Now medical waste to add to Kochi Brahmapuram waste treatment plant's overflowing garbage woes

A walk through the ghost village Brahmapuram deserted thanks to Kochis garbage
news Environment Sunday, November 20, 2016 - 19:04

'The ghost town of Bhramapuram' - The News Minute series

Spread over 110 acres, the Brahmapuram waste treatment plant is situated around five kilometres away from Kochi’s Infopark. According to the locals here, no waste is actually treated at the plant as it’s more of a dumping yard.

The Brahmapuram waste treatment plant in Kochi is back in the headlines reportedly over a row on transferring some land to the Indian Medical Association (IMA) for treatment of medical waste.

The said move has come in for stringent criticism from environmental activists who believe that this would just worsen the existing scenario in the plant which was itself built overruling all mandates for safeguarding the environment.

When the setting up of the plant was proposed in 2006-2007, the villagers of Brahmapuram had carried on a relentless protest against the same for almost two years. One of the political leaders they met in this regard apparently told them that they ought to think of the 25 lakh people who reside in Kochi city rather than just worry about the 25000 inhabitants of their village and its surrounding areas.

Thus their village literally became the garbage-can of the rest of the city.

Abandoned village

Travelling along the Infopark road on our way to Brahmapuram, we find numerous abandoned houses on either sides of the road with stinking air adding to the creeping discomfort.

“There were 200 families in the village; almost all of them were farmers. When protests began against the setting up of the plant, the authorities were able to mislead quite a few of them. Finally only 70 protesting families remained,” says Koikal Basheer, an activist who had led the protests and lives near Brahmapuram.

Recollecting how it all began, Basheer says: “In 2007, faced with the totally unexpected High Court order to begin dumping of waste in Brahmapuram, we were left as mere helpless onlookers when almost hundred trucks came to our village and started dumping waste. All the 70 families in the area could do was take refuge in a nearby school.”

This might have been probably the first incident in Kerala where people had to flee their homes unable to stand the odour of decaying garbage.

On that fateful day, the police were ruthless in squashing all forms of protests with most protestors being thrashed left and right. “We were so helpless; residents close to the plant had no idea what to do next. Some fainted, a few cried. They had nowhere else to go,” Basheer remembers.

In 2012, the corporation set fire to the burgeoning plastic waste in the plant. “The fire raged for seven continuous days during which the aged, the sick, the newborns, children…all of us kept inhaling the poisonous smoke,” Basheer fumes.

It was only after this incident that the remaining families too left the place with help from the then district collector M Beena who expedited the procedures for immediate acquisition of their land by the district administration.

The bereft homesteads remain mute spectators while the land on which they stand continue to be ravaged by such blatant disregard for the surrounding environment. As per reports, Kochi city generates around 380 tonnes of waste a day, of which 150 tonnes are biodegradable and 100 tonnes comprise plastic waste.

“It is not at all done in a scientific manner. What they now do is simply keep all the accumulated waste out of sight –that’s all. What is actually needed is some sort of a permanent mechanism where waste from a particular area is treated within the given area itself rather than dump tonnes of waste in a village on the outskirts of the city,” Basheer points out.

The only outcome of such unscientific treatment of waste –he asserts- is that the soil, the groundwater as well as water of both the rivers will get contaminated in no time.

Built on the bank of rivers

Environmental activist Dr CM Joy opines that sanctioning of the project alone was totally against environmental laws: “The land at Brahmapuram was earlier a wetland where rice was originally cultivated along the banks of the Chitrapuzha and Kadambrayar rivers. Legally, waste dumping on the bank of a river is not allowed; moreover it’s is also illegal to convert marshy land into a waste-dumping ground.”

Joy also alleges that the government had flouted rules by first procuring the said land from a real estate giant by supposedly paying more than the actual cost.

Moreover, these two rivers are also the sources of drinking water for nearly nine panchayats. The area also falls under the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) which has its own set of rules for protection of all coastal areas.

“Even waste from toilets gets dumped in Brahmapram. This will not only pollute both the rivers but also go on to pollute the groundwater in the neighbouring villages which mainly depend on water drawn from wells,” he explains.

Joy also points out the dangers of methane emission from such huge garbage-dumps –if not treated properly- over the years in the area. He believes that this can be one of the main causes for climate change and unbearable increase in temperatures.

A garbage 'bomb' in the making

A Japanese team which visited Brahmapuram in 2014 had called for urgent intervention to rectify the anomalies in the plant’s functioning. Nothing happened.

An independent agency appointed by the state government in 2015 also reported that around five lakh tonnes of waste -both biodegradable and non-degradable- are simply buried at the plant, apart from tonnes of waste that simply pile up with time. Nothing came of it either.

It is in such a grave scenario that authorities are now mulling over handing over some land to the IMA for treatment of medical waste. It would just prove to be the proverbial last nail to the coffin.

Joy terms such a move –if indeed it materializes- as a colossal disaster in the making. Basheer rubbishes all tall claims from the government’s side as mere blabber: “They talk about scientific treatment of waste, show models from western countries…but nothing actually gets translated on ground.”

When contacted, the Kochi corporation officials argue that it is indeed not practical to zero in on a new location for such a plant, as huge amounts of money have already been invested in the one at Brahmapuram.

“We have spent a lot on it and a sudden shift is just not practical,” Cochin Corporation Deputy Mayor TJ Vincent told The News Minute.

With the corporation conveniently washing its hands of the issue –as is the usual wont- one wonders for what exactly was the money used, if not for the scientific treatment of the waste at Brahmapuram.



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