Refuse piles up by roadsides as government and Corporation slug it out

On December 20, 2011, when the last truckloads of garbage from the capital city rolled into the solid waste treatment plant at Vilappilsala, not many in the city thought that the next day would be any different. Harsh reality dawned the next morning. The city could not longer ‘export’ its garbage.

A year later, most of the high-rises in the city have their own solid-waste treatment systems, thousands of houses have a pipe-compost facility, five schools in the city have a biogas plant each, and even the headquarters of the city Corporation will have a biogas plant up and running in less than two weeks. That is the sunny side of the story.

What is glaringly conspicuous by its absence is a viable, long-term solution to treating the tonnes of garbage that the city produces daily. When possibilities curtsied to politics and public protests, the much-trumpeted programmes to dump garbage in quarries, identify large plots of government land to bury solid waste in, set up a plastic processing unit near the city, or set up treatment plants at multiple locations either fizzled out or were put on the backburner by the authorities concerned.

The city Corporation and the State government continue to blame each other for this solid waste debacle. While the government, unofficially, maintains that the city Corporation did not give the necessary support for putting in place various waste treatment programmes, the civic body maintains that the government all but did it in by allowing the Vilappil plant to shut down before a viable alternative was in place.

Beginning January 2012, large quantities of solid waste were buried in select locations. V.S. Padmakumar, chairman of the Corporation’s works standing committee, says an average of 100 tonnes of garbage is buried daily at different locations in the city.

As on date this continues, with Corporation workers burying what garbage they can by the side of the National Highway bypass and burning the rest.

In some areas of the city, including the Fort area, Sreekanteswaram, Sreevarahom and the Puthen streets, a severe space crunch is causing garbage to pile up by the sides of the historic Fort wall. Though pot and bucket-composting has been billed as a solution for such space-starved areas, the idea is yet to get off the ground.

Even though the District Collector declared a ‘health 144’ in the capital city, the night-time dumping of garbage and animal waste by the roadside continues unabated. This, in turn, has led to congregations of stray dogs at these locations, complete with attendant problems.

With the final judicial word on the Vilappil plant yet to be pronounced, the proposed treatment plant at Chala kicking up protests, and the mobile incinerator caught in bureaucratic wrangles, one thing is clear. The capital city need not hold its breath for a scientific, viable solid-waste management system.