"Can you privileged people ever think of living in a two-roomed hut near a canal that emits unbearable foul smell, and is teeming with mosquitoes and flies day and night. Is it okay that we underprivileged live like this? There are people whose per day expenses are more than what we earn in a month, but they don't bother to spend a little for waste management, their waste is dumped in our backyards," says an angry Rajesh, a fish seller, who lives on the banks of Parvathi Puthanar canal, in Thiruvananthapuram.
Parvathi Puthanar is a manmade canal, on a 18.5 km stretch from Kovalam to Akkulam named after Rani Parvathi Bai — former queen of Travancore kingdom. In 2018, the government had sanctioned Rs 150 crore for rejuvenation of the canal and the first phase of cleaning was done in January this year. The project envisaged a boat service through Parvathi Puthanar and trial rides were even held.
"Those days, we were full of hope. After years of living amidst this waste, we were able to breathe fresh air and Puthanar was clean. But, it remained so just for a few months, before people started dumping animal slaughter waste in different places at midnight when everyone was asleep. In the morning, we would just see huge sacks of animal waste floating around in the water,” says Kannan, another resident of Vallakadavu, on the banks of the canal.
"What is the point in spending crores of rupees if people are not responsible?” he asks.
From 2014, Thiruvananthapuram corporation had joined hands with a private company to collect slaughter waste at Rs 7 per kilogram. “A few of the meat shop owners are making use of this facility but others just can't give the money and find it easy to dump it in our backyard. Will they stay in a place like this?” Kannan asks.
Rajesh's 12-year-old son is allergic and he says the condition of other children who live there is not much different.
"Small children here have got rashes everywhere on the body. Apart from that, we have to contend with mosquito bites. We are not in a position to move from here, we have no land or money," he says wistfully.
The residents have, on many occasions, attempted to find out who dumps the waste, but haven’t been able to determine as the people drop the sacks at different places not to get caught.
"During rains, when the water in the canal rises up, the waste gets accumulated in front of the houses.
"Just imagine a huge load of chicken waste and meat waste with maggots dumped right outside your house. We are human beings, our children too have the right to live here. We have no idea who to ask, or how to solve this," Kannan says.
Suresh, another resident of the area, says the waste that accumulates on the road after the canal floods, is cleaned by the residents themselves.
"After rains, we just clean it ourselves. During monsoon, it is our daily routine," he says. He recalled that the residents used to take a bath in the canal during his childhood. "Before going to school, I used to take a bath in the canal. Evening, we used to swim there. Now see the colour of the water. Moreover, everyone here has got skin diseases,” he says.
Puthanar is black in colour now and the water weeds have started appearing again though it was cleaned in January. Once the weed covers the water, the waste will accumulate and stagnate without flowing. When asked in the corporation, one of the officials said how much can the government spend when people keep repeating their mistakes.
"We cleaned it, we also arranged a system for waste collection. What else can we do when people continue dumping? We need a strict law to tackle it," he said, seeking anonymity.
However, residents allege that the corporation had promised to assign squads to keep a check on people who dump waste in the canal, but no such action has been forthcoming.
Bhuvanchandran, convenor of Parvathi Puthanar Samrakshana Samithi, says that they have caught many people red-handed in the act of dumping slaughter waste.
He also alleges that many hospitals, shopping complexes and other buildings also dump the waste including sewage waste into the Parvathi Puthanar.
"Many nights we have spent here without sleep to stop this dumping. How long can we do this? Strict police enforcement should be there to put an end to this," he says.