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Government steps in to resolve garbage crisis

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T. Nandakumar

Package to offset the operating losses of Vilappilsala plant

Thiruvananthapuram: The Government has launched a move to streamline the functioning of the City Corporation's garbage treatment plant at Vilappilsala and ensure viable operation of the project that was established in 2000 as a joint venture with private participation.

A high-level meeting convened by Minister for Local Self-Government Paloli Mohammed Kutty last week considered a financial package to offset the operating losses that have plagued the project since its inception. The meeting decided to discuss the proposal with the Chief Minister and the Finance Minister.

The package involves an assistance of Rs.5.5 crores as viability gap funding. The former UDF Government had approved the proposal and released the first instalment of Rs.41 lakhs. But the rest of the package was held up because the Government failed to issue an order sanctioning the funds for revenue subsidy.

The meeting also decided to explore the possibility of a buy-back agreement with the Agriculture Department for the biomanure produced by the plant. The issue would be taken up with the Agriculture Minister. Moves are on to revise the build-operate-transfer (BOT) pact between the corporation and the Poabs Group, which is operating the plant. An action plan would be prepared under the Clean Kerala Mission to restructure the project.

Mayor C. Jayan Babu, former Mayor and Thiruvananthapuram East MLA V. Sivankutty, Principal Secretary, Local Self Government, S.M. Vijayanand, Principal Secretary, Industries, T. Balakrishnan, chairman of the corporation's standing committee on Health G.R. Anil and Health Officer Sreekumar participated in the meeting.

The two BOT partners involved in the project have been engaged in a protracted dispute, with the operators threatening to pull out, citing mounting losses. The company alleges that the Corporation had gone back on its word to supply 350 tonnes of waste every day, provide 10 acres of additional land for the plant and construct approach roads to the project site. The local body, however, accuses its partner of contractual violation and using pressure tactics.

The Poabs Group has expressed willingness to exit the project if the Government cleared its outstanding debts and compensation for short supply of garbage. The company claims that its operational losses could be offset only by subsidy.

Company director Thomas Jacob said 10,000 tonnes of finished manure and 25,000 tonnes of partially processed manure were stocked in the premises of the plant, restricting the capacity to receive fresh garbage.

Mr. Anil said moves were on to revise the BOT pact between the local body and its private partner.

He said the corporation would insist on removal of the penalty clause for short supply of garbage and reducing the daily supply from 350 to 200 kg. Efforts were on to fix the boundary of the plant, minimise the quantum of rejects and stem the leakage of effluents, he said.

Meanwhile, the Poabs Group has submitted a modernisation proposal to the Government to improve efficiency of the treatment plant and equip it to handle the garbage generated by all the panchayats and municipalities in the district. The integrated project includes modification of the composting technology, setting up a landfill and construction of a storage area for compost.

The project report observes that the large quantity of plastic carrybags and construction debris in the garbage was affecting the treatment process. The debris, it points out, damages the screening machines, resulting in frequent breakdown and high maintenance cost. The report says that the presence of medical waste, especially needles, had led to high separation cost.

The company has proposed a sanitary landfill with a slow speed shredder, disc separator and bailing machine. The project urges the Government to explore the possibility of using landfill materials as fuel or ingredients in large industries.

The Mayor said the modernisation project would be considered only at a later stage. "Bringing other panchayats and municipalities into the project will require several rounds of discussions. Besides, the environmental problems caused by the plant will have to be tackled on a priority basis. Right now, we are concentrating on improving the existing facilities at the plant and streamlining the garbage collection", he said.

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