With the farmers, public and other water-dependent sectors charting out a plan to use the rainwater effectively, the panchayat administration had other ideas.
In a video that went viral recently, some officials and town panchayat workers were seen dumping several tons of solid waste into the Vellar river at Thittakudi town in Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu. The incident invited flak from all quarters, including residents and activists.
The trucks were seen queuing up on the bridge that connects Thittakudi and Ariyalur to dump the waste that was collected from surrounding areas. Due to the northeast monsoon, several districts in Tamil Nadu had been receiving a good amount of rainfall. The residents of Cuddalore, who were bereft of rains for the past two years, were rejoicing the season. As a result of overwhelming rainfall, the Veeranam tank in the district reached its full capacity. The excessive water from the tank was released into the Ponnaiyar river, Manimutharu river, Gadilam and Vellar River.
While the farmers, public and other water-dependent sectors were charting out a plan to use the rainwater effectively, the panchayat administration had other ideas. Using the situation to their advantage, the administration decided to dump the degradable, non-biodegradable and pharma waste into the river.
When the news reached the district collector V Anbu Selvan, he inspected the spot and conducted an inquiry into the conduct of town panchayat officials. The collector then ordered for the suspension of executive secretary Gunasekaran and a sanitation supervisor. Apart from this, two other non-contractual labourers were also suspended.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, the Cuddalore Collector said, ”Whatever may be the reason, even if they had done it unknowingly, this is unacceptable. We thought of sending a strong message to the administration, so we initiated suspension. Apart from Thittakudi town panchayat, an incident like this had never happened in the Cuddalore district. We have given instructions to all the municipality officers, we are conducting awareness classes to all workers including drivers, sanitation workers. Employees should be committed to their work. While we take action against the public when they litter on the public space and instruct them to segregate the waste like degradable and non-bio degradable, we should also be duty conscious. Incidents like this should never happen, not just in our district but anywhere in the state,” he said.
According to Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board’s annual report (2018-19), there are 12 Corporations, 124 Municipalities and 528 Town Panchayats in the state in which a total of 13,968 tons per day (TPD) solid waste is generated in the state. Out of these, 12,850 TPD (ie 92 per cent) solid waste is collected and 7,196 TPD (56 per cent) are treated. Apart from this, 5,654 TPD of municipal solid waste is landfilled in the sites located across the state.
Cuddalore, which has 41,835 households, is among the worst-performing in terms of collecting and segregating solid waste. Out of the 33 TPD of solid waste collected, only 27.06 is being segregated. The report states that out of the 528 Panchayats, 508 have established processing facilities to handle 3,20,162 TPD and proposing to establish facilities to process 38 TPD of waste to achieve 100 per cent processing.
However, according to media reports, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in May 2019 observed that 323 rivers out of 351 were polluted. It said that to protect the water bodies, it's necessary to move towards nutrient regulations in water bodies.
Jayaram Venkatesan, the convenor of Arappor Iyakkam, a Chennai-based NGO, said: "Separation of composable and non-composite waste has to be followed. Around 52 per cent of total waste is compostable, 35 per cent is recyclable like plastics, glass, aluminum, paper etc. The remaining 10-15 per cent waste is called inert waste which can be dumped only in landfills created by the state. Every corporation municipality should identify landfills, they should see there is no leakage of groundwater, and it has to be constructed properly. But the sad part is that the corporation is using dump yard as landfill,” he said.
He added that the material recovery facility and compost centers have to be created in each ward and budget has to be allocated to take care of the segregated waste so only a minimum amount of waste is deposited in the landfills.
"Every day the disposal of waste into the rivers has been happening across the state. Take an example of Perungudi marshland, It is a water body but everyday garbage is being dumped. In other places Adyar river, Buckingham canal, etc, the corporation workers still dump tones of garbage and even the untreated sewage water is been dumped regularly,” he added.
The incident comes a few days after Marina beach in Chennai was frothing with toxic foam. Authorities said the foam could have been formed due to the excessive amount of rainfall the city received in the past couple of days. “Due to heavy rainfall in the past couple of days, the water flow in the Adyar river basin has increased. It has mixed with the stagnant sewage which contains a high level of phosphate (a chemical derivative of phosphoric acid). The excessive water along with untreated sewage has entered the sea and due to the severe turbulence, the coastline is engulfed in foam,” a senior official of Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board said.