There is a Njeliyanparamba in every city — only the name differs. As elsewhere, Kozhikode’s own dumpyard has been the receptacle of all things unwanted. It has been so for more than a century.
Imagine a beautiful ground where youngsters and children played football, with Mayflower trees casting a shade on it round the year and red/yellow flowers in summer. Njeliyanparamba used to be like that several decades ago. How it has become what it is today is a long story.
During the time of the Zamorins, Njeliyanparamba was where human faeces collected by manual scavengers from various parts of the city was dumped. Those were days when flush toilets existed not even in the realm of people’s imagination. The place was largely uninhabited then. The landscape of the area has changed though after manual scavenging came to an end and modern toilet system was introduced. People purchased nearby plots available then at very cheap prices.
Old-timers in the area recall how newly inhabited people found themselves harvesting vegetables in the landfill’s fertile soil. Seeds with dumped vegetable waste from city markets could have naturally turned Njeliyanparamba into random vegetable patches.
However, the scenario started changing from the mid-1980s thanks to the entry of plastic carry bags. As waste wrapped in plastic began to pile up, the Kozhikode Corporation decided to go for the easiest job — burying it. Subsequently, waste in trenches started piling up. The non-disintegration of waste led to unbearable stench. The rot soon started affecting groundwater in the area, so much so that even guests refused to have food at weddings.
The corporation set up the first waste treatment plant at Njeliyanparamba in the early 1990s. The plant, however, could treat only biodegradable waste. What remained untreated — mainly plastic — got washed away by rain. Drains got clogged. Wells became contaminated.
Residents took to the streets for sit-ins, road blockades, and protest rallies. All that continued till the treatment plant was renovated. The stench emanating from the dump was checked using inoculum solution. Groundwater resource in the area, however, remains contaminated. The corporation supplies drinking water to the locality in tanker lorries on a daily basis.
Was it the dictum ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’ that instigated the corporation to act? One doesn’t know. But it sprang to action. It created public awareness about plastic pollution. The importance of segregation of waste at source was the bottomline of the drive, which was successful to some extent. Kudumbashree teams were deployed to collect plastic waste every month and take it for recycling. As a result, less quantity of plastic reaches Njeliyanparamaba now. Decentralised waste management became the buzzword. The load on the treatment plant came down.
The pile of rejects is still an issue. A lot has changed for sure, nonetheless. Residents have learnt to adapt to the situation. No doubt, it was their protests that forced the corporation to come up with fresh ideas for waste management that were applied across the city.
The new waste-to-energy plant, which is expected to come up at the site in a few months, will add a new chapter to the century-old history of the landfill. But will it lessen the woes of Njeliyanparamba? Its residents will be desperate to find out.
(MALABAR MAIL is a weekly column by The Hindu’s correspondents that will reflect Malabar’s life and lifestyle)