by shainu mohan
While almost all municipal corporations across the state are grappling with problems of treating and putting away garbage, including disposal of solid waste, the situation has reached alarming proportions in some cities and towns. This, experts say, is largely due to the changing housing pattern that has facilitated more flats and apartments, and in effect generation of more waste. Garbage hot spots in the state — such as Vilappilsala (in Thiruvananthapuram) Brahmapuram (Kochi), Chelora (Kannur), Laloor (Thrissur) and Njeliyamparamba (Kozhikode) — have now become household names, and for all the wrong reasons. Reason: local residents have led a continuous agitation in these areas against dumping of urban waste in their localities. A study conducted back in 2005 by the Centre for Development Studies (CDS) on ‘Municipal Solid Waste Management in Cities — Issues of Basic Rights of People of Surrounding a Village and Alternatives’ – had stressed the need for segregation and reduction of waste at source. The report was prepared after a weeklong field study at Vilappilsala Panchayat, where the controversial solid waste treatment plant of Thiruvananthapuram Corporation is located. It found the plant was causing serious environmental and health problems among the locals. The study reflected on issues such as water contamination, health issues, and problem of insect vectors that the locals face as a result. More than half-a-decade on, the suggestions still remain on paper. According to experts, the situation would not have become so alarming, and locals not so fervently opposed to the waste treatment plant, had the authorities taken corrective measures at the time. Vilappilsala villagers’ poser to city snobs It is indeed gratifying to see what a small team of researchers (this writer was a member), who went to most households in Vilappilsala in 2002, felt has now become almost a consensual opinion. Not many cared when we said the garbage treatment plant there is the worst thing that could have happened to the place. We are indeed grateful to the Centre for Development Studies, and especially Prof John Kurien, for supporting and encouraging us to take up that study. In fact, what has surprised many today seems to us a very natural thing. But this raises a few pertinent points. The question raised by corporation officials is, where else can they dump the waste if not in Vilappilsala? This question, however, should not even come up in a democracy. Waste generation is the result of a rather profligate lifestyle, which abhors correction. As citizens of a purportedly thinking society, we bother about ozone holes and developed countries dumping waste, even as we tie vegetable and kitchen waste in plastic bags and throw it on the people of Vilappilsala. But when people rise in protest, can we also not see it as a local variant of struggle against greed, which gained momentum in the West and is being lauded by many here? Why should we belittle the protest by residents of Vilappilsala, as some have done? Are we hypothesising that people with lesser means, who cannot buy luxury flats in the city, are destined to live in boundaries of waste mounds? When city residents reap benefits of their land value appreciating, Vilappilsala residents see their land becoming worthless due to garbage disposal there. Lastly, after having got the fame of pioneering the Kerala model of development and decentralisation, are we headed for the ignominy of introducing the imperial mode of solid waste management, in which richer local agencies will dump their waste on poorer ones? (Author is a researcher in issues of federal polity) CDS study on Vilappilsala plant Water contamination: Dumping waste at factory site was polluting groundwater at lower elevation. Water sample from some wells tested found it polluted, and thus not potable. Spot inquiry conducted by State Pollution Control Board also found contaminated water from factory was polluting water sources in nearby areas. Health issues: Stink from garbage dumped in outer circle of the plant caused health problems, especially respiratory ailments. Primary health centre records showed a marked increase in acute respiratory illness. Problem of insect vectors: Though disinfectants used in the factory made it clean inside, flies and insects outside posed as health hazard for local populace. Besides stench of the garbage, rise in mosquitoes and vector-borne created a scare among the people.
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