Chennai

Local communities build cities: A case study from South Chennai

Illustration: Sebastian Francis  

Just a “byte” away from the IT Corridor, Perumbakkam provides many IT professionals with a home address.

With work allowed to be carried out from remote locations due to the pandemic, many techies and other professionals too have shifted to their home towns. A temporary dip in occupancy at gated communities in Perumbakkam is illustration enough.

Srinivasan Subramaniam, solid waste management (SWM) lead at the Federation of Perumbakkam Residents’ Welfare Associations (FPRWA), counts this exodus among factors that slowed down “Thuimai Perumbakkam 2020”, kickstarted in mid-2019.

“With many residents expected to return to the locality now, November holds some promise in terms of restarting SWM initiatives that are currently in suspension,” shares Srinivasan.

From how Srinivasan chronicles events from mid-2019 to the time the pandemic struck, the locality seems to have gone into an SWM overdrive in a short period of time.

“Our two demands with the panchayat are: Regular clearance of garbage, and treatment of the garbage that is cleared. There are problems in both. As yet, there is no composting facility in Perumbakkam. So, we decided that as a Federation, we would solve it ourselves as much as possible,” explains Srinivasan.

“There are around 35,000 voters in Perumbakkam, and the population should be anywhere between 70,000 and 80,000. As an immediate measure, Perumbakkam, now a village panchayat, has to be upgraded as a town panchayat or a municipality. Understaffed and strapped for resources, it is struggling to meet the demands of waste management,” says N.K. Raja, secretary, Federation of Perumbakkam Residents’ Welfare Associations.

A Perumbakkam Selection Grade Village Panchayat official has however stated that the panchayat is not understaffed in terms of solid waste management, and that sufficient vehicles are being pressed into service to carry out the work.

Residents’ collective

“Last year, we decided to initiate and drive solid waste management in Perumbakkam. In June 2019, we organised an SWM awareness event at the panchayat office, in association with Pasumai Vikatan. It sought to present the nitty-gritty of SWM to residents. We brought P. Natarajan, founder of environment conservation NGO ‘Namma Ooru Foundation’, to talk to the participants. Called ‘Thuimai Perumbakkam 2020’, the initiative set out with the objective of making Perumbakkam clean by the end of 2020. But the pandemic slowed it down. When we started the initiative, Casagrand Cherry Pick, a gated community, was carrying out source segregation massively at the community level. They were giving the dry waste to a vendor and wet waste to multiple vendors.”

Srinivasan explains that an SWM core team was formed and it connected with various communities in Perumbakkam, encouraging them to emulate communities like Cherry Pick. It also encouraged residents of individual houses to hand over dry waste to a recycler and carry out home composting.

Also read: Children open the innings for their gated community in Chennai

“Last year, the initiative helped source home composting kits for 25 individual houses. Following our advice, residents of individual houses have enlisted the services of a dry waste vendor,” elaborates Srinivasan. “We went to many apartment complexes, and so additionally, six apartment complexes came on board, and they also started segregating waste. Dry waste was being handed over to a vendor. Wet waste was being given to the panchayat. As there was no compost yard, we requested the panchayat to establish one.”

Until the time a compost yard comes up in Perumbakkam, the SWM team seeks to have stop-gap arrangements in place to have the wet waste composted, and make sure it does not go to the landfill.

“We made an arrangement with a compost yard in Jalladianpet with some help from the Perumbakkam panchayat, to accept wet waste from a few of our societies,” says Raja.

Jalladianpet comes under Ward 191 of Greater Chennai Corporation.

“Near Varathapuram, there are two apartments, which together account for close to 100 flats. On our request, the Jalladianpet compost yard accepted wet waste from these communities on alternate days. With good intentions, they supported us. We just organised the transport,” says Srinivasan.

“They were doing that for three months, and the pandemic put a halt to it,” says Raja, and adds, “We have a plan to contact the Sembakkam Municipality and request them to process the green waste from some of our communities, at their compost yard. We are also planning to approach the Semmancheri compost yard with a similar request. We would do this to manage the situation till we get our own compost yard.”

Protest by residents

Raja continues, “Meanwhile, the government sanctioned the construction of a micro compost yard at a cost of Rs. 35 lakh. The construction got under way behind the Perumbakkam panchayat office. Associations representing two neighbourhoods raised objections to the micro compost yard being set up at the said location, leading to the work being stalled.”

A committee member of VGP Prabhu Nagar Residents Welfare Association, which represents a neighbourhood near this location, says, “Around the site of the micro-compost yard, there is a children’s play area, a gym and a community hall where functions are organised regularly, and there are houses nearby. How can a micro-compost yard come up at such a place?”

Veera Subramanian V., secretary, VGP Prabhu Nagar Residents Welfare Association, says, “The panchayat has been dumping garbage behind its office. When they started this practice they said it would be a stop-gap arrangement. We took them at their word. But they did not keep their word. Though it is supposed to be a transit point for garbage on its way to be dumped elsewhere, the garbage just stays there, keeps piling up and is cleared once in four or six months, that too after many follow-ups. And now, they tell us a micro-compost yard is coming up. As of now, there is no sign of any proper segregation practice in place, and their assurances that having a micro-composting centre would not cause any problem to residents does not inspire confidence in us.”

A move to have a bigger space for solid waste management, one near the Perumbakkam hill, ran into rough weather with the residents of Bollineni Hillside objecting to the choice of location.

Following this, reportedly, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has written to the panchayat that they should be informed about any project that is planned close to areas that come under the protection of ASI. The panchayat official has confirmed receiving such a communication from ASI.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2020 9:13:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/local-communities-build-cities-a-case-study-from-south-chennai/article32988990.ece

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