THE SUNDAY STORY Robust consumption and a growing service sector in the State necessitate a whole new approach to waste management

There is hardly any informed person in Kerala who does not have an opinion about waste being generated in the process of urbanisation, but nobody knows how exactly to manage it.

There is a serious crisis in urban waste management that has manifested itself in the form of deadlocked garbage disposal plans in some municipalities and Corporations in the State. It highlights the gap between accepted standards in solid waste management and their achievement.

Caught in the struggle are the civic bodies, the people and the government. The impasse in garbage disposal and treatment is acutely felt in the Corporations of Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Kozhikode, Thrissur and Kollam, and the municipalities of Kannur and Thalassery.

With an urban population share of nearly 48 per cent, Kerala comes close to the global rate. The hotspots of garbage management crisis in the State are a reflection of the collective failure to devise an appropriate strategy and technology. The crisis has turned local panchayats against municipalities and Corporations on the one hand and the civic bodies against the government on the other.

Transportation of waste to the landfills triggers protests by local residents, who raise the issue of their right to live in a clean environment. The waste disposal systems of the civic bodies are naturally left in a mess, with mounds of rotting garbage in parts of towns and cities.

The no-holds-barred battle between the Vilappil panchayat and the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation over a solid waste treatment plant set up there continues with no solution in sight. Even a decade after the plant started functioning, the Corporation is unable to put in place a leachate treatment plant. In spite of favourable High Court pronouncements, the district administration had to abandon two attempts to bring the plant-related equipment and clay to the Vilappil plant in the face of local protests.

C.P. John, member, Kerala State Planning Board, says if the Vilappilsala plant set up with private participation for processing biodegradable waste into manure had not failed because of a dispute over the pricing of the manure, it would have been a perfect model for solid waste management for the entire State. Much of the urban garbage woes in the State, he says, expose the absence of proper urban space planning. Such planning would have come about if urbanisation had occurred as part of industrialisation. But it is the service sector that accounts for nearly 70 per cent of the State’s economy, he says, and some of the service sector activities are waste-generating.

The Kochi Corporation, which faced the wrath of the people at the Vadavukode, Puthenkurishu and Kunnathunadu panchayats protesting against the Brahmapuram garbage treatment plant, appears to have learnt the lessons from Vilappilsala.

The Corporation has engaged a private agency for clearing the garbage that has piled up at its plant site.

The agency can also take the manure produced. As the government is in the process of identifying an agency for a new plant at Brahmapuram, the Corporation is planning to have a tie-up with a Pune-based private firm to set up a plant for treating plastic waste.

The previous Left Democratic Front government issued an order on implementation of Lalur Model Project for Solid Waste Management (LAMPS), a decentralised initiative, but the Thrissur Corporation has not implemented it. Garbage removal in the city has been hit for seven months because of protests by Lalur residents. The situation is no different in Kollam as the Corporation’s modernised garbage treatment plant at Kureepuzha is unable to become operational in the face of protest by residents against the erection of a leachate plant. Six biogas plants set up by the Corporation have mitigated the garbage problem.

The dumping ground of the Kozhikode Corporation at Njeliyambra, located previously in the Nallalam-Cheruvannur grama panchayat, (now merged with the Corporation), has also drawn protests. The demand is for the corporation to upgrade the garbage treatment plant, construct a leachate collection unit and get a new landfill site. Waste disposal of the Kannur and Thalassery municipalities has been hit for months owing to protests by residents living in the vicinity of landfills at Chelora and Pettippalam respectively.

The waste management crisis in the State has already emerged as its single major development issue.

(With inputs from G. Mahadevan in Thiruvananthapuram, Ignatius Pereira in Kollam, K.S. Sudhi in Kochi, Mini Muringatheri in Thrissur, Biju Govind in Kozhikode and Shabana Mansoor in Thalassery)