How Coonoor’s garbage dump at Ottupattarai got a startling makeover

Coonoor’s garbage dump at Ottupattarai was as filthy as any other. Until last year, on World Environment Day, the area around it was given a startling makeover

July 03, 2020 12:41 pm | Updated July 05, 2020 11:37 am IST

A view of the converted dumpyard

A view of the converted dumpyard

In the highest part of Coonoor, the charming hill town set amidst the tea gardens of the Nilgiris, there is a dumpyard. It is not exactly one of Coonoor’s sightseeing spots. But this year Ottupattarai is a riot of colours. Pansies, petunias, phlox, salvias, zinnias, dahlias and marigolds vie for attention in a vibrant garden that takes up at least an acre of the eight-acre dumpyard. Newcomers driving past won’t even guess it’s a landfill.

The journey from muck to marigolds has been a long one.

In 2014, a non-profit called Clean Coonoor was set up to give the town a makeover. Its 15-odd members, all volunteers, went about sprucing up bus stops, repainting walls, and undertaking cleaning drives, notably the clearing of the Ghat road from Mettupalayam to Coonoor. Then last year, on World Environment Day, they launched a marathon project: to clean up the Coonoor river. Founder member Samantha Iyanna describes it: “A group of us rolled up our trousers and waded into the river wearing rubber gloves and masks. The river is fed by mountain streams, but in the town it had become no more than a fetid drain choked with waste.”

Flowing again

Cleaning the river manually was a herculean task requiring time, money and manpower. Fortunately, Rajshree Pinnamaneni from Hyderabad, who is part of an NGO trying to make villages plastic-free, offered to sponsor the project. Within two months, they recovered 12,000 tonnes of sludge and rubbish from just two kilometres of the river. Sofa sets, mattresses, an auto-rickshaw, railway sleepers, old culverts and foundation pillars of bridges were among the dredged-up objects. “We fished out 40-50 years of garbage,” says Iyanna.

A view of the converted dumpyard

A view of the converted dumpyard


Then, when they began to dump the garbage in Ottupattarai, the team realised that the dumpyard itself could do with a clean-up. One acre of the flatter part of the yard, not far from its 15,000-litre water tank, was chosen as the spot for a garden. Two more acres were made into a verdant lawn. The rest of the dumpyard continues to be used for segregating waste.

No stench

Every morning, Dr. Vasanthan Panchavarnam, a trustee and member of Clean Coonoor, walks the three kilometres from his home to Ottupattarai where Navin Joseph, another volunteer, joins him. They stay there till about 7.00 p.m, supervising the segregation and gardening. “Only dry waste comes to us here. So there is no stench. We have cleaned up every last bit of trash; there is nothing to suggest it is a landfill,” Panchavarnam says with obvious pride.

Vasanthan Panchavarnam with a discarded flower pot all set to be reused

Vasanthan Panchavarnam with a discarded flower pot all set to be reused


Waste segregation began on a war footing last year under the aegis of Clean Coonoor. “The municipality ensures door-to-door collection of waste and source segregation. It transports the dry waste here, where we further segregate it. We have set up a baling machine and an incinerator,” says Panchavarnam. The wet waste is sent to a micro-composting unit five kilometres away.

Mynahs sing

Plastic and paper are baled into 250 kg blocks. The plastic goes to Hyderabad where an entrepreneur transforms it into fuel. The

paper goes to Pollachi in Tamil Nadu to be recycled into paperboard. There’s also a compost bin and a shredder for poultry, but the main struggle is with e-waste. “We don’t get entire TVs and computers; most reusable parts are stripped and sold before they reach us. We are trying to see how best to deal with those,” says Iyannna.

Ottupattarai’s rejuvenation is all the more heartening because of its history. “The place has been a dump since at least the 1930s,” says Panchavarnam. Before Independence, this place made up the far fringes of the town. There would have been a settlement of sanitation workers here and Gandhi visited Ottupattarai in 1934 as part of his tour against untouchability.”

Back at the facility, Ramdev and Selvi, two of the 19 people usually employed here, are hard at work. Some 15 saplings have just been planted, mostly fast-growing ornamental trees such as bottle brush and Indian coral. “They are colourful, provide shade and act as a wind-break,” says Panchavarnam. Most seeds and cuttings are given by enthusiastic Coonoorians from their own gardens. “We are already seeing butterflies and bees and scavenging raptors have reduced, which is a good sign,” he says. And the mynahs have come.

The author is a freelancer based in Coimbatore.

Top News Today


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.