India Interior

The garbage mountains of Leh

Tsewang Dolma | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on May 05, 2017

No quick solutions Mounds of garbage at Bomb Guard in Leh ALEX JENSEN

Increasing rubbish is ruining Ladakh's pristine landscape

Ladakh’s most celebrated town, Leh, draws multitudes of visitors from across the country and the world, who are eager to experience its inimitable culture and breathtaking mountainous landscape. Yet, not many are aware of Bomb Guard near Diskit Tsal, where all the garbage from Leh is dumped.

Undeniably, the tourist boom has brought in increased revenue and created employment. But it has also strained the region’s scarce natural resources. Consumption patterns have changed and this is most apparent in the deluge of packaged food. According to Mr. Alex, Future Earth, a staggering 30,000 plastic water bottles are dumped in Leh every day.

In August 2015, the Municipal Committee of Leh (MCL) inaugurated an initiative for cleaning up the town — undertaken under the Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and Medium Towns (UIDSSMT). Two dustbins were to be provided at the community level — one blue for solid waste, and the other green for kitchen or bio-degradable waste. Though Dr Zahida Bano, Administrator, MCL, stressed its need and use at the inaugural, the effort has not borne sufficient fruit.

A gap between intent and uptake is evident. Amina Bano, 60, living in Sheynam, uses only one bin for dry waste. “I find the other too big for kitchen waste that tends to rot and stink,” she says. Jigmet Wangdus, 40, from Tukcha, feels that there is no logic in sorting the garbage at source because ultimately it all gets dumped together at Bomb Guard. He only uses one bin for dry waste; in the other, he stores wood and dung — both precious fuel for winter. But he believes there is a need to create awareness on waste management — the processes of segregation, recycling and composting.

Meanwhile garbage, notably plastic waste, continues to inundate Leh and is being dumped at Bomb Guard indiscriminately, making residents worry. “Mounting garbage in Leh can undo the good that tourism brings. Who knows in the future, we could lose business because of this,” says Phuntsog Angmo, 44, from Khakshal, visibly anxious.

Hopefully things will not be as grim as Angmo’s forecast but the problem needs urgent attention. Ruksana Parveen, Inspector, MCL, believes that multiple stakeholders need to be involved in garbage management. Even so, the role and responsibility of civic authorities remains paramount. The Ladakh Hill Development Council (LAHDC) — the region’s highest policy-making and executive body — has allocated land to MCL to build landfills and incinerators. Once operational, the unsorted garbage at Bomb Guard will be landfilled at Skampari.

This would of course, ease things in Leh. But even so, a crucial point is missed. It is as important, if not more, to prevent waste from being generated in the first place. At any rate, to reduce its volumes, solid waste management in Leh needs to do more than just deal with the ravages of modern life. It needs to recall and if possible incorporate elements that protect the natural resources that the region is famed for. (Charkha Features)

The writer is recipient of the Sanjoy Ghose Rural Reporting Award 2016-17

Published on May 05, 2017

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