By Anitha S.
The sleepy, cool village of Peringamala nestled in the biodiversity rich hills of Southern Western Ghats woke upon 3rd December morning to the slogans and songs that brought together the villagers all set for a walk to the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram. They were united by the urgent need to raise their protest and concern about the upcoming Waste to Energy plant that was announced by the Kerala Government a few months back. Unaware of the State Government’s and the city Corporation’s much lauded policies for decentralized waste management, the simple people of Peringamala ask just one question : “ How can a village like ours with lush productive land, with livelihoods closely connected to soil and water, with a water source like Chittar that is perennial, with diverse wild animals and plants be chosen to dump the city’s waste?”.
This question alone and the fear about losing a healthy life with access to pure air, water and livelihood is what has brought the women, men and youth of the affected villages to start the walk to the power centres and decision makers in the city. As this is being written hundreds of people are braving the hot sun to traverse the 42 kms to the capital city. The rally will reach the Assembly head quarters by 11am tomorrow (5th December) and peacefully state their protest and also demand the need to scrap the controversial Waste To Energy plant.
The Peringamala area has been illfated as the Elavupalam region was earlier selected for setting up a Biomedical Waste treatment plant by Indian Medical Association. The stiff protest by the local population forced a withdrawal of this decision. A few months down the line, it was announced that 15 acres of productive land in the 7th block of the Panchayat belonging to the Agricultural Farm and Nursery run by the Thiruvananthapuram District Panchayat has been earmarked for setting up one of the 7 Waste to Energy plants in the State.
Earlier this year, the groups and people in the city who have been pitching their thoughts and ideas for years on Decentralised waste management and who had evolved simple, workable models of segregation at source and composting were shocked to hear the announcement of a GO that decided the setting up of 7 5MW Waste to Energy plants in spread over selected districts in the State. The nodal agency would be the Kerala Industrial Development Corporation and KSEB, the Municipalities and Corporations, The Agricultural Department were instructed to lease land for the purpose. In this manner, the areas announced were Peringamala in Trivandrum, Kureepuzha in Kollam, Aranattukara in Thrissur, Kanjikode in Palakkad, Njeliamparambu in Kozhikode, Panakkad in Malappuram, Chelora in Kannur.
Apart from the ethical issue about dumping waste generated in urban spaces onto a village which was the highlight of the Vilappilsala plant , the procedural lapses in the beginning of this process is shocking. The local panchayat has not been consulted or informed in a proper way. The existing policy of the Suchitwa Mission and the Haritha Kerala Mission along with the ground work being done by many Panchayats and Municipalities on Decentralised Solid Waste Management has been thrown to winds by this GO. All participatory processes and engagement with local communities on segregating at source, and building of attitudinal changes in the Reduce, Refuse, Recycle loop has been overshadowed by the decree that Centralisation is the only answer. To top it all, it is common knowledge that there is not a single workable model for a successful Waste to Energy plant in the country. There is no clarity about the technology that will be implemented, its toxic affluents and treatment methods, its impact on an area close to drinking water source and human habitation. The conditions implied in the Design, Build, Finance, Operate and Transfer model, its benefits for the company and losses to the Government are not clear as such. The constitution of the 10 member State level Advisory Committee Chaired by the Chief Secretary to oversee this process and the terms and conditions of the Public-Private partnership is also not clear. The means by which the electricity generated will be available through the public grid is also not known. Shrouded in this heavy mist of secrecy and undemocratic centralization, a decision regarding the life and crucial issues of a whole region has been thrust up on Kerala.
The Sangada Jatha ( The Sorrowful Rally) of the People of Peringamala will reach the headquarters of power in the above context. Their anguish, concern and togetherness exemplified by boards on the gate of every home symbolizes the determination to live a life of their choice with access to pure and healthy resources. The words ‘livelihood, health, pure water and air, peace and justice “ ring loud in the slogans the women and youth shout as they walk after 156 days of satyagraha. If marginalization, penury and being in unorganized segment of the society are the penalties for being chosen as dumping ground, the people of Peringamala are proud to be poor and marginalized because they are convinced that theirs is a way of life that cannot be brought with power and money.
If one were to use the Talisman that Gandhiji used and look at the faces of the women and children leading the walk, if one were to stop awhile in this speedy rush for urbanization and listen to the blind wheels of the Chariot called Progress( Tagore ) then one would adopt the slogan of today, the most progressive one and stop throwing waste into somebody’s else’s not backyard but homes! Because Peringamala is home for the ones walking today.. for the elephants, bisons, deer and birds that share home with the Kani tribes, the waters of Chittar that flow from the verdant hills….meet them tomorrow in the city whose waste they have been chosen to carry!