As many as 78 residents of Njeliyanparamba wait at the Marad court complex for their case to be called on Saturday. They have been waiting the whole day — men, women, and toddlers. For them, this has been their plight for the past three years. Ever since they gathered together in 2010 to protest the indiscriminate dumping of waste at the defunct waste-processing facility, run by the Kozhikode Corporation, located in the middle of their neighbourhood.
At Njeliyanparamba, the air stinks and disease-carrying mosquitoes buzz. Water is dark and the stench permeates the air inside the homes of these residents standing outside the courtroom.
In 2010, they had gathered courage, borne out of necessity, to protest. They picketed the Corporation office, demonstrated outside the garbage facility, and refused to let the garbage-laden Corporation truck from entering the premises.
The reprisal from the system was swift. Criminal cases were charged against the residents en masse. What followed was days of waiting outside the courts.
Today, their spirit is dampened. Masons, daily-wage drivers, labourers, Kudumbasree workers — all of whom form the residents’ koottayma at Njeliyanparamba — stand listlessly outside the Marad court complex at Eranhipalam, silently cursing themselves for having sought their fundamental right to a dignified life.
This is the situation despite a Kerala High Court order on April 11, 2012 to the Corporation to ‘make necessary upgrade to the present treatment plant and complete the construction of the leachate treatment plant within six months of the date.’ It was also directed under sections 326 to 332 of the Kerala Municipality Act of 1994 to dispose of the solid waste and filth within a year.
As a child cries in the court complex, Abdul Sukoor, a lorry driver, shifts uneasily. “We came here at 10.30 a.m. We are 78 residents accused in this case. Ten or more are women. Some of them cannot leave their children at home, so we brought them along,” Mr. Sukoor said.
Their names were finally called for the hearing at 1.30 p.m. They were informed by the court that their case would be called again at 3 p.m. It was lunch break. Many dispersed to the nearby teashops for a bite, others stayed on the court premises.
“Waste is still being dumped daily on the plant premises. We cannot stand anywhere in a half-km radius of the plant. Asthma and skin diseases are common. We are worried about our children,” A. Mohammed, a retired KSRTC driver and resident, said.
O.K. Koya, a resident who led the struggle for his neighbours, said the plant was built to produce manure, but the facility is ill-equipped as it has only one conveyor belt to crush the collected waste.
He said the local body flouted the Municipal Solid Waste Management rules, including concretisation of the ground to prevent percolation of waste water and poison into the groundwater. The residents would approach the Supreme Court if necessary, he said.
But residents such as Mr. Sukoor said there had been no protests since the cases were charged against them in 2010.
“We are daily wage workers. We cannot afford to stay away from work the whole day like this,” he said.
The case is again called. The court asks them if they are pleading guilty of the charges. Their answer is in the negative. The hearing is wound up for the day.
Later in the evening, Mr. Sukoor says on the phone: “I do not know when the next hearing is. No one told us. I am standing near the plant. It stinks.”