For months now,mounds of garbage have been piling up in public places across Kerala,from the capital to district headquarters to scores of small municipal towns.
This is happening in a state that topped the Indian Human Development Report of 2011 with high scores in health,income and education,and which in 1996 pioneered decentralised planning at three-tier local bodies. It is these local bodies that are now struggling with solid waste management amid local resistance at the traditional garbage yards.
Waste removal at source,including from houses,has stopped for six months in Thiruvananthapuram after people at Vilappil,the capitals garbage yard since 2001,shut the door on waste. And dumping has stopped for four months also in Laloor near Thrissur,the centre of Keralas oldest battle over garbage,where locals have been agitating since 1988.
The government has won a Supreme Court order allowing opening of the dumping yard at Vilappil but has not proceeded for fear of resistance. Admits Thiruvananthapuram mayor T Chandrika,Definitely,politics is involved in the deadlock. We want to reopen the Vilappil yard. Why cant the government implement the Supreme Court order?
The government faces a similar struggle at many places,particularly Kollam,Kottayam,Alappuzha,Kozhikode,Thalassery and Kannur,besides Thrissur.
As a result,the Kerala residents fastidious attention to personal hygiene and his tradition for movements against industrial pollution and deforestation,such as the legendary Silent Valley agitation,has not been reflecting in the upkeep of his surroundings. With waste no longer being collected from his house,he has been dumping it in public places or burying it in small pits.
The monsoon has made it worse. Human waste is frequently being seen in paddy fields and farmlands near residential areas. Contractors who pump waste out of septic tanks into tanker trucks have been flushing it out in open spaces or roadside drains.
In a piecemeal solution never heard before,the government last week decided to collect the trash dumped in open yards in the five corporations,pack them into bags and keep them under shelter,spending Rs 30 crore.
Amounts & attitudes
Until six years ago when the government made its last such assessment in 2006 the average urban resident of Kerala was generating 300 grams of waste a day,amounting to a total daily generation of 8,300 tonnes in municipal towns,according to a study by Clean Kerala Mission,a government body for coordinating waste management. We are looking at updating the figures and expect a 10 per cent increase in the last six years, says CKM executive director George Chakkachery.
He says municipal bodies are not keen on giving priority to waste management. None of the five municipal corporations has a proper waste management system,other than the dumping yards in nearby villages. Of the 60 municipal towns,only two are effectively managing waste. Among 9,780 village panchayats,many of which have grown into busy towns with high-income residents,only 122 have at least thought about waste management.
The waste generated would be beyond the capacity of dumping yards-cum-plants,even if they werent shut. At the 54-acre Vilappil yard,the windrow composting plant has a capacity of 70 tonnes but was getting 300 tonnes a day.
After it was shut down early this year,the municipal corporation announced plans to install one lakh pipe composting units in peoples houses. People were offered an 85-per-cent subsidy,a net cost of Rs 200 per household,but so weak has their enthusiasm been that less than 10,000 units have been set up until last month. The government has now raised the subsidy to 90 per cent,hoping for a better response.
People need to change their attitude, says Chakkachery,citing the governments limitations. The government effort to make rainwater harvesting mandatory for all buildings failed. How then can a waste management system be made compulsory?
Chakkachery lists obstacles such as Keralas population density,lack of land for open dumping and a heavy monsoon. Everyone here wants to dump waste onto someone elses premises or in public places. Our people lack civic sense. The idea is only to keep the waste away from oneself.
Types & trends
Green activist C R Neelakandan says solid waste has multiplied in recent years as a result of a change in lifestyle. Keralites now follow a market-oriented life,he says,which tells on the nature and raises the quantity of domestic waste. Market dependency for all daily provisions,including milk and vegetables,has increased the flow of plastic into municipal solid waste. With cattle rearing dwindling in urbanised rural areas in Kerala,that means of consuming food waste no longer remains in houses, says Neelakandan.
What distinguishes Keralas waste from that of most other places is a high proportion of non-vegetarian and water content,a reflection of the Keralites eating habits. According to the Kerala Animal Husbandry Department,the states daily requirement of meat is 5,000 tonnes,with chicken dominating.
Truckloads of chicken and cattle are brought to Kerala through routes legal and illegal and sold in countless stalls. These stalls and slaughterhouses then drop the waste from vehicles on roads,usually in the dark. Last month,the government had warned of criminal action against those dumping waste in the capital where,according to district collector K N Satheesh,4,000 tonnes of garbage remain to be shifted out. However,several bags of slaughterhouse waste remain dumped on the roads.
The Clean Kerala Missions 2006 study found that while 51 per cent of municipal solid waste in the country is organic and compostable in nature,in Kerala it is 77 to 88 per cent. However,the idea of generating biogas or electricity is yet to gain larger acceptance in Kerala.
Biotech India chairman A Saji Das says biogas plants can solve the problem to a great extent. Our firm has implemented waste to power projects in 42 village panchyats,where power generated from market waste is used for street lights, Das says. The government wants to pack the waste into bags; it is not interested in a lasting solution.