Replies to queries made under RTI Act point to it, says MDMK

The October 6 fire at the Coimbatore Corporation’s dump yard in Vellalore was the 38th incidence of fire accident in the facility since 2003. This has come to light from the figures furnished by the Fire and Rescue Services Department to the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam secretary V. Eswaran, who has sought the details under the Right To Information Act.

Not just this, the details Mr. Eswran has gathered also bring to light other issues concerning the dump yard.

Since January this year the fire tenders from the Coimbatore South Station have battled minor and major accidents at the dump yard on 10 occasions. And tenders from the Coimbatore North Station on three occasions. This is excluding the October 6 fire breakout, though.

The previous, major fire accident was in March this year, when three fire tenders battled the inferno was close to 20 hours. Then in April this year, the battle went on for seven hours.

Even as the Corporation battled the fire with the help of the Fire and Rescue Services Department, it had, not even once, informed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board. And this has come to light in a reply from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to Mr. Eswaran.

The Board’s Coimbatore office in its written reply in May this year has said that thus far the Coimbatore Corporation has not communicated in writing about fire accidents at the Vellalore dump yard.

The Board, through its replies, has also brought to the fore quite a few facts – that after the February 8, 2012 fire accident, the Board inspected the Vellalore dump yard and asked the Coimbatore Corporation to initiate measures to control and prevent fire accidents. Thereafter the Corproation did take action.

But after the April 17, 2012 fire accident, its officials went to the site a day later, on April 18, to find out that Mahalingapuram, L.G. Nagar, RAF Quarters and other areas were full of smoke. Following the findings, the officials wrote to their headoffice in Chennai for “suitable action.”

During the inspection, the Board says, its officials also found that though the Corporation was supposed to take only segregated waste to the Vellalore dump yard, there were unsegregated waste. The officials asked the Corproation to take only segregated waste to comply with the Board's directions in this regard.

Following the findings, Mr. Eswaran has also written to the Union Environment and Forest Minister Jayanthi Natarajan seeking clarification on the Municipal Solidwaste Management Rules, 1999. Under Schedule II Clause 8 of the Act, the Governmnet has said that dump yards should be far away from human habitation but has not said how far.

This ambiguity has caused confusion among a number of urban local bodies, many of which were unable to select sites for projects. The National Green Tribunal, in a verdict in October 2011, has urged the Ministry to determine how far should waste management sites/dump yard be away from water bodies and human habitations. It asked the Ministry to do so within six months, which lapsed in April 2012.

Since the Ministry was to take come out clean on this issue, Ms. Natarajan should take up the issue, Mr. Eswaran has asked.

He also said that the party has planned a protest on Sunday to highlight these and other issues as the people of the area and nature enthusiasts were frustrated at the repeated attempts by authorities concerned to put a full stop to the issue.

If the Corporation had taken strict action after the first fire accident, it would not have recurred. It had also not said who was responsible for the 38 fire accidents, what action it had initiated against those who it suspects of playing mischief, and how many watchmen have been suspended/dismissed for failure to check fire at Vellalore.

In response to these allegations, senior Coimbatore Corporation officials told The Hindu that the latest fire accident was due to methane presence in the waste that was ready to be closed in landfill.

The temperatures soared and that triggered the fire accident.

They also said that they had asked the contractor to speed up the work to complete the landfill operation and also the capping exercise at the earliest so as to prevent any further outbreak of fire.

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