Police move in equipment required for leachate treatment plant into garbage factory

As the day, and the truth, dawned upon them, residents of the Vilappil grama panchayat were more shocked than angered. For over a year, they had been vehemently opposing any move by the government to restart the Vilappilsala garbage factory, and they were quite successful too.

But on Saturday, as the village slept, the police did what was ‘unthinkable’ for them. A lorry, containing the last but crucial piece of machinery required to set up a leachate treatment plant on the factory premises, that was lying idle in the Vilappilsala police station compound, was silently pushed out first, and then driven as silently as possible to the factory gates. The police, numbering nearly 100, then opened the locked gates and took the lorry right into the heart of the sprawling 50-plus-acre site.

By the time the villagers came to know about the move, it was all over, literally. Outraged, disappointed and offended, they rallied together at Nedumkuzhi, barely a kilometre away from the plant, where the Vilappilsala Janakeeya Samithi, led by S. Burhan, had been staging a protest from January 2011, and also at the panchayat square, where the Samyukta Samara Samithi, including panchayat members, recently launched another protest.

As the agitation leaders sat together, pondering over their next move, the growing crowd literally said in one voice, ‘night vigil, and shutters down.’ And it was accepted. Shops, schools, and all other commercial establishments remained shut across the panchayat and surrounding areas on Saturday. It will be the same from Monday onwards as well, with no traffic to be allowed either.

Mr. Burhan did not mince words when he said the government move had revealed another fact. “This shows that they also know they cannot move even a finger when we are awake. And awake we will be from now,” he said.

Stating that the clandestine move was against democratic principles, Mr. Burhan said the council had decided to intensify its agitation, ‘to make the government understand what it had not understood so far, that the public would not allow the factory to reopen under any circumstance.’

Panchayat president Shobana Kumari, who had since declared that she would fast unto death if the government did not change its stance, was furious.

“We were cheated,” she said. “The High Court had asked the government to think of ways to treat garbage from the city in the city itself. And we have made it clear that our village will not be the city’s dump yard. It is my duty to fight for the interests of the people of my panchayat, and till the Chief Minister keeps his word given during the last all-party meet that the factory would not be reopened, I will continue to fast,” she told The Hindu.

Ms. Shobana Kumari also sought to downplay rumours that there was a split among the agitation leaders, stating that certain vested interests and communal elements from outside the panchayat were trying to create fissures among the public by spreading canards about the leaders. “We are united and we will continue to fight as one,” she said.