The north Delhi's Bhalswa landfill continues to be ablaze for the sixth day. Firefighting operations continue at the sites as people living in adjoining areas are left gasping for breath. Their lives and livelihoods have been upended.
Most of the residents living around the nearly 17-story high dumping yard are scrap dealers. While many of them have been risking their lives to earn their daily wage amid the fire, several others have been staying indoors as they are suffering from health issues owing to the smoke.
The fire at the landfill was first reported on Tuesday evening. Five fire tenders were engaged in dousing the fire as of Saturday, as per officials.
Narrating her ordeal, Masooda Bibi, a 45-year-old scrap dealer, told PTI that they are having sleepless nights ever since the fire started.
She said, "We are not being able to sleep ever since the fire started. We had to request one of our relatives to accommodate us in their house. The smoke from the dumping yard has been entering the house. I have been managing to cook our meals by somehow covering my face."
She added they cannot stop their work because of the fire even for a day as they earn their daily bread from that.
Sheikh Faroz, another 48-year-old scrap dealer, told PTI that the number of labourers have reduced after the fire started, particularly because of health problems.
He said, "There has been severe irritation in my eyes since the day the fire started. Last few days have been very difficult for me and my family. There is no relief even if we switch on the ceiling fan. The number of labourers have also reduced after the fire started. But, those who are on their own and do not have a family here, are bound to come back and work even as the fire rages."
Noting that he had seen fire tenders trying to douse the flames, Faroz wondered why the flames have not been controlled yet despite their efforts.
Maanav, another 22-year-old scrap dealer at Bhalswa, told PTI that he lost one of his friends after a portion of the dump collapsed last year.
He said, "I lost one of my friends when the garbage mountain collapsed on one part last year. I work as a scrap dealer. I have developed skin allergies after I started working here. This keeps happening during the summers every year and hence, the scrap dealing work gets difficult at this time."
The fire at the landfill also poses health risks for the elderly and children living in the area.
Saroj, a 57-year-old woman, said she has been suffering from breathing problems and irritation in her eyes ever since the current fire erupted earlier this week. She said her health conditions deteriorated to the point where she had to be rushed to a hospital.
Kohinoor, another resident, told PTI, "The landfill site keeps catching fire during the summers every year. We don't know what the authorities have been doing to resolve it. We are having breathing problems and irritation in the eyes because of the smoke. We have been somehow managing to fast during Ramzan.
"My family has not been able to sleep ever since the dumping yard caught fire. We have been keeping our doors and windows shut and staying indoors mostly. I am mainly worried about my two children."
The Delhi Pollution Control Committee has slapped a fine of Rs 50 lakh on the North Delhi Municipal Corporation for being negligent and not taking proper steps to prevent the fire at the Bhalswa landfill.
Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai has also blamed "corruption" in the municipal corporation for frequent fires at the city's landfill sites, saying the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled civic bodies should have used bulldozers to clear the mountains of garbage.
Gyan Sarovar School, a child resource centre for children of ragpickers living near the landfill, has been closed for a week as thick smoke has enveloped the area.
Three incidents of fire have been reported this year at east Delhi's Ghazipur landfill site, including one on March 28 which was doused after over 50 hours.
The wet waste dumped in a landfill produces methane when it rots. In hot weather conditions, methane catches fire spontaneously and the blaze spreads as it feeds on combustible material such as textiles and plastics.
(With PTI inputs)