A Critical Review’ made certain recommendations for reducing C and D waste that can be vital in reducing the environmental impact of demolition activities. 

First is to prevent illegal open dumping of debris and excavated earth on roadsides, low-lying areas and river beds. Such dumping often leads to pile up of debris which is not only an eyesore but also causes traffic inconveniences, choking of drains, groundwater pollution

Additionally, authorities must conduct site to site assessments of the environmental impact of the demolition and ensure imposing dust-averting and noise cancellation strategies to minimise harm.

Experts have also recommended a shift from ‘demolition’ to ‘deconstruction’ as the way forward for urban development and city planning. Deconstruction refers to dismantling buildings with the goal of maximising the reuse potential of its components. Demolition refers to razing of buildings in such a way that the components of the building are unlikely to be fit for reuse and can only be recycled or sent o a landfill. Deconstruction is not only a more sustainable option but also espouses responsible development by paving the way toward rehabilitation of the people living in or using the buildings prior to dismantling so as to ensure people don’t lose their homes and livelihoods. Achieving sustainability goals goes beyond increasing the longevity of things and includes including the longevity of people. 

Development and demolition plans have a tendency to cause more harm to the proverbial ‘have-nots’ than the ‘haves’. Razing even illegally built or homes and shops in the name of anti-encroachment and ‘beautification’ is not in the best interests of the slum dwellers, migrant workers, the poor and the marginalised who are displaced from their homes and shops. Such urban development highlights the inherent class structure in presumably meritocratic urban spaces that predefine the division between those who reap the benefits of the country’s development and those who pay the price.