New Delhi, Sep 17 (PTI) A proposal to dump inert civic waste in the abandoned Bhatti Mines in Delhi is likely to be rejected with majority members of a government-constituted panel opposing it on the ground that the area has over the decades become an ecologically-sensitive water recharge zone and habitat of variety of flora and fauna, including leopards, officials said on Friday.

The Ridge Management Board of the Delhi forest department had set up the five-member panel in March to examine the proposal moved by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) on behalf of the three civic bodies last year.

The civic bodies have sought permission for the use of four 30-metre-deep pits measuring 477 acres for dumping of inert waste as they run out of space to store million of tonnes of inert material generated in the city.

The city government had notified the abandoned mines as a wildlife sanctuary in 1991.

"Professor C R Babu, who is a member of the panel, turned down the proposal, saying the inert material, bio-remediated from solid waste dumps, will have adverse impact on the ground water," a source said, adding that two other members of the panel too opposed the proposal.

In its last meeting, the panel has, instead, suggested that a study be conducted on the likely impact of dumping of inert material on the flora and fauna of the region. The minutes of the meeting held on July 29 were released recently.

The SDMC reportedly informed the panel that Shri Ram Institute of Industrial Research had assessed the inertness of the waste and it complied with all chemical and biological parameters.

Babu called for a third-party evaluation as the institute's report had “indicated the presence of heavy metals which itself has major adverse impacts on the ground water”.

The mined pits have undergone geomorphological processes which transformed them into waterbodies that act as recharging zones. Some of the pits store rainwater even today.

According to orders of the National Green Tribunal and High Court, these waterbodies cannot used as dumping grounds, but should be restored and preserved for recharging groundwater. These waterbodies are the only source of water for wild animals, he told the panel.

The environment expert warned that the leach outs may get mixed with groundwater, if the inert material has porosity, resulting in massive ground water pollution with toxic heavy metals and pathogenic microbes and even microplastics.

If the inert material has low porosity, it will lead to heavy surface runoff into storm drains. This results in the drastic reduction in recharging leading to massive depletion of ground water, he told the committee.

The member suggested that the RMB refer this proposal to the NGT or High Court before taking any decision.

A forest department official said, “A nod to the proposal is impossible.” “The pits are home to threatened species, including a family of leopards. Their nature has completely changed since 1994. A wide range of animals and plant species are found in and around those mine pits,” he said.

The official said the dumping of inert waste is not going to improve the habitat in any way.

The department will go through the recommendations and submit them to the Supreme Court-constituted Central Empowered Committee (CEC).

In 1994, too, the erstwhile MCD had requested the city government to allow it to use the Bhatti mines for development of solid waste management facilities.

The forest department and the National Green Tribunal had rejected that demand.

Mining operations at Bhatti mines, spread over 2,166 acres, were stopped around 35 years ago.

According to the directions issued by the NGT in 2019, the municipal corporations are undertaking biomining of the legacy waste at the Okhla, Bhalswa and Ghazipur landfill sites which is expected to generate 200 lakh metric tonnes of inert waste.

Biomining separates waste into four categories -- construction and demolition waste, metals, plastic and rags, and soil and pebbles.

While other components are sent to recycling units, soil needs to be dumped elsewhere.

"But the civic bodies don't have space to store the inert material. It's million of tonnes of inert material and cannot be used in the construction and demolition plants alone," an official said.

SDMC alone needs 60 to 80 acres of land to dump the inert.