Villagers say they are readying for intense stir

Visitors from the city were scarcely welcome at Vilappil panchayat on Saturday.

The local populace seemed to be on the edge again, all of them veterans of the long drawn out and seemingly endless agitation against the dumping of urban waste on the expansive grounds of the State-owned garbage treatment plant in their village.

More than 4,000 of them, mostly women and youth, had gathered at the nearby junction, 2 km away from the plant, to protest against its reopening following a High Court order.

From early morning, they eagerly listened to an array of indignant speakers who exhorted them to prevent the City Corporation's “hated” garbage trucks from entering the hilly, verdant and sleepy hamlet “at any cost.”

Till the panchayat closed down the plant under pressure from the local populace in January, vigilante groups of residents had been on the stake-out in the locality to prevent the malodorous night-time convoys of trucks carrying urban waste from reaching the plant.

Now they were prepared for the next phase of the agitation, which they warned would be more “intense.”

A 55-year-old told a group of journalists that “you are all with rich city dwellers.” Many protestors seemed to echo her view of newsmen. Another pointed out that the quantum of dumped waste left to stink in the open at the plant every night was several times more than its treatment capacity, an estimated 90 tonnes. Urbanites seemed scarcely concerned whether the waste they generated was properly treated or posed any problem to the villagers who were fated to bear the city's garbage burden, he said.

The police seemed caught in a dilemma. A senior officer said it would take a “hard heart” to use force and register cases against a populace that seemed genuinely aggrieved.

He said scores of residents were already named as accused in rioting, destruction of public property, unlawful assembly and illegal detention registered in connection with the protests.

The police said they expected “extreme” forms of protest by a miniscule but “fiery” section of protestors. The police said providing armed escort to garbage convoys on all nights would deplete their already stretched resources.

On Saturday, few hearths were lit at Vilappilsala homes. Instead, the women set up community kitchens that served steaming rice-gruel to protesters. They said they were serving a “funeral fare” to protest the plant's opening. However, the assembly seemed more like one big family get-together than a group of mourners keeping vigil at a funeral.