The residents of Palode in Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram are up in arms against a proposed bio medical waste treatment plant by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) in their panchayat.
The plant is proposed to be constructed by Indian Medical Association Goes Eco-friendly (IMAGE) in a 7-acre land that the association bought in 2011.
If it materialises, the plant will be the second bio medical waste treatment plant in Kerala. The only other functional bio waste treatment plant (also run by IMA) is in Palakkad, which began operations in 2004. With nearly 40 tonnes of bio waste from hospitals and clinics across Kerala being sent here on a daily basis, IMA believes a second plant will reduce the burden on the Palakkad plant.
However, residents have objected to the proposed plant in Palode, citing that the land chosen for the construction is an ecologically sensitive area. The land falls in the Peringamala panchayat which has reportedly been declared ecologically sensitive by the Kasturirangan Committee report.
If the plant comes up in the ecologically sensitive area, it would harm the biodiversity of the area, locals argue.
District Collector Vasuki convened a public hearing in the panchayat on Wednesday and visited the spot. Assuring the agitating protesters, the collector said that she would submit a report to the state government after taking all aspects into consideration.
According to the representatives of IMA, the 7-acre land has been categorised as revenue land and was bought in 2011 for the purpose of constructing a bio waste treatment plant.
It was only three months back that a meeting convened by the Chief Minister looked into the proposal and cleared all formalities; an environmental study had also been undertaken.
Concerns about natural water sources, flora and fauna
However, the residents and local MLA DK Murali have come out against the plant citing that the construction must not take place in the ecologically sensitive area.
Speaking to TNM, MLA Murali said that the people’s opinions were not taken into account.
“This is a highly sensitive area ecologically and no construction must happen here, let alone a treatment plant. This is the wrong place for a bio waste plant. We are worried that the area will be polluted by the plant. There are so many natural water sources, and flora and fauna that need to be protected. The construction cannot begin without solving the people’s concerns,” MLA Murali said.
Not just the local MLA and the residents, but the Ethological Society of India (ESI) has also raised objections to the proposed plant to be built in the area, which is home to the unique Myristica swamps ecosystem. Writing to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, ESI said that the area was one of the “last remaining ecosystems on earth, with over seven species of swamp adapted trees.”
“The area identified for the plant has been marked as ESA by both the Gadgil Committee and the Kasthurirangan Committee. The proposed plant involves the breach of Wildlife Protection Act 1972, Forest Conservation Act 1980, Kerala Conservation of Paddy and Wetlands Act 2008, Forest Rights Act 2006, besides Article 21,” reads the letter from ESI President S Faizi and urges the CM to give direction to the concerned bodies to refuse permission for the plant.
No dumping of waste: IMA
On its part, the IMA assures that there will not be any health hazards with the coming up of the treatment plant.
“We wanted a large area that is sparsely populated and so we arrived at this particular plot of land. The locals wrongly feel that we are going to dump the waste in the plot. But this is not true. We are going to scientifically treat the waste; it’s a fool-proof mechanism. We have been doing this for years in Palakkad and there is nothing the locals need to be worried about. We urge everyone to come visit our Palakkad plant to know how smoothly we are running it. I agree people will have their own reservations and apprehensions when a treatment plant comes up in their locality, but there’s nothing to worry about,” IMA’s Dr Sreejith Kumar explained to TNM.
He added, “We are not going to run a factory there, it is a treatment plant by the IMA. We will be employing latest technologies and there is not going to be any additional burden on the environment. We respect the environment and hence want waste to be scientifically managed.”
According to IMAGE’s secretary Dr Sharaffudhien, an average of 40 tonnes of bio medical waste is treated in the Palakkad plant on a daily basis. This comes from nearly 11,000 health establishments, including government and private hospitals, clinics, dental clinics and laboratories.
“With this plant, we are helping manage the bio medical waste and not polluting the environment at all. Environment activists are misleading the people, showing them photographs of endosulfan victims to create panic. We want to clear their apprehensions and doubts,” he added.
Tug of war between departments
After the issue snowballed into a controversy, Kerala’s Health Minister KK Shailaja came out in support of the construction.
“All necessary clearance has been given to the project and the construction must begin. The requisite permissions were given in a meeting in which the Forest Minister too participated. There is no other way we can safely treat the enormous amount of bio medical waste being generated in the state,” the minister clarified.
However, a report submitted by DFO D Ratish has put the Health and Forest departments in conflict.
According to the DFO’s report, “the area is ecologically significant, lies close to the tribal settlement and the plant will be a threat to the biodiversity, wildlife and water bodies.” Following this, Forest Minister K Raju said that if the findings of the DFO’s report are shown to be true, the department will raise objections to the project.