The perennial PROBLEMS

Garbage dump near St.Joseph's College for Women

Garbage dump near St.Joseph's College for Women  

A couple of months ago a young student during an informal chat with the President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, asked the latter what he cherished most? And pat came the reply from the first citizen of the country, "My days in the Schwartz High School in Ramanathapuram and at the Madras Institute of Technology in Chennai from where I took my degree in aeronautical engineering".

Well, that's how quite a few people fondly remember their schooling and college days. A few years ago when the 200-year-old gothic structure of the St. Aloysius High School in the Old Town Area was under the threat of being demolished by a corporate entity, quite a few old students converged at the campus from different places to stall the happening. "That's what we expect from the students", was the reply of the principal of that school after the incident.

Matters relating to schools and colleges not only tend to get hold of the sentimental and emotional facets of the students studying there but also for the alma mater. In the more recent times the students and the ex-students of one such college in the city are being pegged by the distasteful happenings around its campus.

St. Joseph's College for Women and the attached girls high school in Gnanapuram is bearing the brunt of gross civic negligence and the effects of unplanned industrial expansion. The institution is plagued with not one but is facing many a problem.

The century old school and the college that is nearing its golden jubilee are located in a sprawling campus, which is dotted with magnificent gothic edifices. "Initially when the school was started by the missionaries the area was considered to be one out of the town limits, but subsequently as the city grew it found itself to be situated in the heart of the city--bottlenecked between industrial expansion on one side and a bustling colony on the other", says N.D.Veronica, the principal of the college.

Being located at the heart of the city is not a problem for the college; in fact, it could be treated as a blessing in disguise, as it is more easily accessible by all. The problems are: The existence of a vegetable wholesale storage facility beside the school, the pollution created by Visakhapatnam Port Trust, the clogging of the drains under the railway over-bridge, the intensity of heavy traffic and the presence of a cremation ground right beside the college.

Vegetable storage

The Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (VMC) identified a location beside the college a few years ago to set up a storage facility for the incoming fresh vegetables. Everything would have been fine if the authorities concerned had set up the facility keeping in mind certain spillover effects.

Every morning tonnes of fresh vegetables come to the spot from different places and are dumped there. The residue of the loading and unloading operation plus the leftovers by the retailers are either dumped into the drain or left behind to rot beside the campus boundary wall. This garbage piles up to a huge dump in a day or two and starts emanating methane with a pungent odour into the air. The students in the college have to literally close the windows or plug their nostrils with scented cotton balls to fight back the foul smell.

"During summer we have to literally vacate the wing on that side, as the germination is quicker during the season," says Suguna Kannan, a lecturer of the college.

VMC's view

N. Srikanth, the Commissioner of the VMC clarifies: "There is going to be some leftover or residue, as it is the only vegetable wholesaling point in the city. But keeping in mind the rotting factor, we would be setting up a dumper bin shortly, and see to that it is cleared everyday."

A bin is there even today. It may not be a dumper bin as suggested by the Commissioner, it is a general one that is hidden under the garbage most of the time. But the question posed by the residents and the school authorities is, have we got to depend on the corporation workers, can't there be a permanent feasible solution? May be something like a biogas plant - A point to be noted, Mr. Srikanth!

Clogging of water

As one proceeds towards Gnanapuram from the city, one has to invariably walk or drive below the age-old railway over-bridge. But try passing underneath it after a brief shower. It could be one hell of an experience. "Most of our students and teachers along with the general public get stranded after a brief spell of rain. The passage gets water-logged and with the drains overflowing makes wading through the knee-deep water quite a difficult task," says Sister Veronica.

N. Srikanth replies: "We have studied the scenario over there. It is a perennial problem that needs to be addressed. But it is not in our hands. Any development work under the bridge would upset the railway track above. Even an inch of elevation could lead trucks and buses crashing into the tracks. The problem needs to be addressed by the Railway authorities as the bridge and the place beneath and around it is under their jurisdiction. It all depends on their priorities."

The dead stay dumb

The age-old cremation ground adjacent to the college cannot be shifted. The very thought calls for stirring the hornet's nest. But something has to be done. The stench of burnt flesh, the plaint cry of the near and dear ones over the corpses, the sight of burning bodies has become the staple diet of the students. "We get horrifying dreams in the night, at times we are even scared to venture out of our rooms after dark", says a hosteller.

Countering such fears, Ms. Suguna Kannan says, "One has to mature and live with it. Such fears are baseless and without any logic. But the problem is not that. Apart from the heart-rending sights and the stench, what troubles us is the band that accompanies the funeral processions. We are not advocating that such things should be stopped and it should not be stopped also, as it is part of the ritual. But they could be quite distracting, especially during the months of exams."

School girls walk beside a polluted high drain near Gnanapuram. --Photos: K.R. Deepak

School girls walk beside a polluted high drain near Gnanapuram. --Photos: K.R. Deepak  

Speaking on the issue the Commissioner says: "We have already worked out a plan to develop and give a facelift to the cremation ground. The plan would address quite a few of the problems. Moreover, we would step up the use of the electric crematorium. As far as the band and the beating of drums are concerned, we would take up the issue. Either we would divert the entry to the other side or set up a cut off point beyond which any such things would be banned."

Coal pollution

To add to their woes, Visakhapatnam Port Trust, has started to dump and stack imported coal on the open land to the south of the college. "Earlier, the land was used by the port authorities to stock timber logs and granite blocks and that was never a problem for us. But ever since they started to dump coal it has become an environmental and health hazard," says the principal.

VPT's solution

"This has been brought to our notice by the Pollution Control Board. It is only a temporary phase. With most of our coal jetties overflowing with the coal stocks, we were left with no other options. But we assure you that within one or two weeks time the entire stock would be removed", asserted the chief engineer and head of the environment cell of VPT, S.V.S.L.N. Sastry.

Well for every problem the authorities seem to have a solution.

It's time to wait and see. Between the conception And the creation Between the emotion And the response Falls the shadow- A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.


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